What’s the most romantic city on earth? Imagine a city that is a thousand years old and has been through the turmoil of the ages. A city of ancient bridges and walls, of love and lovers: that is Prague.
For me, Prague is a fairy-tale city with its magical charm tempting lonely travellers to stay and drown in its beauty. It has often been said that it is impossible to fully admire the beauty and romance of Prague in just a couple of days. Even more difficult is trying to sum up Prague, capture its magic, in a couple of words.
The first place you have to go is the city’s observation tower on top of Petrin Hill. This will give you an overview of the city and let you see all there is to see. And with a thousand years of history, there is plenty to see.
To make sure you don’t miss any of Prague’s main treasures, repeat the bird’s-eye view exercise with the “Castle on the Heights,” Vyšehrad. Here, ever-present legends mix with ancient myths that seem just as palpable as the rocky hill, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. No wonder, we are talking after all about the very first seat of Czech princes and kings.
The best vantage points are from the Gothic ruins of Libuses’s Baths. Princess Libuse (pronounced “Libushe”) was the daughter of Krok and, as legend has it, she had visionary powers. She became the first woman to rule Prague and married a humble ploughman, Premysl. Together they started the Premyslid dynasty that would rule for 400 years. Libuse is said to have foreseen the seven hills of Prague growing into a marvellous city (which indeed happened), thus she’s considered to be the mother of modern-day Prague.
The story of Prague Castle mirrors the story of Prague itself and Christianity in the Czech Republic. The castle originally included a palace, three churches and a monastery. Even though the fortification faced fires, invasions and world wars, it somehow survived and became the symbol of Prague. Since 1918, Prague Castle has served as the official residence of the president of the republic.
Do you want to know what the smallest street in Prague looks like? Then you shouldn’t miss Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) in the castle complex. The street is lined with small houses built in the Mannerism style at the end of the 16th century. The street was created during the construction of the northern fortification at the end of the 15th century. In 1597, Emperor Rudolf II gave the space there to the castle marksmen who guarded the fortification. But there were 24 marksmen and a lack of space, forcing the marksmen to build very small houses for themselves and their families. Over the decades several houses were destroyed and by 1657 there were only 14 houses left. Golden Lane hosted both rich and poor, artists, clerks, footmen and more.
If you want to experience more of the mystery and magic of Prague, take a walk on the Charles Bridge. As peaceful and romantic as it may seem, the Vtlava (Moldau) River has not always been calm. Its fury, combined with the power of heavy rains, has many times risen up to destroy the bridges built over it. The Charles Bridge is no exception. It has on numerous occasions been the victim of floods and natural or human calamities. But it is still standing and hopefully it will remain a symbol of Prague far after we are gone.
The construction of the bridge we see today dates from the reign of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. The bridge was finished in 1402 and until 1870 was called The Stone or Prague Bridge (Kamenny/Prazsky Most). The bridge is decorated with 30 statues and statuaries, most of them in Baroque style, erected around 1700. They represent various saints and patron saints worshipped at that time. Among the most notable sculptures, one can find the statuaries of St. Luthgard, St. Crucifix and St. John of Nepomuk.
It is said that touching the statue of St. John of Nepomuk will make your wish come true. That is why parts of the statue are so shiny, from the countless hands that have touched it over the ages. Starting from 1965, all of the statues have been systematically replaced by replicas and the originals exhibited in the National Museum.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in architecture, history or you just want to enjoy the atmosphere of the place, walking through this lovely street in the centre of Prague is a must.
Text by Antonius Martono | Photos courtesy Czech Tourism