prague: strahov monastery, the loreta, hradčany square, st. vitus cathedral & prague castle

Wednesday, October 4: Today, our second day in Prague, we begin our adventure by taking the #22 tram uphill past the castle to the Strahov Monastery. We plan to slowly make our way down to Castle Quarter, stopping at the Loreta along the way.

We’re greeted by a statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler.  Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman, astronomer, and writer known for his comprehensive astronomical studies, lost part of his nose in duel against his third cousin, a fellow Danish nobleman.  The rest of his life, he wore a prosthetic nose kept in place with glue.  In 2012, two years after his body was exhumed in 2010 due to questions about his death by possible poisoning, Danish and Czech researchers reported that the prosthetic was made of brass (Wikipedia: Tycho Brahe).  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, best known for his laws of planetary motion (Wikipedia: Johannes Kepler).

Statue on the way to Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery was founded for the Premonstratensian Order in 1140. The Premonstratensians are a religious order of Canons Regular of the Catholic Church founded in 1120.  As they are not monks but Canons Regular, their work involves preaching and exercising pastoral ministry.

The present buildings of the monastery were completed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The communist government closed them down and imprisoned most of the Canons; they returned in 1990.

The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, built in 1143, sits inside the monastery gates.  It was decorated in the baroque style in the 18th century.  Apparently, Mozart played the organ here, according to Lonely Planet: Prague & The Czech Republic.

Strahov Monastery
Strahov Monastery

The highlight of Strahov Monastery is the Strahov Library, the largest monastic library in Czech Republic. The library contains two gorgeous baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and houses a collection of some 200,000 volumes.

The two-story high 1794 Philosophical Hall, with its carved and gilded floor-to-ceiling walnut shelving, is topped by a grand ceiling fresco, Mankind’s Quest for True Wisdom.  Divine Providence is enthroned amidst a burst of golden light while figures such as Adam and Eve and Greek philosophers surround her (Lonely Planet).  Visitors are not allowed to go inside the hall, but can stand at the entrance for photographs.

Strahov Library – Philosophical Hall

The lobby connecting the Philosophical Hall and the Theological Hall contains natural and historical curiosities and elaborate manuscripts.

The Theological Hall at Strahov Library was established between 1671-1674.  The Baroque concept of the library is demonstrated by the upright storage of books on the shelves.  Above the shelves are gilded wooden carved decorations with wooden cartouches. This was a rudimentary library aid because the pictures in the wooden cartouches and their titles specified the type of literature stored on the shelves.

Fifty years later, the hall was extended and then decorated with frescoes by the painter Siard Nosecký. Several frescoes symbolize principles based on quotations from the Bible (mainly Proverbs) and from the philosophical tracts of the hall’s founder, Abbot Hirnhaim: “A person enlightened by faith, however, must build on knowledge and education” (Strahovskyklaster: Theological Hall).  This is a stunning hall.

Theology Hall at Strahov Library
Theology Hall at Strahov Library
Theology Hall at Strahov Library

We can’t go into the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, but we get a glimpse inside through an iron grille.

inside the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady

On the grounds of Strahov Monastery is the Church of St. Rochus which now houses the MIRO Gallery.  Established in Berlin in 1987, MIRO has been based at the Strahov Monastery since 1994, when the gallery relocated to Prague from Berlin.

The green truck in the courtyard, Sv. Norbert ANTIDEPRESSANT Autumn Dark Ale, reminds us that the monks built a brewery here in 1628.  Closed in 1907, after which the buildings were used solely as farm houses, it was restored in 2000.  The current Klasterni pivovar Strahov, or Strahov Monastic Brewery, offers guests 350 seats in three peculiar environments: the brewery itself, St. Norbert Restaurant and Brewery Courtyard.

It’s too early to stop for a beer now, however, so we’re on our way down the hill.  We do however stop for a pastry and coffee at Cafe Melvin.

We continue our downhill stroll toward Prague Castle, enjoying some beautiful views of the Castle Quarter and the Vltava River as well as some vineyards.

view of Prague Castle
vineyards

The Loreta, a baroque pilgrimage destination, was designed as a replica of the Santa Casa, or the “Holy House” of Nazareth, where the archangel Gabriel announced the immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary; it is thought to be her home.  The Loreta was founded in 1626 by Kateřina Benigna, a noblewoman of the Lobkowicz family. The Loreta includes, besides the Santa Casa, a beautiful storied cloister and a Baroque carillon with a famous chime.

