Prague is actually a sprawling, modern city of 1.3 million people. For our trip though, we focused on the historic parts of the city's downtown, featuring beautiful architecture, some of it dating back centuries.
For our first full day, we started in the:
Old Town (Stare Mesto)
Jan Hus Memorial
Although it's difficult to see with the construction, this is the memorial to Jan Hus, the Czech priest who defied both the Catholic church and the ruling Hapsburgs to promote Czech nationalism in the 1400's. He's long been a symbol of national pride.
The Tyn Church
This Gothic building has been the leading church of Prague for centuries. The large gold medallion features an image of the Virgin Mary, made by the Hapsburgs from a melted down Hussite chalice that was once housed in the still-empty nave below the medallion.
The Astronomical Clock
Located in one of wall of the Old Town Hall, the famed Astronomical Clock was designed by Tycho Brahe in the 1400's. It tells the time, amount of daylight, the day's zodiac sign, and the day's saint. It puts on a glockenspiel show on the hour, featuring the 12 apostles, Death, and the sins of Greed, Vanity, and Hedonism. As a science teacher, this was one of my favorite stops!
The Church of St. James
The Church of St. James features a rather interesting relic: the shriveled arm of a would-be thief. Legend holds that he tried to steal a statue from the church's altar, only to have his arm freeze to it when he touched it. The arm was severed by the monks (the only way that they could get his hand to let go) and has hung near the church's doors ever since as a macabre warning to those who would steal.
The Estates Theater
This famous theater is where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni. On a more political note, it is widely viewed by locals as a German theater, with the ruling Hapsburgs even forbidding the use of Czech in productions. (And leading to the building of the National Theater across town to celebrate the local culture in defiance of them.)
A plaque dedicated to Mozart
The Powder Tower
The Powder Tower derives its name from its original function: storing the city's gunpowder. Today, it's one of the only remaining pieces of the old town wall built in the 1400's to protect the city from invaders.
The Municipal Hall
Right next door is the Art Nouveau Municipal Hall. It was built in 1911 and features a great deal of art work promoting Czech nationalism that reflects the growing cry for independence of the day.
The New Town (Nove Mestro)
Despite the name, this section of Prague is still filled with stately old buildings and palpable history, some of it quite modern. This is where the Velvet Revolution of 1989 happened: student protests led to the (mostly) non-violent retreat of Soviet troops who had occupied the city since its "liberation" at the end of World War II.
King Wenceslas Statue
Duke Wenceslas I, called Vaclav I in Czech, is famous not only for his cameo in the Christmas carol, but also for uniting the Czech people and bringing Christianity to the area. He's a bit like the King Arthur legends of England, perhaps more legend than history at this point. The Czechs believe that when they face their darkest hour, Wenceslas and his armies will come riding out of Blanik Mountain to rescue the nation. They've gathered there in 1938, 1948, and 1968 (all times when they've needed him desperately) to see if he has come out. The cynical thought is that since he has yet to appear, the worst is still ahead.
All the more jarring for its lovely surroundings, the steel and glass Communist-Era Building next to the National Museum features a statue of a triumphant communist worker and housed the Czechoslovak Parliment (a rubber stamp for Moscow), Radio Free Europe, and museum exhibits. Having mostly escaped bombing during World War II, Prague was lucky enough to avoid much rebuilding in the communist style.
Memorial to the Victims of 1969
After the Prague Spring and subsequent crackdown, a student named Jan Palach set himself on fire on the steps of the National Museum. Two more students followed suit, and although their actions failed to bring about a revolution, twenty years lager, the Velvet Revolution happened in 1989.
Housed in the Svetozor Mall is an amazing glass window advertising the 1930's Czech radio company Tesla. I have no idea if there is any connection to today's electric cars.
An oasis in the middle of the bustling city, the Franciscan Gardens were built by monks in the 1600's. They are a great place to take a break and enjoy some ice cream, like we did!
This was the warmest day of our entire trip and we walked about 11 miles. It was a great, if exhausting, start to our trip,
Stay turned for more details of our anniversary trip!