Prague. A city of one hundred spires and an almost infinite number of beautiful bridges. A very old, very historic and very modern capital of the Czech Republic. The 15th largest city in the European Union, home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which miraculously survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Its rich history makes it a popular tourist destination, and accordingly the city receives more than 4.4 million international visitors annually – a real crowd, far surpassing the number of its inhabitants.
Founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was not only the capital of the Czech state, but also the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus, for some time, also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire and after World War I became the capital of Czechoslovakia. The city played major roles in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, and in 20th-century history, during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era. That’s why you need a good guide when visiting it; otherwise you’ll never catch the meaning behind , e.g. such a lovely but a bit obscure sculpture of a medieval knight sitting on a horse suspended upside down which might be admired in one of many Prague’s shopping arcades. Yes, not in a museum, in a shopping mall – can it be any cooler?
Many artists and musicians have fallen in love with Prague, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart among them. Below you see a sculpture commemorating the first performance of his opera, ‘Don Giovanni’, in a local theatre, currently undergoing some renovation (thus the scaffolding behind it).
In Prague you can find whatever you want: monuments, stationary shops like the one below, with a sculpture of a sweet crayon hedgehog outside, restaurants, churches, synagogues, museums, pubs, clubs, you name it. You’ll never get bored or have an opportunity to complain about the lack of entertainment, even if you just sit all day on the old market square, listening to street buskers. Still I love hedgehogs more…
Fans of history can follow the steps of Jan Hus (one of his monuments, perhaps the largest one, you can see below), a medieval reformer and a religious leader. After his execution in 1415, the followers of his teachings (known as Hussites) rebelled against their Roman Catholic rulers and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431 in what became known as the Hussite Wars. A century later, as many as 90% of inhabitants of the Czech lands were non-Catholic and some still follow the teachings of Hus and his successors.
Fans of shopping will find many stalls with photos, postcards, drawings, paintings and other keepsakes – never cheap but pleasantly varied.
Beware of the Charles Bridge on Saturdays and Sundays. Why? Look at the photo below – there will be dense crowds eager to cross it even though they will have to crawl cheek by jowl and there will be hardly any space left to admire its sculptures or to breathe at all. My closet claustrophobic shuddered at the mere sight of so many people in such a limited space so I took my photo and fled.
Of course you can always find other, less dangerous attractions – like an opportunity to have a photo taken while holding lovely, completely tamed boa constrictor ;p Kept by a guy who clearly fancies himself as a Turk, not a Czech. Poor animal; I do hope it got a nice, juicy mouse afterwards.
If you like modern architecture more than old castles and tenements do visit the famous Dancing House, also called Fred and Ginger (after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ), situated on the Rašínovo nábřeží. The very non-traditional design was controversial at the time because the house stands out among the Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings for which Prague is famous, and in the opinion of some it does not accord well with these architectural styles; still it is so original that deserves your attention.
My final verdict? Prague is a city full of delightful contrasts. It is crowded but clean, full of churches and synagogues but with a population known for a large percentage of atheists. Old monuments and new buildings are crowded together and exist in perfect harmony. It is worth a second or even a third visit, being a location you can never get bored with. Could you ask for more?