our last day in prague: old town & the jewish quarter

Friday, October 6: Our last day in Prague, we finally head out to see the highlights of the city, Staré Město (the Old Town) & Josefov (the Jewish Quarter).  I wanted to save it for a sunny day, so luckily we got some blue skies.

This is our stately Airbnb apartment building in Vinohrady.  Our apartment is on the second floor of the tan building closest to the camera.

Our Airbnb apartment in Vinohrady

We hop on metro at the Namesti Meru station.

Namesti Meru metro station

The diverse architecture in the Old Town is quite impressive, showcasing Art Nouveau, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo.

walking into Staré Město

The Memorial to Jan Hus dominates Old Town Square. Born in 1369, he was a priest who stood up to both the Catholic Church and the Austrian Habsburg royal family. For this, he was arrested, charged with heresy, excommunicated, and finally burned at the stake in 1415. He inspired the Hussite movement, a pre-Protestant Christian movement calling for reformation of the Catholic Church.

The huge monument, unveiled in 1915 to commemorate the 5ooth anniversary of the hero’s martyrdom, depicts victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants who were forced into exile 200 years after Hus, as well as a young mother and her children who symbolize national rebirth.

Memorial to Jan Hus

I love the architectural flourishes adorning the buildings around Old Town Square.

Old Town Square

The green domed Baroque Church of St. Nicholas stands in one corner of the square.  Once Catholic, now Hussite, the church is now a popular concert venue.

Church of St. Nicholas

Around a corner, we’re awed by some beautifully adorned buildings.

Building near Old Town Square
Building near Old Town Square

The Old Town Hall is under renovation and covered in ugly blue mesh. Luckily, the Astronomical Clock is visible.  The Old Town Hall was established in 1338, during the Bohemian Golden Age (c. 1200-1400).  The Astronomical Clock’s mechanics are complex; you can read about how it works here.  Every hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., the twelve apostles appear, along with other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time.  A calendar dial with medallions represents the months.

The twin Gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn are iconic symbols of Prague. In medieval times, the church was Catholic.   For a period, it was Hussite, and now it’s Catholic again. The spires are decorated with a golden image of the Virgin Mary made from a melted down Hussite chalice that once adorned the church. It has been the main church of the Old Town since the 14th century.

Týn Church
Old Town Square

The yellow building with the flags is an Art Nouveau building, recognized as such by its pastel color, wrought iron balconies, colorful murals, and ornate stonework.

Horse & buggy at Old Town Square
Old Town Square
Old Town Square
relief sculpture near Old Town Square

We dip to the Basilica of St. James, founded in 1232 and built originally as a Gothic church; it is known for being the most beautiful church interior in the Old Town. In 1689, the original interior was destroyed by fire; this is an 18th century Baroque renovation. The bejeweled Madonna Pietatis hangs at the altar; above her hovers a painting of the martyrdom of St. James.

inside Church of St. James

A mummified forearm hangs to the right of the tomb entrance, dating back over 400 years. Legend has it that a jewel thief tried to steal the jewels on the altar, and the Madonna grabbed his arm and would not let go;  his arm was cut off by monks to free him from the Virgin.

Besides the blooming of Art Nouveau architecture in Prague, Cubism also flourished in the city. The Cubist-inspired House of the Black Madonna, built in 1912 by Josef Gočár, has rectangular windows and cornices; it is both “avant-garde and … traditional at the same time.”  According to Cubism in Architecture: A Short Amusement of the Past, “Cubist architecture did not totally deny the experience of the past. It only decorated the facades of buildings with new ornaments but the structure remained the same.”

House of the Black Madonna

We stop for a snack of coffee and pastries.

snack time

We continue our walk past the 1780s Estates Theater, a Classicist building and a prime opera venue in Prague; here, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787 and directed many of his works (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

The 500-year-old Powder Tower was once the town’s main gate, as well as storing Prague’s gunpowder. It served as the city’s formal front door, welcoming royalty and dignitaries.

The Gothic facade of Powder Tower is carved with Prague’s coat of arms, a pair of Czech kings, golden-winged angels, and Christ with his saints.

Powder Tower details

Next to Powder Tower is the Municipal House, a celebration of Art Nouveau with its organic flowing and curvaceous lines, its wrought iron balcony and colorful mosaics.  Built in the early 1900s and restored in the 1990s, it is considered “the pearl of Czech Art Nouveau” (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).  A movement that was a reaction to 19th century academic art, Art Nouveau is inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. It was popular between 1890 and 1910. Prague is considered by many to be Europe’s best city for Art Nouveau.

