Saturday, November 7, 2009

Impressions of Prague

The first thing that struck me walking out into Prague was the architecture, the incredible range of style, line, curve, color, decoration, the centuries encompassed within a square mile in the center of the city.

The Old Town includes the enormous bulk of the Church of Our Lady of Tyn, with towers that look like they might have sheltered the Wicked Witch of the East's flying monkey squadron, but that bulk is wrapped by Disney-colored, whipped cream encrusted buildings out of The Student Prince.

I'm embarrassed to say that for a history buff, I know very little Czech history.  I do know they're fond of defenestrating people, a method of getting rid of opponents unique to them as far as I know.  (The Ottomans used to throw people into the sea tied in sacks; everyone's got their favorite method I suppose.)  A lot of what we see in modern day Prague dates from the reign of Charles IV, King and Holy Roman Emperor , who built one of the major attractions, the Charles Bridge, now clogged with tourists and touts but still impressive, particularly from a distance.


The over-the-top tendencies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are responsible for much of the rest of what we come to Prague to see.  However, that all of this is still available to see is apparently due to the fact that Prague was not heavily bombed during World War II and so much that was lost elsewhere in Europe is preserved here.  So in a perverse way one might say that Neville Chamberlain preserved Prague, I suppose.


Even outside the old city center, much of it overrun as it is by tourists from everywhere in Europe, they take their decoration seriously.  The towers and turrets atop every apartment building, my god!  You have to be careful not to trip over the cobbles while looking up all the time.



And the candy colored facades surprised me.  I wonder if it's a reaction to the long dark winters.

You'll notice that many of the photos here show sun.  That was a short period, folks.  For the first time I really understand the phrase "leaden sky".  For the rest of the three days we were there, it rained, or if not actually raining, looked like that's what it really, really, wanted to do.

Both Gene and I noticed, by the way, how empty the streets appeared, aside from the tourist-thronged areas.  Unlike Paris, New York, San Francisco, London, we felt as if we were alone for blocks at a time as we walked around.  The restaurants seemed full, the trams had people on them, but there was little street life.  We missed that.

What the streets had plenty of was ornamentation.  Many buildings still bore the symbols of the use to which they were first put, like the violinmaker's house

Or the fellow who supplied your golden cups.

For those who didn't work for a living, the ornamentation ranged from a pretty bird over the door to an enormous figure holding up the porch.

A center of Art Nouveau decoration as well, Prague buildings don't lack for that style either.

It's actually rather overwhelming, so much to see, ricocheting from one century to another and back again.  


Anonymous said...

I would not have expected this much color in Prague or that the buildings were so fanciful. Very nice.

Karin B (Looking for Ballast) said...

Beautiful photos, Shelli! It looks like you had a marvelous time in Prague. I have wanted to visit there since the 1980s -- I hope I get to while I am in Europe one day. Thank you for sharing your trip.

RRR said...

What most impressed me about this post were the tags: Austro-Hungarian Empire. Good work.