The Loreta
The Loreta
The Loreta
door to The Loreta

In the courtyard of the Loreta are a couple of fountains with statues of the Assumption of Virgin Mary and the Resurrection of Christ.

the courtyard of the Loreta

The frescoes decorating the cloister’s arcades at the Loreta depict the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

The Loreta has altars and treasures, such as confessional booths.

The oldest part of the Loreta is the small Santa Casa (the actual Loretto), built in 1626-31. The exteriors of the building were originally decorated by frescoes; stucco reliefs were added in the 1760s and 1770s showing the life of Virgin Mary, focusing on the childhood of Jesus Christ.

Santa Casa Loreta

Inside Santa Casa is a love sculpture of Our Lady Loretto in a silver altar. Most of the shrines, obelisks, candlesticks, lamps and liturgical objects come from the 17th century.

inside Santa Casa Loreta

Inside the Casa are several beams and bricks that come from the original Italian Loretto. Fresco fragments on the walls are artificial. Casa walls are purposely chipped at one spot to imitate the damage done by a lightning strike to the original chapel to punish unbelievers, according to legend (Kralovska Cesta: The Loretto).

Santa Casa Loreta

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lord was built in 1737 and has a magnificent Rococo interior.

Church of the Nativity of Our Lord

In the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows stands the patron saint of unhappy marriages, St. Bearded Woman; she was a woman whose family arranged for her to marry a pagan man.  After praying for escape, she grew a beard, which turned the pagan man off.  Her father was so angry at her escape from the marriage that he crucified her.

St. Bearded Woman

The Loreta Treasury houses liturgical treasures from the 16th-18th centuries, including the magnificent Prague Sun, made of solid silver and gold and studded with 6,222 diamonds.

Famous Diamond monstrance – “The Prague Sun”

It is quite cold today, so after leaving the Loreta, we find a warm and cozy cafe where we enjoy a pizza for lunch.

After lunch, we continue our downhill walk to Prague Castle, passing unknown buildings along the way.

We reach the west end of Prague Castle at Hradčany Square, or Castle Square, which was the epitome of medieval power.  Approaching the main entrance, we see the Rococo Archbishop’s Palace on our left. The archbishop still lives here.

Hradčany Square

To our right is the Schwarzenberg Palace, with Renaissance-era envelope-shaped patterns etched into the exterior’s stucco.  These sgraffito decorate buildings throughout Prague (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

Schwarzenberg Palace
Schwarzenberg Palace

We stop to listen to the lively Prague Funfair Orchestra, tempting us to do a little jig.

musicians at Hradčany Square

Straight ahead is the Main Gate and the first courtyard of the palace. Plečnik  Hall overlooks this courtyard.  The hall is named after Jože Plečnik (1872 – 1957), a Slovene architect who greatly influenced the modern identity of Vienna, Prague (especially Prague Castle) and of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.  His style is associated with the Vienna Secession, a type of Art Nouveau.

Hradčany Square

The Main Gate is flanked by statues of battling Titans (1767-70) that loom over the castle guards standing below.  The changing of the guard takes place every hour on the hour, but we don’t wait around for it.

Hradčany Square
Hradčany Square

Before entering the Main Gate, we go to the edge of the square for views of the city sprawling below us.

view of Prague from Hradčany Square
view from Hradčany Square

We pass through the Matthias Gate into the Second Courtyard, noting the Chapel of the Holy Cross (1763) to our right. It houses the St. Vitus Treasury, with a collection of ecclesiastical items.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Passing into the Third Courtyard, the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral towers over us.  This Roman Catholic cathedral is the Czech national church.  Since a church has stood in this spot since 930, it marks the origins of the Czech Nation. The tombs of numerous Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors are housed here; it is now owned by the Czech government as part of the Prague Castle complex.

Emperor Charles IV laid the foundation stone of the cathedral in 1344.  Delayed by wars, plagues and reforms of Jan Hus, the church was finally consecrated in 1929, for the 1,000th Jubilee of St. Wenceslas (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside St. Vitus are beautiful stained glass windows that pour color into the interior.

The 1931 Art Nouveau stained glass window was designed by Czech artist Alfons Mucha to celebrate the birth of the Czech Nation and the life of Wenceslas. According to the Mucha Foundation:

The window portrays the boy St. Wenceslas with his grandmother St. Ludmila in the centre, surrounded by episodes from the lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who spread Christianity among the Slavs. The image of Slavia is also included below Christ, and as an emblem of Slavia Bank who funded the stained glass window.

