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PRAGUE

Location

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 13th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated on the Vltava River, Prague is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.7 million. The city has a temperate oceanic climate, with relatively warm summers and chilly winters.

History

Prague is a political, cultural and economic centre of central Europe complete with a rich history. Founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, Prague was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, most notably of Charles IV. It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city played major roles in the Bohemian and Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and in 20th-century history as the capital of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

Prague is home to a number of well-known cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Main attractions include Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter, Petrin hill and Vysehrad. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The city has more than ten major museums, along with numerous theatres, galleries, cinemas and other historical exhibits. An extensive modern public transportation system connects the city. It is home to a wide range of public and private schools, including Charles University in Prague, the oldest university in Central Europe.

How to go

By air: It is quite easy to travel to Prague by flight, thanks to the international airport in the city. The Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague is one of the busiest airports among the ones in the newer European Union countries. A hub for Czech Airlines, the airport is well-connected to many cities around the globe, especially other European countries, like Athens, Dublin, Moscow, Paris, Rome, London, Brussels, etc. Some of the main carriers flying these routes are Lufthansa, Czech Airlines, Emirates, Easy Jet, China Eastern Airlines etc. Travellers from the East will find it difficult to find direct flights to this exotic city. But a lot of connecting flights are easily available from many eastern countries.

By bus: Prague is easily accessible by bus from many other neighbouring European cities. Buses from international cities stop at Prague Central Florenc Bus Station. There are buses connecting various cities with Prague like London, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Zurich, Budapest etc. The main service providers on these routes are Flixbus, Eurolines, RegioJet, Blueline-bus, National Express (London) etc. Prague is also well-connected with many national cities like Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, Liberec etc. Public transportation is the most frequently used means to reach this beautiful city.

By train: There are a number of trains connecting Prague with other cities in the European Union. Cities like London, Zurich, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt etc. have regular train services to Prague. With assured comfortable commute and less travel time, a lot of European tourists tend to opt for a rail journey to reach Prague. Most of these trains are run by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn.

Tourist places

Prague Castle: Located in Prague’s Hradcany neighborhood, Prague Castle once the home of Bohemia’s kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic’s President and one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around AD 870, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague’s most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane.

The largest castle complex in the world, this vast fortress requires considerable time to tour, but it’s time well spent (particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its many beautiful spires in the background). Highlights include the Old Royal Palace’s main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb old buildings, including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion’s Court.

The best way to fully explore the castle is on a Prague Castle Walking Tour. One of the top things to do at night in Prague is to find a good spot from which to enjoy the castle illuminations that light this magnificent structure in a range of hues. In fact, basing yourself in a hotel in the vicinity of Prague Castle is a good idea, so you can experience the city highlights by day and night.

Charles Bridge: One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 621-meter span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength. For added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox.

The bridge is particularly famous for its many fine old statues. Among the most important are those of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and John of Nepomuk, the country’s most revered saint, unveiled in 1683 (a more recent superstition involves rubbing the plaque at the base of the statue for the granting of a wish). Other highlights include spectacular views over the River Vltava and the structure’s superb Gothic gates. Viewing Charles Bridge at night is also highly recommended.

Wenceslas Square: A highlight of Prague’s New Town district—an area that grew out of the city’s need to expand as it prospered—is the wonderful Wenceslas Square, home to the National Museum and numerous other architectural treasures. Named after the patron saint of Bohemia, whose statue can be seen here, Wenceslas Square was created in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV as a horse market and has since become one of the city’s most important public spaces, still used for demonstrations and celebrations alike.

A visit today is a fun experience and undoubtedly one of the top free things to do in Prague, and will introduce visitors to some of the city’s best dining and restaurant experiences, as well as great shopping. If you are visiting Prague in December, it’s also the site of the city’s largest Christmas Market.

National Museum: Fresh from a seven-year-long renovation, the National Museum in Prague is spread across a number of locations and houses numerous important collections representing a variety of fields, with literally millions of items covering mineralogy, zoology, anthropology, and archaeology, as well as the arts and music. The entomology collection alone numbers more than five million specimens. The oldest museum in the Czech Republic, it was established in the early 1800s before moving to its current location in 1891.

A particularly enjoyable highlight is the archaeology exhibit with its extensive collection of 1st-and 2nd-century Roman artifacts, along with numerous Bronze and Early Iron age finds. Another museum to include on your must-visit list is the excellent National Technical Museum, which documents the many technological advances the country has contributed to, including displays of machinery and equipment built here over the years, from automobiles to aircraft.

National Gallery: Spread across some of the city’s most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague is home to some of Europe’s most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzni Palace a relatively modern structure built in 1925 that holds the 19th- to 21st-century works. While there’s a strong emphasis on Czech artists, foreign artists such as Monet and Picasso are included, as are other art forms such as photography, fashion, applied arts, and sculpture.

Other notable works are held in the Kinsky Palace, home to Asian art, art from the ancient world, and the gallery’s Baroque collections, and at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, where you’ll find European art from the Middle Ages.

Finally, the splendid 17th-century Sternberg Palace houses some of the gallery’s most famous pieces, focusing on European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque period and including important ancient Greek and Roman pieces; 14th- to 16th-century Italian masterpieces; and 16th- to 18th-century works by artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, and van Goyen.