The state of California is in the far west of the United States of America (USA) and is one of the largest and most populous in the country. Its nickname is Golden State (each American State has one), which derives from the discovery of gold in the Sacramento River in 1848. In the following months, thousands of people settled themselves there, hoping to become wealthy. This event was one of those that ultimately defined the entire history of the United States and of the state itself (it was ceded by Mexico to the United States, also in 1848).
In southern California, where the desert prevails, we encounter an oasis of luxury called Palm Springs, which has already 2000 years of history approximately. It is found in a never-ending plain, almost fully surrounded by mountains. It has a desert climate, sunshine is a recurring presence almost throughout the year and there is little precipitation, which makes this a very popular place to visit and to live. It is an elegant city, whose streets are almost always straight and with an immense flock of palm trees. To feel the city’s luxurious atmosphere, you can stay in its beautiful Palm Springs vacation homes.
This oasis, fairly close to Hollywood, is a perfect getaway for celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe or Leonardo DiCaprio. The names of the streets have adopted the name of many of those famous people, and so there are streets like Frank Sinatra Drive or the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway. Yes, that was where he spent his honeymoon!
With the discovery and development of Palm Springs, several architects built modern houses, inspired by the city’s desert environment. As we speak, there are 75 edification of the so-called desert modernism. It is stunning.
Visiting this oasis of Californian desert is totally worthy… any time of the year.
What to do
Aerial Tramway and San Jacinto State Park
The main attraction of Palm Springs is the Aerial Tramway, which goes all the way up to Mount San Jacinto. This cable car allows one to experience a placid 4-kilometer journey, which lasts approximately 10 minutes. The landscape during the course is awe-inspiring. The cable car allows you to have a 360º panorama over the Coachella Valley.
Francis Crocker was the engineer who, in 1935, had the idea to build something that would allow one to leave the warm temperatures of Palm Springs behind, and quickly reach the cool climate of the mountains. Therefore, a few years later (in 1963), and after 26 months of construction works, the world’s largest tramway was inaugurated.
But, besides the breathtaking landscape that we can admire along the journey, and the one we get when the car leaves us at 2500 meters of altitude, another strong reason to make this journey is the San Jacinto State Park. This is a park with approximately 5700 hectares, 86 km of trails, a picnic area, camping areas and several spaces to conduct winter activities. This park comprises one of the most famous routes, the Pacific Crest Trail, which extends itself from the U.S.-Mexico border to Canada, meandering along the Pacific coast.
Coachella Valley Preserve
Palm Springs is part of the Coachella Valley, and is the most important city in this protected area that stretches itself throughout 72 km. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the most important in the world, happens annually in this valley.
From the several attractions of this valley, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the one that stands out, home of a unique lizard in the world. The preserve has more than 6000 hectares and it is located 27 kilometers away from Palm Springs. In addition to the small reptile, the preserve has a magnificent oasis with 1000 palm trees, several walking trails, which are also available as a picnic area.
Joshua Tree National Park
50 minutes away from Palm Springs, there is the Joshua Tree National Park. This desert area has a cactus named Joshua, which is virtually exclusive to this area, and also many other kinds of plants.
The park has almost 324000 hectares and encompasses two deserts, and it is possible to find a vast diversity of plants and animals, besides the most famous and the one that lends its name to the area. It is an outstanding location for walking, climbing, bird watching or cycling.
The Indian Canyons are a sacred region to the ancient indigenous peoples of Palm Springs, the Indians of Cahuilla. These people, centuries ago, settled themselves in this location with beautiful palm trees and towering rock formations, abundant water and several plants and animals. It is still possible to watch the ruins of that indigenous society and its way of life.
This region comprises almost 100 kilometers of trails, with diverse levels of difficulty, giving the chance to any visitor to take at least one. The natural beauty and the historical interest are good reasons to justify a visit.
