Aug 27, 2010

Prague is City of Spires and Surprises

Prague is a magical city but along with the outstanding architecture, artwork, and food there are little side stories that add interesting twists to the sites and make them more memorable.
1. The eyes have it: Tourists gather in front of the 15th century Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square when the clock’s bells ring, the cock crows, and statues perform. One legend relates that the Old Town councilors were so impressed with the clock that they had the eyes of the master clockmaker burnt out with a hot poker so could never build another.
2. Hands off: In St James Church, one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Prague, notice the Virgin Mary statue on the main altar. A thief tried to steal the gifts left next to the statue. The statue grasped his hand and wouldn’t let go. Nobody was able to disengage his hand, so it was cut off. The wizened, blackened hand is hanging near the entrance as a warning to would-be thieves.
3. Pet the dog: The 600-year spectacular Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava River has 30 wonderful statues. The oldest stature is of John of Nepomuk. On the bottom portion of the statue is a bronze plaque of a knight and a dog. Rubbing the dog will bring good luck and insure one’s return to Prague.
4. Defenestration: Defenestration is defined as throwing someone out of a window. Several defenestrations have occurred in Hradcany whose history stretches back to the 9th century and is often said to be the world’s biggest castle.
5. The Good King: Good King Wenceslas was the second Christian ruler of the Czech lands and is the country’s patron saint. Wenceslas was murdered by his brother over a thousand years ago. The statue of him astride a steed is located in front of the National Museum and looks down the long street that has been the scene of many historic events.
6. Relief: The statue in front of the Kafka Museum, one of Prague’s best known authors, most likely would appeal to Kafka’s surrealist humor. The sculptor created two bronze statues relieving themselves into a pool of water in the shape of the Czech Republic.
7. Before numbers: Prague houses were not given numbers until 1770. Before that houses were identifies by emblems placed on the house. Today the House of the Black Madonna is a museum of Cubism. Some, like The Three Fiddles, indicated the occupation of the owners.
8. Lennonism: After John Lennon, one of the founding members of the Beatles, was assassinated in 1980 a wall on a quiet side street near the Charles Bridge was filled with Lennon-inspired graffiti including comments that annoyed the communist regime. The ever-changing wall of drawings and sayings promote love and peace.
9. Mirror Maze: Atop Petrin Hill the Mirror Labyrinth looks like a fantasy castle and is only one of several interesting places to explore in the park. Next to the maze of distorting mirrors is Petrin Tower, an observation tower modeled after the Eiffel Tower, along with a rose garden and the Hunger Wall.
10. Metronome: High above the Vltava and visible from most places in the city center is a 75-foot functional metronome where the world’s largest statue of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once stood. The 50-foot statue was destroyed in 1962.