I’ve been meaning to visit Prague for ages now, everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited says it is a beautiful place with lots to see. I originally toyed with the idea of visiting during December for the Christmas markets but as we are moving home in the next few months we settled on a long weekend away for our eight year wedding anniversary instead.
I’m so glad we made this decision – the weather was beautiful during our visit and we stayed in the Prague 1 area which meant every place I wanted to visit was within walking distance.
Some of the lovely places we visited during our visit included –
Prague Castle is a castle complex dating from the 9th century. It is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres. The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.
The history of the castle began in 870 when its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded under the reign of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia and his son St. Wenceslas in the first half of the 10th century.
During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace and new defence towers were also built on the north side of the castle.
The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Following his abdication in 1848, and the succession of his nephew, Franz Joseph, to the throne, the former emperor, Ferdinand I, made Prague Castle his home.
The Black Tower
The Black Tower is one of the oldest existing buildings in Prague. It was built in 1135 as an eastern gate of the Romanesque fortification of the Prague Castle. You can still see the former gateway there in the ground floor, it is walled up now.
The Black Tower belongs to the area of the Supreme Burgrave’s House at Prague Castle. Its name “Black” originates from the time of the big fire of the Prague Castle in 1541 – its walls remained black for a long time. The tower had also been called “Golden” in the era of Emperor Charles IV in the 14 th century as its roof was covered with gilded plates of lead.
The Black Tower was mainly used as a prison, as well as most of the towers at Prague Castle and many inscriptions written by prisoners can still be seen on the walls of the tower.
St Vitus Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert is a Roman Catholic metropolitan cathedral and is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Until 1997, the cathedral was dedicated only to Saint Vitus, and is still commonly named only as St. Vitus Cathedral.
This cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the largest and most important church in the country. The cathedral is located within Prague Castle and contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
Construction of the Gothic Cathedral began on 21 November 1344 and King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. The patrons the Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice, and Charles IV, King of Bohemia and a soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor, intended the new cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom, and the last resting place of patron saint Wenceslaus.
The entire building process came to a halt with the beginning of Hussite War in the first half of 15th century. The war brought an end to the workshop that had operated steadily for almost a century, and the furnishings of the cathedral, including dozens of pictures and sculptures, suffered heavily as a result. As if this was not enough, a great fire in 1541 substantially damaged the cathedral.
Golden Lane is a street situated within the grounds of Prague Castle. Originally built in the 16th century, to house Rudolf II’s castle guards, it takes its name from the goldsmiths that lived there in the 17th century.
Golden Lane consists of small houses, painted in bright colours in the 1950s. The street originally had houses on both sides, but one side was demolished in the 19th century. A fee must be paid to enter Golden Lane, and many of the houses are now souvenir shops. There is also a museum of medieval armoury which runs along the top of the small houses and is really fascinating so is well worth a visit.
House number 22 used to belong to the sister of writer Franz Kafka, who used this house to write between 1916 and 1917. Jaroslav Seifert, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984, lived there in 1929.
Golden Lane is connected with Dalibor Tower, which used to be a dungeon. Dalibor Tower is also well worth a look!
The community of prisoners condemned to live in Dalibor Tower varied greatly over the centuries. Apart from wrongdoers from the nobility, there were also burghers, craftsmen and serfs from the countryside who were serving sentences here. From the beginning, the burghers of Hradcany served as guards in performance as part of their duties subjects. They were not relieved of this task until King Ferdinand II issued a mandate on 22 September 1628, commanding the Royal Chamber “to have the offenders at the Dalibor Tower guarded by an artilleryman or craftsman serving at Prague Castle, should the need arise”.
The first and perhaps the most important prisoner at Dalibor Tower was the knight Dalibor z Kozojed. Dalibor was imprisoned in 1496 shortly after the tower was built, not only because he had backed the rebels against Adam Ploskovsky z Drahonie, the merciless feudal lord of Litomerice, but also because he had illegally confiscated the property for himself. After two years of bread and water he was sentenced to “the forfeiture of his chattels, his honour and his head”, and on 13th March 1498 he was executed on the courtyard of the Lord High Burgrave. Only much later did the romantic legend of Dalibor and his fiddle arise…
Out of boredom, so it goes, Dalibor learnt to play the violin so masterfully in prison that people came far and wide and listened, enraptured, to his soul-stirring playing. It is in the chronicle of Jan Frantisek Beckovsky of 1700 that you first come across the Czech maxim “necessity taught Dalibor how to fiddle”. The reality of Dalibor’s musical talent was, however, quite different: the “fiddle” was a nickname for an instrument of torture, a sort of rack on which the convicted man was stretched until “out of necessity” (under pressure, in suffering), the victim began to “fiddle” (change his tune, confess). A considerably altered version of the story of Dalibor appears in Josef Wenizig’s libretto for Bedrich Smetana’s Dalibor. The opera premiered in the Provisional Theatre on 16th May 1868, the day the foundation stone of the National Theatre was ceremoniously laid.
