It was nighttime when we reached Prague, the first objective of our trip through Europe. We were accommodated in the new city, at a hotel in an area with gray blocks of flats, which reminded us of the communist era.
Before midnight, we went to visit the historical center of the old city. It was a warm and pleasant August night. The impression that the old center left upon us was overwhelming and we still carry it with us to this day. Prague has one of the best preserved medieval squares in the world and it was included in the UNESCO heritage sites list. Set along the banks of the Vltava River, it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world and truly deserves to be called “The Golden City”, “The City of a Hundred Spires”, “Prague-Mother of Cities” or “The Paris of the East”. The 600 year old architecture has been preserved in an excellent state, as if untouched by the devastating wars that rampaged the continent.
The square in the old historical center, dates from the 11th century. It was filled with visitors as if it was the middle of the day. Everything was brightly lit, the historical and architectural monuments seemed golden and the atmosphere was lively and relaxing. In the middle of the square there’s an imposing monument dedicated to the religious reformer Jan Hus, a national symbol for Czech people. The City Hall impresses with its tower with the famous Astronomical Clock, one of the oldest and most elaborate clockworks ever made. There are two magnificent churches in the opposite side of the square. St. Nicholas Church was built in a baroque style. The Church of the Virgin Mary is a fabulous Gothic style building. The labyrinth of old streets, alleys and the paved passageways all emerge into the central square.
We walked on the famous Charles Bridge, also known as the Stone Bridge, which connects the tower in the old historical center with the tower in Mala Strana, thus connecting the old and the new cities. It was a walk between centuries. The bridge, one of the greatest treasures in Prague architecture, is the pride of the city. Together with the tower that was raised during the Middle Ages to defend the citadel, it served as the main entrance in the Prague Castle. With a length of 515 m and sustained by 16 pylons, the bridge is decorated with baroque statues. From here, we admired the Vltava River and the recreation boats that were sailing in the night. We were once again impressed by the cheerfulness of a group of youngsters on the Vltava, having a great time on the deck of a small ship.
We returned to the square in the old center, where we lingered for a while, admiring the landmarks from a terrace where we enjoyed a beer. The romantic walk in the night was a journey through time and will remain one of the greatest memories about this magic city.
The next morning we went to the Prague Castle. This is the castle of the kings of Bohemia and it dominates the Vltava Valley. It was built in the 9th century and it is the largest medieval complex in Europe. It is also the major touristic attraction in Prague. It hosts spectacular museums and jewelry and served as home to princes and kings for 11 centuries. Beginning with 1918, it became home to the country’s presidents.
Inside the complex, we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important in the country. It was built following the French Gothic style, with several chapels, frescoes and tombs. In the Coronation chamber we admired the Crown jewels. In the cathedral’s crypt lie buried saints, kings and princes of Bohemia. The interior of the cathedral has a central nave with two wings, beautiful stained glass works and frescoes, all glittering with decorations. It has several adjacent chapels and the most beautiful is the one with the tomb of St. Vaclav, which is also a pilgrimage site. From the upper wing of the cathedral we could see the 109 m tall clock tower. On the right side of the tower lies the old entrance in the cathedral. Above it there’s a golden mosaic that represents Doomsday.
We descended on the Golden Lane, which is a narrow street with historical houses, built inside the castle walls, exhibiting armors, medieval textiles and souvenirs. This was once the residence of alchemists and the imperial entourage. Nowadays it is a fascinating street with a spectacular scenery.
It was by evening time that we returned to the square in the old center. We arrived just in time to watch the Procession of the Twelve Apostles at the Astronomical Clock. The clock was installed at the top of the tower at the beginning of the 15th century and has three main components. The astronomic quadrant shows the position of the sun and the moon, as well as other astronomical details. “The Walk of the Apostles” is a show staged by the figures of the apostles each time the clock strikes the exact hour. There’s also a quadrant representing the twelve months of the year. We waited in front of the tower, along with many other tourists, in an overwhelming heat, just for this one unique moment. The image was fantastic. At 12 o’clock, a skeleton pulled a string to ring a small bell. Then a window opened and, through it, the twelve apostles emerged. A golden rooster told the time and then the bells of the clock began to sing. This was the last and the most stunning memory I keep from amazing Prague. It took a hold of me by its charm, authenticity and history and I have a strong desire to return someday.