Municipal House

The mosaic above the balcony, a symbol of the city, is called Homage to Prague.  Here, the goddess Praha oversees a peaceful and highly cultured society. In 1918, when Czechoslovakia was formed, independence was proclaimed from the balcony of the Municipal House.

Homage to Prague

We make our way to the outdoor market, Havel’s Market (Havelske trziste), a permanent market in the city center.

On the way to Havelske trziste

Stalls at Havelske trziste offer arts and crafts, wooden toys and puppets, flowers, leather goods, ceramics, paintings and fruits and vegetables, as well as tourist souvenirs (Prague Experience: Shops and Markets). Though a colorful market, I find it less enticing than the markets we found in Budapest and Vienna.

Havelske trziste

I love simply strolling down Prague streets and admiring the architectural exuberance of the buildings.

On our way to the Jewish Quarter, we walk past St. Francis of Assisi Church.  The first St. Francis Church was established here in the 13th century. The current church was consecrated in 1688 by the Archbishop of Prague in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. It houses a unique baroque organ which was built in 1702, and today classical and organ concerts are held here.

St. Francis of Assisi Church

The late-14th-century Old Town Bridge Tower sits at the eastern end of Charles Bridge. It was built as both fortification and a triumphal arch marking the entrance to the Old Town (Lonely Planet: Prague).

Old Town Bridge Tower
Old Town Bridge Tower
Old Town Bridge Tower

We walk past the front of St. Francis of Assisi Church, with its religious figures standing authoritatively along the balcony, as if about to give a stern sermon.

St. Francis of Assisi Church

For the second time, on Charles Bridge, we pass by St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan, a 1714 statue of the 17th century French founders of the Trinitarian Order.

Statuary of St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan

We also have views north up the Vltava River to Mánes Bridge.

view from Charles Bridge

The Crucifix and Calvary sculpture is one of the oldest sculptures on Charles Bridge. The original wooden crucifix was installed soon after 1361 and likely destroyed by the Hussites in 1419. A new crucifix with a wooden corpus was erected in 1629 but was severely damaged by the Swedes towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War. This was replaced by another wooden Calvary which, in turn, was replaced with a metal version in 1657.  The present sandstone statues portray the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist (Wikipedia: List of Statues on Charles Bridge).

the cross on Charles Bridge

The statue says in Hebrew “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts;” this is considered to be a symbolic humiliation and degradation of Prague Jews, as they were forced to pay for a set of golden letters referring to God and hung around the neck of the statue of Christ (Wikipedia).

the cross on Charles Bridge

Prague Castle sits majestically on a hill over the Vltava River.

view of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Heading toward the Jewish Quarter, we pass the neo-Renaissance Rudolfinum, built between 1875 and 1885; it is connected to another great figure of classical music, the Czech Antonín Dvořák.  Here, he personally conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for the premiere of his famous New World Symphony (Avant Garde Prague: The Rudolfinum).

Rudolfinum

I have become addicted to dumplings of all kinds here in Prague, and at lunchtime at the mistral cafe, I sample yet another kind. These are a bit dry, with no gravy or sauce, but still tasty.  No wonder I so easily gained back the weight I lost in Japan!

dumplings, again!

We arrive in the Jewish Quarter only to find that everything is closed today because it’s Sukkot, a Jewish holiday.  We should have checked this out earlier!

The Old-New Synagogue, closed today, is Prague’s oldest active synagogue and one of Prague’s earliest Gothic buildings.

Old-New Synagogue

The Ceremonial hall near the Old Jewish Cemetery was a mortuary house used to prepare bodies and perform purification rituals before burial.

Ceremonial House

Sadly, we can only peek into the Old Jewish Cemetery through a closed gate.  It is Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish graveyard, with (apparently) 12,000 jumbled stones, under which are perhaps 100,000 graves, piled in layers in a limited space.  I’m disappointed that we can’t go in today because it is considered an emotionally moving experience.

a peek into the Old Jewish Cemetery

After leaving the Jewish Quarter, we take 1-hour boat cruise on Prague Boats on the Vltava River, starting near the Mánes Bridge, a road and tramway bridge.