Count Frantisek Antonin Spork, a liberal nobleman, patron of the arts and sciences, and builder of Kuks, was imprisoned in the Dalibor Tower in the winter of 1720 because of disputes over an inheritance. To spite his opponents, he had the cell in which he spent almost three months decorated with numerous maxims and religious thoughts. They were then printed and disseminated throughout Prague. After serious illness Count Spork was released. To commemorate his confinement in Dalibor he founded a charity for burghers of Prague who had been condemned to prison for not paying their debts.
The noblewoman Marie Katerina Zahradkova z Eulenfels – one of the few women residents of Dalibor Tower was imprisoned here in February 1732 as an accomplice to the murder of her husband. The great age difference between her and him, as well as his violent nature, led the young Marie Katerina to contrive an attack by robbers, in which her husband was killed. After four years imprisonment in Dalibor she was taken, half mad, to the prison in the New Town Hall, where she spent another 20 years. A contemporary, the knight Jenik z Bratric, mentioned in his memoirs how this unfortunate woman often cried out at passers-by from the window of her cell on the ground floor, desperately rattling the bars from her window “acting mad in every respect”.
The last prisoner left the Dalibor Tower after the introduction of the new judicial system in 1781. With this Josephinian reform the old provincial court and the court of the burgrave were abolished, and with them the towers at Prague Castle ceased to be used as jails.
The Lennon Wall or John Lennon Wall was once a normal wall, but since the 1980s has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs.
In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Lennonism”!
The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Even when the wall was repainted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of global ideals such as love and peace.
Love padlocks (also known as Love Locks) are a custom by which padlocks are attached to a fence, gate, bridge or similar public fixture by sweethearts to symbolise their everlasting love. If you walk along the Lesser Town, very close to the Lennon Wall, you will see small locks on the gates over the canal.
Legend has it that when you find your true love you carve your names on a lock and lock it onto the gate and then throw the key in to the canal – so we did! On our 8th wedding anniversary too which was very apt!
The Charles Bridge is an historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river. Its construction started in 1357 under King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century.
The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. This new bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge but has been the “Charles Bridge” since 1870. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas. This “solid-land” connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.
The bridge is 621 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues originally erected in around 1700 but all now replaced by replicas.
The Old Town Bridge Tower
Old Town Bridge Tower is a gothic monument located at the Old Town end of the Charles Bridge.
It was built in the late 14th century, during the rule of the Emperor Charles IV. It was designed by the architect Petr Parléř and is one of the most astonishing gothic-style buildings I’ve seen.
The Clementinum is a historic complex of buildings which originally hosted the National, University and Technical libraries. The Technical library and the Municipal library moved to the Prague National Technical Library in 2009 and it is currently in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic.
The Baroque library hall inside Clementinum is known for its interior, including the ceiling artwork by Jan Hiebl, and has been described as the most beautiful library in the world. I was absolutely devastated when we arrived here because it is currently closed for restoration and isn’t open to the general public…. it was right at the top of my list of things to see in Prague too….Google the images of it and you will see why!
The Powder Tower or Powder Gate is a Gothic tower which is one of the original city gates. It separates the Old Town from the New Town.
The Powder Tower is one of the original 13 city gates in Old Town and construction began in 1475. The tower was intended to be an attractive entrance into the city, instead of a defensive tower. The foundation stone was placed by Vladislav II and the city council gave Vladislav II the tower as a coronation gift.
The gate was used to store gunpowder in the 17th century, hence the name Powder Tower or Powder Gate. The gate suffered considerable damage during the Battle of Prague and the sculptures on the tower were replaced in 1876.
Church of our Lady Before Týn
The Church of Mother of God before Týn, often translated as Church of Our Lady before Týn, is a gothic church and a dominant feature of Old Town. It has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church’s towers are 80 metres high and topped by four small spires.
By the beginning of the 15th century, construction was almost complete; only the towers, the gable and roof were missing. The roof was completed in the 1450s, while the gable and northern tower were completed shortly thereafter during the reign of George of Poděbrady (1453–1471). His sculpture was placed on the gable, below a huge golden chalice, the symbol of the Hussites. The southern tower, however, was not completed until 1511, under architect Matěj Rejsek.
After the lost Battle of White Mountain (1620) began the era of harsh recatholicisation. Consequently, the sculptures of George of Poděbrady and the chalice were removed in 1626 and replaced by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, with a giant halo made as a result of melting down the chalice.