Palm Springs is known as an elegant destination, increasingly sought to spend luxury holidays, play golf and catch sun by the pool, almost throughout the year. But, in this city, we can also find great museums, devoted to themes that are quite different from each other.
The one I emphasize is the Art Museum, opened in 1938 and focused on the desert environment and the natives of the region. Currently, it has been dedicating itself to the indigenous culture and to the contemporary artwork as well. For those who are fond of art, this place cannot be missed. The Annenberg Theater, which is part of the building, holds several music and theater shows.
The Art Museum Palm Desert opened more recently, about 20 kilometers away from Palm Springs.
VillageFest and the Palm Canyon Drive
The Palm Canyon Drive is the main artery of the downtown and one that involves numerous museums, several sorts of restaurants and shops. It is then a clever way to start exploring Palm Springs.
The VillageFest happens on this street every Thursday night, an event that is attended by thousands of people. After the traffic in Palm Canyon Drive is shut down, dozens of stands are assembled on both sides of the street. Food and crafts are sold, and several types of entertainment shows are held at this outstanding street fair.
Buildings of the Desert Modernism (House of Tomorrow)
The city of Palm Springs is the home of the great share of mid-century modern architecture and design. Around ten visionary architects gave rise to the movement which is currently known as Desert Modernism. In 2006, Palm Springs was elected as a culture tourism destination for architecture and, as we speak, there are several organizations exclusively dedicated to this.
To better understand this movement, and its most important buildings, tours are held throughout the year. The building that stands out the most is the House of Tomorrow, built in 1960 by Robert Alexander for his family. But what really made it famous was the fact that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, rented it for one year, a period during which he also spent his honeymoon.
Walk of Stars
The Walk of Stars was created in Palm Springs in 1992, which intends to pay tribute to personalities who lived in the city and, in some way, have contributed to its popularity.
There are stars dedicated to U.S. Presidents, personalities form the entertainment industry to civic action, musicians, among many others.
Sunday I decided to go for an afternoon walk at Lx Factory. This is a space of the Portuguese capital, renewed a couple of years ago, and is quite close to the river, in Alcântara. This area is already a bit far from the Lisbon’s downtown, but several bus lines and trains can take us there on a regular basis. Already there, one must carefully look for an iron gate, given that it is a quite discreet entrance.
Lx Factory emanates a good vibe, due to a mishmash of factors. It has an abandoned and decayed appearance, the stores and the offices are super original and irreverent and the people who go there appear to be quite interesting. All this environment is even better on Sundays.
The Lx Market takes places on this day, between 11 am and 8 pm. Some of the streets get jam-packed with stands from Portuguese vendors and some are from abroad. Clothing, jewellery, fruit and vegetables, sodas and alcoholic drinks, natural and décor products, all these are sold. But it’s worth going to this market even if you do not want to buy anything at all.
What was Lx Factory in the past?
As you walk through streets of Lx Factory you will notice that this area used to be an industrial place. Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense, a textile company, opened its doors here in 1849. It was one of Lisbon’s major factories.
Companhia was inaugurated in 1838 but its factory in Alcântara had the intent to gather all the activity-related buildings in just one spot, since they were scattered. João Pires da Fonte, the Portuguese architect, was the one responsible for the project.
The first manufacturing building inaugurated had 4 floors, an enormous chimney and a steam machine inside, which allowed spinning and weaving. In the following years, 5 more buildings were edified and the whole unit amassed more than 300 looms at one point, made in England. It was the activity’s golden era.
Can you imagine the number of people who worked at the factory? A workers’ village was built right next to the factory by the Companhia, in order to lodge the workers and their families. If you want to see it, go to Rua 1º de Maio. And, by the way, just to spike your curiosity, I must add that there are many other workers’ village in Lisbon, even though the one of Rua 1º de Maio was the first.
After enjoying some prestige, Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense started to face some issues (caused by the establishment of the Portuguese Republic), which eventually led to its closure. The industrial buildings were all sold, first to Companhia Industrial de Portugal e Colónias and then to the typography Anuário Comercial de Portugal e Gráfica de Mirandela.
