The most surprising destination and the last of my trip was the city of Prague. Our tour was called “Cities of Light” and was book ended by Paris and Prague. I sort of knew what to expect in Paris, even though everything exceeded my expectations, but I had no idea what to expect of Prague and not sure how it compared to Paris. For some reason I expected the entire city to be soviet style apartment buildings all modern and drab. What I saw was an amazingly beautiful city full of rich history and culture and easily rivaled anything Paris had to offer.
Of all my trip posts, this one seems like it should have a soundtrack. There are lots of options, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to John Lennon’s Imagine, or a classical Christmas carol. All three played a part of the city’s history. In many ways Prague has been the cultural, political, and economic hub of central Europe. It was a Roman city and at times the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire as well as Bohemia. It has been ruled by both and played a part in the Habsburg monarchy and Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also had a major role in the reformation and has the oldest university in central Europe. The ruler my guide liked to talk about the most was Good King Wenceslas who ruled over the Bohemia city and was later declared a saint. The city did have dark times in modern times as it was conquered by the Nazis and then the Russians. Fortunately, neither evil empire destroyed the original historic city, nor did allied bombs. Some buildings were destroyed but most of the important historic spots were spared.
Part of our tour was understanding that the people of Prague have had to fight for their freedom for years. While the old city did not see many signs of communism, it is still part of their memory. Our guide was able to tell stories of growing up under communism. One area of the city that was interesting was the Lennon Wall. In 1967 students from the university revolted against their communist leaders which was quickly and violently put down. Afterward in a more subtle act they created the Lennon Wall by painting pictures of John Lennon and writing lyrics of his music all over. The wall was strategically located across from the French embassy. The French were still associated with revolution and Lennon became a symbol of freedom.
Other pictures were of Prague Castle. Built in the 9th century it was used by the kings of Bohemia and the Holy Roman emperors. Today it still houses the President of the Czech Republic. It is a huge complex housing not only palaces but also Saint Vitus Cathedral. The statues are of two important figures in Prague. First is Charles IV who is considered the greatest ruler of Prague and did more for the city than any other. The University is named after him as well as one of the most famous landmarks the Charles IV Bridge (the bridge shown was a major shoot location for the original Mission Impossible). The other statue is of Jerome of Prague who was president of Charles University but was removed from office for pushing his reformation beliefs. Supposedly it was his teachings that inspired Martin Luther to act and post his 95 Thesis.
Back in the 18th century Prague was a cultural center of Europe. It became a favorite city of Mozart who often performed at their famous concert hall, The Estates Theater which is pictured below. In 1787 he even decided to premier his opera Don Giovanni.
A very interesting part of the city is the Jewish Quarter. Being forced to live in one area of the city for centuries, the Jewish people built their lives in the quarter including several important synagogues. When Hitler took over the city, he ordered the Jews to camps but kept the quarter intact. He wanted the Prague Jewish quarter to serve as a museum for an extinct race. Even though his reason was morbid, it kept the quarter untouched so it can be seen today.
I also have a picture of some communist’s apartments, I felt I needed to add at least one. Fortunately, the communists did not destroy the historical city to build their own style of drab buildings, but instead build around the city. There are several pictures of the city and they do it do it justice. I highly recommend it if you get the chance to visit this amazing city.