Sunday, 26 September 2010
Prague, part 4
The Municipal House, which the Czechs call Obecní dum, or “The People’s House”. This structure is an awesome example of Prague Art Nouveau architecture, so pay special attention to the details along the edges, the curling vines and decorative motifs around the grand entrance.
The building is used today mostly for concerts, restaurants and a museum, but the location itself has been the seat of governments going back all the way the Wenceslas IV, to a time before Prague Castle.
Gothic Powder Tower, or Prašna brana, built in 1475. It is so named because it was used to store weaponry and gun powder during the thirty-year war. This tower is very similar to the ones at the Charles Bridge and there was a time when 13 such gates served as entrance ways into the city. If you have the time, do take a trip up the narrow, winding stairs to the observation deck at the top, that would be nice. I left it for the next time.
In the same corner of Old Town Square there is the Jan Hus Memorial. A deeper look into the life of Hus is well worth it, to understand the role of the Hussites in Czech history, and the role of the Czech Republic in Protestantism in general. Ultimately, he was burnt as a heretic for his efforts to bring fairness to the Papal Catholicism of the day. Hus will always be a hero of the people for his conviction and bravery in standing up to the corrupt papacy at the time. Unveiled in 1915, the statue is a rare example of Art Nouveau as memorial.
The enormous white church on the square is called St. Nicholas Church and it is celebrated by Baroque architecture fans. The outsides swell with organic curves and the inside is the dazzling white and gold home to hundreds of chubby little angels. Concerts are on offer here as well. As with many Czech churches, it has had a spotted history – burnt and rebuilt, decommissioned, re-commissioned, stripped bare and handed over to the Protestants. Today it is yet another place to take in some classical music, and it is a venue where guest choirs sometimes perform.
The Clementinum is a former Jesuit college, given to Charles University. The large and beautiful Baroque complex is where many historical collections of the National Library are preserved. It’s also home to an observatory and the astronomical tower. Leading mechanics and scientists at the University designed special gear and outfitted it with some of the most advanced equipment to be had at the time. The Church has excellent acoustics and is a frequent venue for classical concerts.
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn. At night it is magnificently lit and its twin towers loom over Old Town Square. It was built by Hussites, followers of Jan Hus and it played a key role in their movement, being the seat of their Bishop, Jan Rokycana from 1424. Buried inside, among many others, is Tycho Brahe. This Danish astronomer was the leading observer of planetary movement at the time, and it was his notes that Johannes Keppler used to determine that the earth was not the center of the universe. Both men were invited to Prague by the visionary Emperor Rudolf II who was interested in all things occult and science.