The industrial activity in Lisbon gradually decreased and the space once occupied by the factory was degraded. And, therefore, this huge area of 23000m2 remained concealed in Lisbon.
What is the Lx Factory?
The project Lx Factory was born in 2008. It is an island that breathes creativity and inspiration. The obsolete factory came back to life and is nowadays a mandatory cultural hallmark for those who visit (or live in) Lisbon.
Phrase written on a wall of Lx Factory
The old facilities are now occupied by companies related to architecture, design, restoration, advertising, fashion, plastic arts, music, photography, as well as some restaurants and cafés, among other fields. Seeing what is taking place in the creative minds of the Portuguese is a breath of fresh air.
On Sunday, in addition to all these business activities that I have just mentioned, there is also the Lx Market. There is an immense array of more or less original product stands, and having the chance to check them and perhaps buy something is just great. Maybe some tomatoes or figs of Torres Vedras, a new, unique and original bracelet (handmade), a cute shirt or a typical tile of Lisbon to have a city souvenir and also this afternoon’s walk.
Once upon a time there was a Czech known as Franz Kafka. Born in Prague on 3 July 1883, during an era when the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs.
Kafka was the eldest of six children, offspring of a middle-class Jewish couple (of German ascendancy). His parents were Hermann Kafka and Julie Löwy and a great part of their daily lives was spent away from home and their children, due to a family business. This separation, alongside some sort of authoritarianism, would eventually be decisive in Kafka’s life (and work).
His academic career did not have any hassles. He attended high school in what is now the Kinský Palace and, later, Law School. After finishing his degree, he had a few jobs to survive, but his unhappiness was too much to bear. Literature was his true passion.
In 1917 he contracted tuberculosis and had to stop working, forcing him to spend the rest of his life in sanatoriums and bathhouses. Kafka asked to have all of his writings burned to ashes, but his best friend published his work, after his death. And fortunately so… Otherwise we would never have the chance to read magnum opus like The Process.
The writer did not have any acknowledgement during his life, having only published seven small books. Now is regarded as one of the most influent writers of the 20th century.
Kafka (and his work) is deeply associated with Prague. In addition to having been born there, spending most of his 41 years in the city, he loved it. He once wrote in a letter to a friend: “Prague doesn’t let go. Of either of us. This old crone has claws. One has to yield, or else. We would have to set fire to it on two sides, at the Vyšehrad and at the Hradčany; then it would be possible for us to get away.”
Everything he wrote is engulfed in Prague’s gothic, sombre and mysterious environment, having as well all the marks of his Slavic and German past. Thus, visiting the Czech capital is, somehow, to visit Kafka and feel the environment that surrounded him for many years, even though Prague has changed a bit and so did its ambience.
I only had the chance to read some of the numerous works by Kafka, and I deeply enjoy his unique and chaotic style. I must confess that my desire to visit Prague was also related to this writer. So while I was there I wanted to see a bit of the city where he lived in. It’s not hard to find Kafka in Prague, one just needs to know where to look at. But it should be emphasized that Kafka does not explicitly name the places of Prague, he rather mentions them through his own interpretation, his unique way. It’s the city’s metamorphosis…
Of all the places that I visited I have to make reference to three that were part of the author’s life and where interesting works were edified to honor him.
Statue of Kafka
The writer worked in several locations in Prague, one of them an insurance company in the New Town, where today is the Quadrio Shopping Center.
As a tribute to Kafka, in 2014, a giant sculpture named “K on Sun” was built right next to the shopping entrance. Seeing this rather original sculpture was something that I enjoyed immensely.
Finding it is not easy, I actually had to ask some people on the street and at the tourist office. I was left with the impression that not even the locals know about it… Kafka’s works were banned for many years in the country, and perhaps that may serve as a justification as to why the people of Prague are not that acquainted with him. The Metamorphosis, one of his most important works, was translated into Czech in the recent year of 1929.
