Its spitting, Angels die with you.
Some of the more observant readers may have noticed that before today I was yet to do two of the big things that one goes to Prague to do. Yes I have seen the clock and drunk the beer…but I was yet to do the Prague Castle or Charles Bridge. Well the Charles Bridge is on the list for tomorrow (my last day in Prague) and today I went and explored the grounds of the old Prague Castle.
Getting there was easy as Justin had already given me the heads up on which tram to take and which stop to get off at. The weather was far from perfect. Reading via facebook statuses that it was “hot” and “sunny” in Leeds while I was stuck with cold and light showers in Prague made me as jealous as a kid who sees the rich kid walking out of the Melbourne show with every showbag. Regardless though I was going to make the most of the day, not let the weather deter me and so I went to the castle, bought my ticket and an audio guide and started at St Vitus’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral is the main visual landmark of the castle as it sits imposingly above Prague city. You can basically see it from whereever you are in the city and it is even more imposing up close. With the audio guide you got to skip the line and I got a detailed explanation of every aspect of the building and its construction which was quite insightful. The cathedral in many respects reflects the Czech history in my opinion. It has been attacked numerous times, oppressed for periods, re-built many times (even before it was finished) and has had many influences over the hundreds and hundreds of years it took to complete. It was also only finished recently and I think there is a connection there as well. There are many different parts to the cathedral and although it is not as impressive as others you may see it did seem to have more of a story to tell. The silver tomb of St John Nepomucene was definitely a sight worth seeing. Unfortunately, in addition to the rather dodgy weather the tower and the crypt were closed which was unfortunate. In particular the tomb of Charles IV would’ve been cool to see.
I then followed on the numbers on the audio guide to the Old Royal Palace. Although not really what one would consider luxurious there is plenty about this palace to interest you in the history and the stories the walls could tell. The big hall is somewhat of an architectural masterpiece of its time and the defenestration stories never get old (the fact there is a word for “throwing people out of the window” boggles the mind). I am not sure if I was king I would like to live here though, it is definitely a cold and drafty place and lacked the beautiful details that we saw at the Karlstejn Castle. Maybe they have just not been as well preserved over the years.
It was then time to explore more of the rooms of the palace which have now been dedicated to a museum on “The Story of Prague Castle.” I was initially hesitant to do this as it cost a little extra to get the “grand tour” ticket but I am so glad I did. It is obviously a recent addition, all the exhibits are in Czech and English and there are even some interactive displays. It traces the history of the castle and its grounds over time starting in the pre-historic and ending at the end of the First Republic with detours for particular parts of Castle life such as eating or heating (it was somewhat ironic how cold the room where the heating exhibit was!). I was amazed many of the artifacts had survived, particularly the accent fabrics and textiles. Quite a few of the displays leave you with that weird feeling you get when you realise that they seem to be basically the benefits of disturbed graves. The graves of the kings and queens of old may not have been robbed in the strict sense but they have definitely been disturbed when there are skeletons and burial clothes on display. It is probably similar to seeing a mummy in a Museum but at least with mummies there is a level of distance as a lot is unknown about the people they were when they were alive. Reading a play by play description of someone’s life and then seeing the shoes they were buried in is slightly off putting to me…or maybe I think too much. After all the idea of religious relics (including body parts and remains of Saints) and the moving of people’s remains appears to have been a regular aspect of Czech history. If not human history.
St George’s Basillica was next on the list and it is hardly a beautiful building. There is some beauty from the outside but inside it is just large bare undecorated stone and once again it is the history of the place and not the visuals that you come to see. There was a really awesome caved skeleton statue in the crypt though! The castle consists of many different other parts and things to see including the Golden Lane (which is now just a tourist strip) and many different gardens and courtyards. I think they would’ve been much nicer on a better day but they were still cool to explore, even if the amount of ‘tourist tackiness’ detracts from them slightly. The two most interesting other parts of the castle for me though were the Powder Tower and the Hradcanske namesti. The Hradcanske Namesti (or Hradcanske Square) was cool as it had the best view of the castle as it is the front square just in front of the main gate, but it was also cool as it was the square where Obama gave that speech that my damn lucky brother got to see live. The Powder Tower was more of a surprise coolness though. It had a display about the Castle Guard who are basically the Czech equivalent of the dudes with funny hats who march at Buckingham Palace in London. What made the exhibits so interesting as through the Role and costume of the Castle Guard throughout the 20th Century it basically tells the story of the Czech people and politics over that time. In the First Republic (between WW1 and WW2) they wore the uniforms model on the French, Italy and Russian Armies who had played a role in them gaining independence. The role of the Castle guard was suppressed under the Nazi reign and their uniforms adapted to reflect those of Hitler’s army. Once they were liberated post World War 2 there was a short return the uniforms of old before the Russian Communist influence lead to them being replaced with russian uniforms and largely neutralised. There was short revival during the Prague Spring of the late 60s, but it wasn’t until Czechoslovak independence in the late 80s/early 90s that they returned to their position of glory and importance. It really was an interesting distillation of Czech politics. It was also funny that the costume designer for Amadeus designed their current uniforms I think!
With my time in the castle complete. I then went for a walk through the little town. It really is a nice part of Prague and again would only be nicer on a better day. I walked past the Lennon Wall which was a wall for anti-communist rebellion in the 60s and 70s and still persists as as political protest wall to this day although it is much more haphazard than the murals of Belfast or the like. It was then time for a late lunch in Bar Bar (the restaurant named by someone with a stuttar, recommended by Lonely Planet and with Aboriginal Art on the walls). The food was good and cheap though so what more could you ask?
Anyway I better add some photos to this and the last few posts or they really will be walls of text 😛
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