Alfons Mucha window

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral are various treasures, ranging from the 14th century Bohemian crown jewels to chapels and sculptures, as well as the tombs of Bohemian saints and rulers from St. Wenceslas to Charles IV (Lonely Planet: Prague & the Czech Republic). The big silver tomb with the angel-held canopy honors St. John of Nepomuk.  The royal oratory, with its late-Gothic, vine-like ribs, allowed the king to attend mass in his pajamas, as it was attached by corridor to his apartment (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

The Wenceslas Chapel contains the tomb of the patron saint of the Czech nation.

On the south side of St. Vitus Cathedral, we can see the spires and the bell tower.  Mike decides to climb up the 297 steps while I relax in front of the Basilica of St. George in St. George Square.

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

The brick-red, early baroque facade of Basilica of St. George has a beautiful Romanesque nave.

Basilica of St. George
Basilica of St. George

Fragments of 12th century frescoes survive in the nave of the basilica.

Nave of Basilica of St. George
Nave of Basilica of St. George

The back of the Basilica has a more Romanesque look than the front baroque facade.

Basilica of St. George – back
Basilica of St. George – back

The Old Royal Palace dates from 1135, and its Vladislav Hall is known for its late-Gothic vaulted ceiling  (1493-1500).  The hall was used for banquets, councils and coronations, as well as for jousting tournaments.

Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall

A door from the Old Royal Palace leads to a terrace with a magnificent view of Prague.

Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague
Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague
Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague

Golden Lane is a charming alley full of colorful cottages built in the 16th century.  They originally housed servants and the sharpshooters of the castle guard but were later used by goldsmiths. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they were inhabited by artists, including the writer Franz Kafka, who lived here for a year shortly after publishing The Metamorphosis. The restored cottages showcase their former uses: goldsmith workshop, tavern, fortune-teller’s house, and bookshop; the alley leads to the eastern gate of the castle complex.

Golden Lane
Golden Lane

The most interesting cottage is the cozy home of an amateur film historian.

home of amateur film historian
home of amateur film historian

We continue walking down from Golden Lane, enjoying the views of Prague as we descend.

walking down from Golden Lane
Prague
Prague
Prague
Prague

Near the bottom, we decide we’ll return to our apartment to relax a bit.  We have reservations for tonight at a fancy restaurant, Restaurant Terasa U Zlate studne, at The Golden Well Hotel.  Though the restaurant is near Malá Strana, we would like to be refreshed and to not have to wait around for several hours.

along the way

We hop on the tram at Malostranské náměstí, which takes us back to our apartment.

catching the tram at Malostranské náměstí

Later, we head back out to go to dinner.  We take the tram to the Legion Bridge, where we walk across for views of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge.

tram on the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge

We enjoy the views of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge.

view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge

Back in Malá Strana, we climb up and up toward the Golden Well Hotel and Restaurant Terasa U Zlate studne. I didn’t bring any fancy clothes, nor do I have warm enough clothes for this fancy terrace restaurant, so I have to layer the clothes I do have.

Annually voted the best restaurant in the Czech Republic, Terasa U Zlate studne serves Czech and international cuisine on three terraces – two heated and one indoor – all of which boast spectacular views of Prague. Our terrace table is nicely heated and we love the views of the city from here.  Since we made such early reservations, we have the restaurant to ourselves for the first hour. What a wonderful experience!

view from the Golden Well
view from the Golden Well
view from the Golden Well
Mike at the Golden Well

We enjoy the wonderful atmosphere and views, along with wine and a Trio of Tuna appetizer: Tartar with poached Quail Egg, Tataki with White Radish, Pungent Wasabi and Skewer with Authentic Teriyaki Sauce.  This turns out to be the best part of my meal, besides the wine and dessert. 🙂

our table at the Golden Well

Mike enjoys a Bohemian Creamy Soup Kulajda completed by creamy Potato, fresh Mushrooms, and Egg.  I make the mistake of ordering Pan Fried Sea Bass completed by Fennel, Tomatoes, green Celery, Rouille Paste and La Ratte Potatoes in Bouillabaisse Sauce.  The sea bass is very fishy and dry, so for the cost of this meal, I am disappointed. Mike loves his meal of Veal Slices atop Sweet Potato Puree with Porcini Mushrooms and Veal Confit on Zucchini-Potato Pancake with Marjoram Glaze. I’m not much of meat eater, but I’m surprised by how good his meal is.  I’m craving more of his veal, but he’s enjoying it too much to share abundant portions. The dessert is artistically presented, but I don’t remember what it was.

After about an hour on the terrace in peace and quiet, a rather loud and boisterous group of Chinese tourists arrive, and so, enjoying one last view, we leave our heavenly little spot and make our way back to our apartment.

view from the Golden Well

Steps today: 15,399 (6.53 miles).

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