The statue is an enormous bust (with 11 meters), mirrored with 42 independent layers in stainless steel (which rotate in any direction), weighing 45 tons and is always moving. The layers can rotate in any direction, therefore the bust can assume different shapes. Only for brief moments we can see the 42 layers fully aligned. And then we see the face of Kafka.
As I watched this piece moving for a while, I recalled the works I’ve read and the complex and chaotic personality that I imagine Kafka had, and the things that tormented him.
Statue of Kafka
Franz Kafka Museum
Kafka lived in several different houses, on both banks of the Vltava, the river that crosses through Prague. One of the locations where we lived was an apartment in Mala Strana, a building which is now occupied by the American Embassy.
About 700 meters from this apartment one can find the Franz Kafka Museum, located in an old brick factory, right next to the river. In my opinion this is a mandatory point of passage for those who want to have a better idea of the life and work of this famous writer. For me, it was particularly interesting having the chance to see Kafka’s handwriting and imagining him writing all those letters to friends and lovers, as well as those works I’ve read and enjoyed so much.
The exhibition that constitutes the museum was first located in Barcelona, then it was moved to New York and its arrival in Prague would only take place in 2005. It’s possible to divide it into two sections, the existential space and the imaginary topography. The 1st part explains how Prague influenced the life of the writer and the 2nd approaches the way he saw Prague and transformed it in his imagination.
A piece lies in the access to the museum, one that slightly resembles the head of Kafka, given that they both were outlined by the same artist. Both sculptures are formed by layers that move independently. The one found in the access to the museum is constituted by two men (2.10 meters tall each), facing each other, urinating on a part of the floor that has the shape of Czech Republic.
Both men move as they urinate, making the scene astonishingly real. At the time I wasn’t aware, but already after leaving Prague I found that is possible to send a message to the number displayed right beside the sculpture and then wait for the men to “write” in urine the message we have sent!
Statue next to the Franz Kafka Museum
Statue of Franz Kafka
Close to the area where Kafka’s father had his business one can find, since 2003, a bronze statue of a man riding on the back of an empty suit (without anyone to dress him). It has 3.75 meters and weighs 800 kg.
It is one of those things that probably no one will actually grasp what it really means, in the first glance at it. Only those who have read Description of a Struggle will understand what served as an inspiration for the statue, in what was one of the first stories of the writer.
As I walked through Prague I felt that Kafka and the city are closely related, meeting my expectations. Everything that the writer was and everything that he wrote is impregnated with all the mystery and mysticism which one can imagine that Prague had several years ago.
Statue of Franz Kafka
The historic centre of Prague is something magnificent, with stunning buildings, an impressive castle and one of the most famous bridges in the world. Since 1992 it is part of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
The centre of the Prague is crossed by the country’s longest river, the Vltava. It has 435 km, its source is found in the Bohemian region and the mouth is located a few kilometres north of the Czech capital. The river splits Prague into two banks.
On one side, Malá Strana, where the castle is found, and Hradcany. On the other bank, Staré Mesto (the old town – the medieval area), Nové Mesto (the new town), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.
The Old Town
The square of the old town is the oldest and most important of the historic centre of Prague. It started, in the 10th century, as a trading post for the European trading routes. The bourgeoisie funded this area in order to compete with the Cathedral, located on the other side of the river.
It had bakers, potters, herbalists, gingerbread makers and several other artisans who would sell what they produced. Mushrooms, strawberries, cakes, fish and many other things were also sold.
A few centuries later, in addition to being an important economic centre, the square became part of people’s daily lives, due to the establishment of the Town Hall and the Church Of Our Lady before Týn. Tragic events also took place in this area, such as uprisings and public executions. I must emphasize the execution of 27 Czechs who rebelled against the Habsburg Dynasty. If you look at the ground of the square you will see 27 crosses, in a tribute to the 27 deceased.