Mánesův most
boat on the Vltava River

The neo-Baroque Straka Academy, on the west bank of the Vltava, is the government seat of the Czech Republic.  It was designed by the architect Václav Roštlapil and built between 1891 and 1896.

Straka Academy
Prague Castle from the Vltava

From the boat, we see views of both shores of the river, and most of the sights we’ve already visited.

I love the view of Prague Castle from the boat.

view of Prague Castle
Charles Bridge

Finally, we take the metro back to our neighborhood.

Staromestska Metro Station

We pop into a cozy spot, Restaurace Kravín, for a couple of beers before going back to our apartment.

After a short rest at our apartment, we go to a fabulous restaurant, Matylda Restaurant, for dinner. I love finding local restaurants off the tourist track. My bread pizza has cream, herb pesto, blue cheese, Edam, Parmesan cheese, green pepper, goat cheese and scallions. It’s delicious and the atmosphere is a cozy and welcoming escape from the cold.

Tomorrow, we fly back home, sad to see our holiday come to an end.

Steps today:15,024 (6.37 miles)

Saturday, October 7: We get an airport cab to the airport for our morning flight, with a stopover at Frankfurt airport.  There we have lunch and beers before continuing our long flight back over the pond.

Our trip to Eastern Europe has sadly come to an end!

This post is inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk.

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prague: a day of wandering through nové město & vinohrady

Thursday, October 5:  Our third day in Prague is a gloomy and cold one.  We brave the weather anyway, as people do when on vacation, and head to explore Nové Město, or the New Town, founded in 1348 by Charles IV outside the city walls, east and south of the Old Town. New Town’s most famous landmark is Wenceslas Square, originally built as a medieval horse market for the working class; it’s now a tourist and commercial center with pedestrian-friendly arcades lined with shops, cafes and cinemas.

Looming over the south end of the square is a Communist-era building. This clunky modern building once housed the Czech Parliament when it was at Moscow’s beck and call.

Communist-Era building

Under the canopy, a statue of an elated worker from those days is a style known as Social Realism.

Socialist realism statue at Communist-Era building

A plaque honors Alexander Dubček (1921-1992), a Slovak politician who was leader of Czechoslovakia for a brief year, from 1968-1969. He tried to reform the communist government during the Prague Spring, but he was forced to resign when the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries invaded to halt the reforms.

Memorial to Alexander Dubček

The Prague State Opera also dominates the top of the square.

State Opera
Communist-Era building

Prague’s buildings are regal, solid and colorful.

building in Nové Město

The equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, the 10th century pacifist Duke of Bohemia, is flanked by other patron saints of Bohemia.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square is more like a grand boulevard than a square; its expansive setting has been the backdrop for momentous historical events.  In 1918, people came out en masse to celebrate the creation of the new Czechoslovak Republic. After police attacked student demonstrators on November 17, 1989, more than 300,000 angry citizens gathered here night after night, jangling their key chains in the air.  A week later, Alexander Dubček and Václav Havel, a statesman, playwright and former dissident, announced from the balcony of the Melantrich Building, to deafening applause, that Czechoslovakia was free of communism.

Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square

Numerous statues stand in the square now, including Tall Dark Strangers by Nikola Emma Ryšavá.  I’m not sure if these are permanent or just temporary.

Tall Dark Strangers
lining Wenceslas Square

The purple creature is The Biggest Monster by Andrea Ledlova.

Wenceslas Square

There is a congregation of bold women statues: Punk, Grow from the Inside, Shaman Woman, and Transformace.

Wenceslas Square is lined with fine 19th and early 20th century buildings in architectural styles ranging from art nouveau and neo-Renaissance to Czech National Revival and functionalist.

Along Wenceslas Square
I LIVE MY LIFE IN WIDENING CIRCLES

The art nouveau Grand Hotel Evropa is my favorite building on the square.

Grand Hotel Evropa

The Melantrich Building is now Marks & Spencer. The balcony on this building, mostly obscured by trees today, is where Dubček and Havel announced the end of communism.

Melantrich Building (now Marks & Spencer)

Neo-Renaissance murals decorate the facade of Wiehl House, named for its designer Antonin Wiehl.

Wiehl House
Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square

Inside the art nouveau Lucerna Palace, a shopping arcade runs between two streets. A humorous counterpart to the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, the sculpture Kun (Horse), created by contemporary Czech sculptor David Černý, hangs in the lobby.  Atop the upside-down, and certainly dead, horse sits St. Wenceslas.

Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Horse in Lucerna Arcade

The arcade contains shops, a cinema, and various cafes, as well as some beautiful art nouveau windows. We stop at a bakery here for coffee and sweet snacks.

A beautiful 1930s Tesla advertisement adorns one end of the arcade; Tesla is a now-defunct state-sponsored monopoly on electronics production in Czechoslovakia; it produced nearly all electronic products in the country until 1989.  It is well-known for producing the Art Deco bakelite radio between 1953-58.

Tesla window

Outside the arcade, we find a Franciscan Garden, reflecting St. Francis’ belief that God’s presence could be sensed in nature. Prague became an important center for Franciscans from Ireland in the 1600s, according to Rick Steves Pocket Prague.

Franciscan garden

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows stands at the end of the garden. It was supposed to be the second biggest church in Prague after St. Vitus Cathedral, but it was never completed.

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows

Jungmann Square features the statue of Josef Jungmann (1773-1847), a Czech poet and linguist, and a leading figure of the Czech National Revival, an 18th-19th century cultural movement to revive Czech language, culture and national identity. Together with Josef Dobrovský, he is considered to be a creator of the modern Czech language (Wikipedia: Josef Jungmann).

statue of Josef Jungmann (1773-1847)

The ornamental Adria Palace served as Václav Havel’s base camp during those two historic weeks in 1989.  Its architectural style from the 1920s is known as “rondocubism,” according to Lonely Planet Prague & the Czech Rebublic.

Adria Palace
Adria Palace

Though we’re tempted to stop for gelato, we think it might be wise to have lunch first.

Gelato!
heading to the north end of Wenceslas Square

The Cubist lamppost by Emil Kralicek is tucked into a corner near the back of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows.

Cubist lamppost
pastel building
cafe

We come out at the north end of Wenceslas Square and Mike promptly stands in line to grab a giant hot dog for us to share.

shopping square
Mike in line for our lunchtime snack

After I’ve had my fill of our joint hot dog, Mike sits patiently on a bench in the square, while I go into Desigual to check out the fashions. Desigual (meaning unequal/uneven in Catalonian) is a clothing brand headquartered in Barcelona, Spain; it is “notable for its trendy patchwork designs, intense prints, graffiti art, asymmetrical designs and flamboyant splashes of color” (Wikipedia).  I first discovered this brand in 2013 in Barcelona and fell in love with it.  Today, I can’t resist a top and a colorful scarf. 🙂

Desigual
Mango

At the Mucha Museum, we enjoy seeing the artwork of Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), one of the most celebrated artists of the Art Nouveau period. Sadly, no photography is allowed; I don’t remember how I got this photograph!

Mucha Museum

We go down to the riverfront to see the famous Dancing Building, built by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry in 1996. It is also known as the “Fred and Ginger Building,” after the dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Dancing Building

We return to our Airbnb apartment for a bit of a rest and then head out on a walking tour of “Handsome Vinohrady,” a mostly residential area of Prague. Mike found the tour in Lonely Planet Prague & the Czech Republic.

Before we get on the metro, we walk past the Church of St. Ludmila, a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Church in Peace Square, built on the plans of Josef Mocker in 1888–1892. It is named in honor of St. Ludmila of Bohemia, a Czech saint and martyr.  Saint Ludmila was the grandmother of St. Wenceslas, widely referred to as Good King Wenceslas..

Church of St. Ludmila
Church of St. Ludmila
Church of St. Ludmila

We get rained on a bit here and there as we walk through Vinohrady, but we still enjoy seeing some of the upscale villas so abundant here.

Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady

Vinohrady is apparently home to many well-to-do singles and young married couples.

Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Pavilion in Vinohrady

On our walk back, we’re on the lookout for a place to eat dinner, and we find the cozy underground Restaurace PASTIČKA.

Restaurace PASTIČKA

At Restaurace PASTIČKA, we enjoy mugs of beer, along with vegetable soup, beets, and dumplings.

I love the old stairwell of our Airbnb apartment, with its wrought iron railings and old-world tiles.

the stairwell at our Airbnb apartment
stairwell

We have one more day in Prague.  Tomorrow, we’ll go to the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter.

Steps today: 18,071 (7.66 miles)