This post is the second in MIPTC's travel series, which started yesterday on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning. Otherwise, jump in and travel along.
April in Prague, like most countries, brings showers and a bit of cold. In the most visited city in the European continent, the rain has fallen on this city for some 1,100 years, and in the form of a light mist, it is falling again today. The capital of the Czech Republic is a stunningly beautiful medieval city with innumerable churches, synagogues and a cathedral or two, which all contribute to the skyline multiple black-with-soot spires guarded by gargoyles spitting out steady streams of rainwater.
Constructed through the ages, the city defines itself by differing types of building construction, which ranges from renaissance, Gothics, rococo, baroque, art nouveau, neo-classical, industrial and extends to communistic, if you remember your recent history. Some buildings employ multiple styles, leaving the most informed architects scratching their heads. Even Frank Geary has been here: he contributed the "Dancing House," which locals call "Fred and Ginger."
Prague was first settled by the Celts in 500 AD, but it wasn't until the 9th century when the Premyslid citizens started building their city with what of course is known as Old Town; In those medieval times, the city arose from four separate, but adjacent towns.
Praha, as the locals know it, started when Staré Mesto (Old Town) was combined with Nové Město, or New Town. Just to give you the Czech's idea of "new," the New Town was built in the 14th century. The current city is comprised of two other founding towns: Mala Strana, the "Lesser Quarter," and Vyšehrad or the "high castle," which distinguished that castle from the lower castle (Prague castle) across the river.
That river, the Vltava, runs peacefully through the city and is spanned by some twelve bridges, the most visited of which is the Charles IV bridge. The famous bridge contains a number of statutes added after the bridge itself was built, including one that will grant visitors their wishes if they rub the brass dog or woman, as most tourists do. The locals look for their wishes to be granted by placing their left hand (closest to the heart) over St. James's cross inlaid on the North abutment in the middle of the bridge.
Once over the bridge, we walk to the ropemaker's wife's café as recommended by our city tour guide, which has its own story worth reading here. The pub food at Il Provaznice is pure Czech, rich and tasty, with the obligatory practically national beer, Urquell Pilsner, an old world draft of very good quality. Once sated, we're back on the trail.
Like most medieval towns, it would not be complete without a castle on a hill, and to this obligation, Prague complies like no other town. Initially considered a secondary castle, Prague Castle commands a view of the entire city from a hill high above the Vltava and houses the equally commanding St. Vitus Cathedral. At night the long and high lighted castle and cathedral both dominate and define the city. Its rulers are equally luminescent.
King Wenceslaus, the one we know from the Christmas carol, who was actually just a prince, later became a Saint given his success in bringing Christianity to what was then part of Bohemia and helped start beautiful Prague Castle, which is now considered the prime castle in the city. Charles IV of the Luxembourg dynasty was the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor and continued to build the castle. His vision was largely responsible for converting Prague into the magnificent city it is today.
The Vyšehrad castle, situated on a high rock overlooking the Vltava on the opposite shore from Prague Castle, was the seat of the Bohemian dukes. In the 11th century, King Vratislav made it his home and the seat of government, building the castle to full glory. Charles IV reconstructed it in the 14th century, but in the Hussite wars in the 15th century, all but the church and rotunda of St. Martin were destroyed. In the 1700's the French rebuilt the castle wall, but it remains a shadow of its former self.
The Vyšehrad castle started with the early Premyslid dynasty, which came right after the Celts. A mythical ancestor of the Premyslids, Princess Libuse, prophesied that Prague would become the beauty it is today when she said, "I see a great city whose fame will touch the stars."
She was right in so many ways, and perhaps in ways even as a mystic she could not have imagined.