The square has undergone several changes over the years, but it still is a beautiful and absolutely unmissable place when visiting Prague. This place has already witnessed several historic events.
All buildings of the old town’s square are mesmerizing. Right below, I stress those that can be regarded as the most important.
Pick a nice café and sit outside. Thoroughly behold all the buildings in the square.
Old Town Hall
The Town Hall building was created in 1338 and its initial purpose was to be the headquarters of the town’s administration. Some years later, a tower was added to the south and then its façade welcomed the astronomical clock in 1410.
This watch is one of the most emblematic points of Prague. It is one of the world’s oldest and more elaborate. In addition to telling the time, it also shows the moon phases and movement of the stars… It’s a monument to sky observation.
If you are interested in knowing everything about the astronomical clock then read the piece I exclusively wrote about it.
Astronomical clock in the old Town Hall
Church of Our Lady before Týn
The Church of Our Lady before Týn is one of Prague’s most impressive gothic buildings. It is easily recognizable due to its black towers, which have different heights.
Its construction started in the 14th century, in a place where an old Romanesque building was located, which lodged traders from abroad. This temple is located next to the courtyard of Týn, hence its name. The courtyard of Týn was the place where taxes on the goods sold in Prague were charged.
For a long time, the Church of Our Lady before Týn was a place of Hussism worship, a reforming movement started by Jan Hus. This temple has been part of the Catholic Church since the 18th century.
The church was renewed several times over the years, but it keeps its grace, therefore the inside thoroughly justifies a visit. You can find the tomb of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the oldest organ in Prague (1673).
Church of Our Lady of Týn
St. Nicholas Church
The St. Nicholas Church was the most prominent in the old town, before the edification of Church of Our Lady before Týn. It was taken by the Benedictine monks during the counter-reformation movement and was later rebuilt in Baroque style.
Inside of it lies a stunning décor and murals depicting the life of St. Nicholas and also of St. Benedict. Also impressive is the candelabra offered by Tsar Nicholas II.
We can attend classical music performances, in the evening, at St. Nicholas church.
Some extremely old buildings have already occupied the same spot where today we can find the Kinský Palace. The Rococo palace that we can currently see was built in the 18th century for Count Jan Arnos Golts. After he passed away, the palace was bought by the prominent Kinský family, who lived in it until 1949. After that it became a property of the National Gallery.
The Kinský Palace has already been a plateau for quite interesting things, among them:
- The 1st woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was born there;
- It was a school of German grammar, having in the famous Frank Kafka one of its students;
- Klement Gottwald spoke from its balcony, something that led to a coup d’état.
The palace’s façade has white and pink hues, standing out a little bit from the other buildings in the square.
Stone Bell House
The Stone Bell House is a gorgeous example of gothic architecture in Prague, having been edified in the 13th century. It is believed that it was built as a palace for the royal family, for Elisabeth of Bohemia.
The name emerged a bit after, due to the existence of a stone bell, a replica of what we can now see in the corner of the house.
The house’s façade was changed several times, but an attempt to retrieve its original form was conducted in the 20th century. Fortunately that is what we can see today.
The interior of the house has been an exhibition gallery since 1988, as well as a bookstore and a café.
Monument to Jan Hus
There’s a monument made of stone and bronze conducted by the Czech sculpture Ladislav Šaloun, in the old town square. It’s an interesting Art Noveau endeavour, and something unmissable in this place.
The figure towering the whole monument is the one of Jan Huss, a religious philosopher and reformer. He launched a movement that would later be known as Hussism, posing strong criticism against the Catholic Church. He was excommunicated and burned alive at the stake. The monument itself shows Huss in an upright position, glancing the Church of Our Lady before Týn. During his life, this church became Hussite.
Groups of people are also part of the statue, the fighters, and, on the opposite side, another group of humiliated individuals, depicting those who had to go into exile after the Battle of the White Mountain.
This work was completed in 1915.
Monument to Jan Hus
Monument to Jan Hus
Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and, in my opinion, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I visited it last month and I loved it. I’m sure I’ll be back.
