A perfect day in Prague

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Begin your tour at the Prague Castle once the home of Bohemian royalty which overlooks the city from the ancient quarter of Hradcany. It will take at least half the day to see the castle and its exhibits cathedrals the Loreta Convent the Gothic Vladislaus Hall and Zlata Ulicka (the Golden Lane a short street of charming little houses). While construction began in the 14th century St. Vitus’ Cathedral wasn’t finished until 1929. The cathedral has beautiful stained-glass windows and a southern gate with bucolic scenes of workmen at their craft. Behind the cathedral is the Basilica of St. George a well-preserved (and restored) Romanesque structure.

Afterward make your way down to the Mala Strana (the Little Quarter) whose winding streets are the city’s best for strolling. Be sure to stop in the Church of St. Nicholas a baroque monument with a fantastic marble pulpit and beautiful statuary. Kampa a little island formed by the Vltava and a small stream has a chain of parks that offers a welcome rest to weary sight-seers.

Cross the 14th-century Charles Bridge a footbridge alive with musicians street vendors artists and trinket sellers and lined with statues (don’t miss the base of the statue of St. John of Nepomuk—it shows him being tossed off the bridge into the water). Visit the span several times during your stay—its character changes throughout the day (best early in the morning and at night). The towers at either end of the bridge offer a great view of the hustle and bustle below.

Continue on to Old Town Square our favorite part of the city. There you will find rows of well-preserved historic buildings large sidewalk cafes and churches (the spiky Tyn Church with the tomb of astronomer Tycho Brahe and the creamy baroque St. Nicolas). Also on the Old Town Square is the Kinsky Palace where Klement Gottwald proclaimed the beginning of the Communist state.

You can’t miss the huge astronomical clock on the side of the town hall just before the main square. We try to time a visit there to coincide with the changing of an hour. As the minute hand on the giant clock passes 12 a short morality play is mechanically performed: Windows open to show a parade of Christ and the Disciples a skeleton rings a bell calling mortals to their death and the figures of three men on the edges of the clock shake their heads no—they’re not ready to die yet. The performance ends with a cock’s crow.

In the middle of the square is a large monument to Jan Hus the martyred Protestant reformer. Another resident of the square was writer Franz Kafka who was born in the building on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova. The building now has a small museum filled mostly with pictures depicting the artist’s life. (Kafka fans should also make the pilgrimage to his grave in the New Jewish Cemetery in the Zizkov district.)

Continue beyond the Kafka Museum and you will run into the ancient Josefov (the Jewish ghetto). While most of it was torn down at the end of the 1800s some buildings do remain—be sure to see the old town hall (its clock runs counterclockwise and has Hebrew letters instead of numbers) as well as the haunting Jewish Cemetery: Because of a land shortage Jews were buried up to 12 deep per grave site so there are up to 12 grave markers jammed into an area where there would normally be one. The wall-to-wall tombstones coming up from the ground at every angle form a surreal picture. Another moving sight is the Ceremonial Hall which displays drawings made by children while they were in Nazi concentration camps. These simple drawings of everyday life in the camps are overpowering. Evocative too is the Pinkas Synagogue where all interior walls are completely covered with the names of many thousands of Czech Jews murdered in the camps. On a note of grim irony the artifacts on display in the State Jewish Museum were actually collected by Hitler for a museum devoted to an extinguished race.

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October 26, 2004 change by davidx (1 point)
June 15, 2005 change by eurapart

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