Old Town Square
Old Town Square is a historic square in the Old Town quarter. It is located between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge.
The square features various architectural styles including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, and a medieval astronomical clock located on the Old Town Hall.
The Baroque St. Nicholas Church is another church located in the square, while the tower of the Old Town Hall offers a panoramic view of Old Town. An art museum of the Czech National Gallery is located in Kinský Palace.
At Christmas and Easter, markets are held on the square which resemble medieval markets. The Christmas Markets on the Old Town Square are the largest Christmas markets in the Czech Republic and are visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors from the Czech Republic and abroad. In 2016, CNN rated Prague’s Christmas Markets among the world’s best!
When I came home and started reading about the Town Hall, I wished I had taken more pictures of it as I couldn’t believe how much history it had! You can read more about Old Town Hall here.
The Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating.
The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself has three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.
The astronomical dial has a background that represents the standing Earth and sky, and surrounding it operate four main moving components: the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon.
The background represents the Earth and the local view of the sky. The blue circle directly in the centre represents the Earth, and the upper blue is the portion of the sky which is above the horizon. The red and black areas indicate portions of the sky below the horizon. During the daytime, the Sun sits over the blue part of the background and at night it sits over the black. During dawn or dusk, the mechanical sun is positioned over the red part of the background.
Written on the eastern part of the horizon is aurora (dawn in Latin) and ortus (rising). On the western part is occasus (sunset), and crepusculum (twilight).
Golden Roman numerals at the outer edge of blue circle are the timescale of a normal 24-hour day and indicate time in local Prague time, or Central European Time. Curved golden lines dividing the blue part of dial into twelve parts are marks for unequal “hours”. These hours are defined as 1/12 of the time between sunrise and sunset, and vary as the days grow longer or shorter during the year.
Inside the large black outer circle lies another movable circle marked with the signs of the zodiac which indicates the location of the Sun on the ecliptic.
The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 and especially May 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising, when the Germans fired on the south-west side of the Old Town Square from several armoured vehicles in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy one of the centres of the uprising. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the clock and the calendar dial face. After significant effort, the machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored by Vojtěch Sucharda, and the Orloj started working again in 1948.
As you can see the building is still undergoing extensive ongoing restoration work.
Wenceslas Square is one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings. The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia.
Formerly known as Koňský trh (the Horse Market), for its periodic accommodation of horse markets during the Middle Ages, it was renamed Svatováclavské náměstí (Saint Wenceslas square) in 1848.
Wenceslas Square is lined by hotels, offices, shops and fast-food joints. Wenceslas Square is also a popular location for stag and hen parties.
Food and Drink
I’m afraid for our anniversary meal we visited Hard Rock cafe – not very authentic I know but I love their twisted mac and cheese!! Plus we’ve made it a bit of a tradition to visit Hard Rock cafes all over the world – so far we have visited New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Miami, Marbella and Barcelona Hard Rock cafes!
Whilst exploring I was delighted to learn that fried cheese seems to be a bit of a speciality in Prague! I took full advantage of this tradition of course!
You also must try the goulash if you get the chance – hubby had some for his dinner which I managed to dip a few of my chips in and it was delicious!
Before we even arrived in Prague I knew I had to try a Vetrnik! This picture does not do it justice – it was absolutely HUGE! Three attempts and I still couldn’t finish it, but it was worth feeling sick for hours afterwards!
A Vetrnik is choux pastry with vanilla cream and caramel cream inside, topped with thick caramel flavoured fondant….
Although these are spotted all over the world nowadays, I finally got the chance to try a Churro cone! An ice-cream shaped cone made from delicious sugar sprinkled fried dough pastry with a dollop of yummy ice-cream on top – need I say more??
The drink Prague is most famous for of course is beer, and there’s certainly no shortage of places to go to partake! For those who prefer a sweeter taste than that of normal lager, try the Czech dark beer. Other beer brands you will find in the local pubs and bars include Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice, Bernard, Staropramen, Budweiser Budvar and Velvet.
If spirits are more your thing, try the Becherovka, a herbal liquor made out of several secret plants which is said to be good for digestion and to have medicinal properties. Becherovka is also used in some cocktails.
Fernet is another herbal beverage which comes in different variants, Stock (bitter), Citrus (lemon) and is best served cold or with ice.
Also give Slivovice a try – an alcoholic beverage made from plums, but you can also find different flavours of this drink such as pear and apricot.
Prague is a beautiful city full of amazing history, beautiful architecture, and delicious food and drink – this years wedding anniversary will certainly be one to remember!