The historic center is gorgeous, with exceptional buildings, an imposing castle and a bridge which is one the world’s most famous. The whole historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
The astronomical clock
The city of Prague has two banks, divided by the Vltava river:
- On one side, Malá Strana and Hradcany – The Castle is located in this side;
- In the other bank: Staré Mesto (old city), Nové Mesto (new city), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.
On the facade of the old City Council, located in the city’s heart (old town), we can find one the most emblematic points of Prague. It’s the astronomical clock, one of the world’s oldest and most elaborate. In addition to telling the time, it also shows the moon phases and movement of the stars… It’s a monument to sky observation.
Actually, the main function of the astronomical clock was to describe the movement of the celestial bodies, showing the time was just a secondary element…
I’ve passed by it several times and the number of tourists looking at it and photographing it is unbelievable. This building is being repaired since June 2017, the access to its interior is closed to the public and the outer side is partially covered. You will see that in this article’s photos.
If you are thinking about going to Prague, do it next year preferably. The works will finish at the end of 2017.
The construction of the clock
The building of the City Council was created in 1338 and its initial goal was to be the administrative headquarters of the old town. Some years later, a tower was added to its southern part. In 1410 the astronomical clock was installed in its facade.
This masterpiece was achieved by the royal clockmaker Mikuláš de Kadaň and was perfected, at the end of the 15th century, by the hands of the master Hanuš de Růže. There is a legend that says that Hanuš built the clock, but this is not true. The legend also affirms that, in order to ensure that the clockmaker wouldn’t build an identical clock, the counselors of Prague gave the order to blind him. But, in a revengeful act, Hanuš stopped the clock…
In reality, the astronomical clock stopped indeed, but that happened many years later, already in the 19th century. Its mechanism was repaired by the clockmaker Ludvík Hainz.
Prague was constituted by 4 cities which, in the 18th century, came together and so the City Council became the city’s headquarters. Back then, a proposal to remove the clock from the tower’s facade was made. Fortunately it was not accepted.
Since then, several actions were conducted to enhance the clock, in order to preserve it and improve some mechanisms. Even though the clock already has several centuries of age, some parts of it are still the original ones.
The 3 parts of the astronomical clock
Part 1 – The 12 Apostles
On the top, there are 12 mechanical statues which depict the 12 apostles. These images were added to the watch in the 17th century. During the fire of 1945, these statues were destroyed, having been replaced by wooden statues made by Vojtěch Sucharda 3 years later.
When the clock strikes the hour, between 9 am and 11 pm, you can see a parade of statuettes in 2 small windows under the roof. You will recognize each of the apostles, since they have attributes that make them identifiable.
In addition to the apostles who show up every time the clock strikes the hour, some other statues also “come to life”. The skeleton, which has in its hand an hourglass that measures time, pulls the thread and unleashes the parade. It nods its head to the Turkish, who symbolizes extravagance. The Turkish refuses it.
The miser moves his head and shakes his cane and bag, as a threatening gesture, while, right by his side, the statue that represents vanity is looking itself in the mirror. These figures are symbols of Prague’s medieval society.
When the rooster sings, all movements come to an end and the astronomical clock sleeps for another hour.
Part 2 – The astronomical display
The astronomical clock has more than 600 years of age and is unique in the world. From its astrolabe we can get different sorts of information. The astrolabe is an astronomical instrument used to determine the local time, as well as the position of the sun, moon and stars.
What exists in the tower of the old Prague City Council is an enormous circle with 2 circular discs kept together in the center. The upper part represents the day and the lower part the night. In the lower part we can see 2 colors with the sunrise and the sunset, on the left and on the right, respectively. One just needs to look at the position of the sun and we can confirm what time of the day we currently are!
