Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Prague Day 2 (Part 1): Strolling around Prague Castle

It was again a beautiful day in Prague. Less humid and less hot (whew!). Since we walked around the old town section of Prague yesterday, we decided to head towards the Prague Castle by crossing the famous Charles Bridge. We were staying right between the old town and new town, so the walk made more sense than the tram approach.

Charles Bridge is a stone bridge built in the later 14th century to early 15th century during the era of King Charles IV. It crosses the river Vltava (Moldau), and it was the most important connection between the Old Town and Prague Castle until 1841.  The bridge which is approx. 520m in length and 10m in width is totally closed off for pedestrians only, and you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Prague Castle side of Prague along the bridge.  A part of the bridge was under construction, which interfered with appreciating the total beauty of the bridge and view, but it was still a great place to be. I was wondering how many people have crossed the bridge over the last hundreds of years and enjoyed the view of the castle from the bridge.

Crossing the bridge which was full of tourists and souvenir shops, we arrived in an area with lots of cute houses with bright orange brick roofs.  I just loved the sight of them.  I felt like time slipped back into the medieval era with witches, magics, buffoons, dragons, and all that - yep, had rather surreal feelings.  I was for a sec in the wold of children's book that I used to read when I was a little kid. :-)

From the bridge to the castle is not a short walk.  You actually have to walk up the hills for a while. Found Starbucks(!!... have to say it has been more than 6 months since I last had Starbucks coffee) on the way to the castle and got ourselves some coffee and continued our walk.  By then the sun was higher and the humidity was increasing again, and the cold Ice Latte felt so good.

There are lots of lovely looking shops and cafes along the streets up to the castle.  Enjoying the sight of pavement, bright flowers, cute little shops, and people sipping outside enjoying the coffee and sun, it ironically reminded me of the busy life I had back in Tokyo and LA.  Life can be much more relaxed, if you choose it to be so.

The final hill to the castle was rather steep, but the sight from the hilltop was gorgeous with an array of orange brick roofs and greens here and there. We were there just in time for the ceremony, but we could already see that the entrance to the castle was amazingly crowded with the tourists wanting to see the ceremony.  After a while, we realized that it was not worth while being there, as all we could see was the mass of people holding up the cameras to take videos and pictures. 

We found a side path to the castle and went in. Prague Castle is one of the biggest castles in the world. Construction began in the middle of the 9th century, and it continued to expand throughout the years, and thus the castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium from Romanesque, Gothic, to Baroque.

Once you go through the second courtyard, you will be astonished at the magnificent sight of St. Vitus's Cathedral. It definitely has a big "WOW" effect. The building used to be a simple looking Rotunda when it was first built around 925, just like lots of churches were back then. Then during time of the King Charles IV, it was turned into Gothic style by two architects. 

The first one was a Frenchman Matthias of Arras from Avignon. Matthias designed the overall layout of the building with French Gothic style: a triple-naved basilica with flying buttresses (which is beautiful!!), short transept, five-bayed choir and decagon apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. After he died, the second one, Peter Parler, at that time only 23-years old, took over the work. 

Parler worked according to the plans left by his predecessor at first, but once he finished all that Matthias left unfinished, he started to apply his own ideas. Parler, unlike Matthias, was also trained as sculptor and woodcarver. He treated architecture as sculpture, and thus came up with very innovative designs throughout the cathedral. The famous one is called Parler's vaults or net-vaults which have double diagonal ribs that span the width of the choir-bay. The crossing pairs of ribs create a net-like construction which considerably strengthens the vault as well as a dynamic zigzag pattern down the length of the cathedral.  Unfortunately the line to the cathedral was unbelievably looong, and we didn't get to go inside to see the vaults. Maybe next time.

We walked around the cathedral and decided to head to the Strahov Monastery instead of exploring further into the castle, which was all crowded with the trourists (I guess summer is not the time to visit Prague). Starhov Monastery was okay. The part of the library was under construction and wasn't exactly what I expected.  I also got sick by the time I got there, and just wanted to head to the hotel to rest and to feed gG.  We took a tram back to the hotel and took a quick rest before heading back to town in the evening.


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  2. >I was for a sec in the wold of children's book that I used to read when I was a little kid. :-)

    really!? I felt the same way in Prague and in small towns in Germany! And after reading your posts I realized how much I missed out by not knowing about Prague history.. omosiro sugiru..