When looking closely to the astrolabe we can also be acquainted with:
- The time of the old Bohemian – Gothic numbers indicate the hours that have passed since the sunset, which was the beginning of the new day;
- The time of Babylon – the Arab numbers measure the hours between the sunrise and the sunset, therefore the summer and winter days have different lengths;
- The time of Central Europe or the Old German Time – the golden hand indicates the time used by all of us. The day starts at midnight;
- The time of the Stars – it’s shown on the Roman numeral display and derives from the movement of the stars;
- The sunrise and sunset – the location of the sun in the regions of 3 different colours indicates if it’s day or night. The sunrise and sunset happen in the boundaries of these colours;
- The Zodiac signs – marked by the 12 zodiac symbols;
- The position and phases of the moon – a ball travels through the display, performing a round of 29 and a half days (lunar month), changing its aspect based on the phases of the moon;
- The declination of the sun – based on the position of the sun on the golden circles, which represent the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn and the Equator;
- The equinox and solstice – based on the position of the sunlight on the bars that connect the Zodiac ring to the clock.
This is the medieval perception of the universe.
Part 3 – Display of the calendar
This is the newest part of the astronomical clock, having been added to it in the 19th century.
The most important part is the Cisiojanus. This is the mnemonic display used to remember the most important festivities on a certain day of the month. This information is found on the outer ring. The man responsible for this device was Karel Jaromír Erben, a Czech historian, poet and writer.
On the calendar’s display there is also information on the zodiac signs, as well as on the days and months of the year. To verify the current date one just needs to check what’s at the top.
In addition the symbol of the old city, we also find statues of the philosopher and Archangel Michael, an astronomer and chronicler.
When visiting Prague, the castle is an absolute cornerstone. You are going to see it when you cross the Charles Bridge, the city’s most famous and oldest. I also recommend that you do not confine yourself to this part and devout some time (one morning or afternoon) to visit its interior.
The castle is a super important symbol, not only of Prague, but of the whole Czech Republic. It’s the seat of political and religious power, having been the residence of the royal Bohemian family and the Bishop of Prague, and also of the presidency of the republic since 1918. It’s the world’s largest complex of castles, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, occupying an area of 70.000 m2. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In my opinion these are 2 really strong justifications to consider a visit (or a comeback) to Prague in the near future.
What is its history?
The castle of Prague was founded approximately in the year of 880 by Prince Bořivoj, the 1st Duke of Bohemia. This prince was the 1st royal figure of the Přemyslid Dynasty, who ruled Bohemia throughout 400 years, until 1306.
Bořivoj had the ambition to establish himself in a place whose location offered more benefits, on the top of a hill, by the river Vltava. And thus the huge complex we see today was started.
The 1st construction of all was a wooden fortress and, later on, stone buildings were built. The Church of St. Mary, which no longer exists (just some ruins of it) and the St George’s Basilica were the first ones.
Over the years, on the initiative of successive monarchs, several churches and other buildings were constructed. In the 14th century, on the initiative of Emperor Charles IV, the semblance of the castle underwent some changes. The name of Prague’s most famous and oldest bridge derives from this Emperor. During his era, the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral began and some changes were made to the fortifications of the castle and to the palace. The royal family started to live in the castle itself.
Many changes have already happened so far, given the specific context of different kings and emperors, the styles that were the major trend of their eras, the fire that took place in 1541, or due to different belligerent conflicts. The vast array of events which took place over the centuries produces a complex with buildings that have totally different styles.
What can we visit?
Inside the castle there are several palaces, church buildings, offices which represent several architectural styles, built throughout several centuries. Up next I will talk a bit about those places which may be regarded as “mandatory”.
The Old Royal Palace
The underground area is the oldest of the whole complex. The Palace was the residence of princes and kings of Bohemian until the 16th century, having been built on the top of the ruins of a Romanesque palace, an edification on the initiative of Prince Soběslav.
There are several points of interest, but perhaps one should emphasize the Vladislav Hall. It’s an enormous room built between 1492 and 1502 by Vladislav, who gave it his own name. This space has windows 5 meters high, a wooden floor of the 18th century and tin chandleries (only 3 of 5 are made of tin).
Vladislav Hall has already been used to hold several events, such as banquets, commendations, assemblies or tournaments. Currently this room is used for ceremonies of state and presidential elections.
Equally noteworthy in the old Royal Palace is the Church of All Saints. It was built by Petr Parler on the spot where once a Romanesque church was, also devoted to all Saints. This Church was decorated in a similar way to the Saint Chapelle of Paris, until it was partially destroyed by the fire of 1541.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in Prague and the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1344 and it took 600 years to be built in its entirety. Saints, princes and kings were buried here.
Inside we can find the arm of St. Vitus and the crown jewels. If you are interested, take a look at the cathedral’s treasure, it’s the country largest and also one of the most important in Europe. But the hallmark is the gorgeous Chapel devoted to St. Wenceslaus, the country’s patron saint. It was created in the 14th century by Charles IV and it’s a well-known space for its décor.
From the top of the Cathedral south tower, with almost 100 meters in height, you will be able to have a breath-taking panoramic view of Prague. Climbing its 287 stairs it’s well worth it!
The construction of this tower began in the 14th century and was finished 3 centuries later. We can find in it several bells, one is the biggest in the Czech Republic. It’s known as Zikmund and weighs 15 tonnes.
The legend says that, when the Emperor Charles IV died, the city’s bells started to toll on their own. Another legend says that if the heart of Zikmund breaks something really bad will affect the nation. It already happened once, in 2002, and floods happened throughout the country a couple of weeks later…
Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito
Cathedral of S. Vito
St. George’s Basilica
St. George’s Basilica is Prague’s 2nd oldest church, having been founded in 920. One can easily identify it much due to its 2 bell towers with 41 meters of height, made of white stone.
It started as a convent of Benedictine nuns, but the damage caused by a fire prompted changes to the building. When visiting it we can see really old walls and a rich collection of Gothic and Baroque art.
If you have time, watch a music concert in this Basilica. The acoustic is just astonishing!
The Golden Lane is a tiny street with several coloured small houses, which are quite beautiful indeed. It was one of the things that I enjoyed the most in the entire complex.
They were built at the end of the 16th century to serve as housing for the snipers who safeguarded the castle. There was a total of 24 houses and, since there was a lack of space, they had to be built really small. The Emperor forbade windows facing the Deer Moat and the houses couldn’t be sold or rent.
Throughout the years, some houses were destroyed and the snipers were no longer needed. The street was then occupied by people with other jobs. The renowned writer Franz Kafka lived at number 22 and a fortune teller named Madame de Thebes occupied the 14th, having predicted the fall of Nazism, something that led to her arrest (and murder).
The name of the street derives from the time when houses were inhabited by goldsmiths.
The Mihulka Tower is the largest of the cannon towers. It was built in the 15th century and was part of the castle’s new fortifications.
It already has served as an alchemy lab, gunpowder warehouse, dungeon and, as we speak, its interior hosts a permanent exhibition about the Castle Guard. The tower has had several names, with Mihulka appearing only in the 19th century, due to the presence of gunpowder inside of it.
The Rosenberg Palace started, in the 16th century, as a Renaissance building which was the property of the homonymous family. Later, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style and used as an Institute of women who were part of noble families. 30 noble girls were educated there who, for several reasons, ended up penniless.
The Palace has been occupied since 1919 by government offices.
When visiting the Rosenberg Palace, check the chapel, the main room and an exhibition where you can get to know the Institute a little bit better.
To know more about so many centuries of history of the complex, I recommend visiting the permanent exhibitions on the castle’s history and the European art gallery (painting) between 15th and 18th centuries.
If you visit the city in the summer, as I did, you can also see the gardens and an enormous ravine named Stag Moat.
On a perfect day, start by crossing the magnificent Charles Bridge and climb your way up to the Castle. Take your time to see the surroundings and step inside. Save some hours to see everything calmly.