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Perched on the banks of the Vltava River, Prague, the ancient capital of Bohemia, unfolds through winding medieval streets and endless gothic spires. Dark and stylish, cosmopolitan and raucous, Prague has hosted some of Europe’s most creative and enlightened minds. Today it is a place of fine arts, culture, museums, and in true Czech spirit, legendary parties.
Centuries of diverse architectural input are evident in Prague, a city long coveted by imperial powers from east and west, including Prussia, Austria, and the Soviet Union. Today it is one of the most beautifully rendered cities in the world.
Exploration of Prague’s monuments and historic spaces begins in Staré Město’s main square – the city’s central market for many years and now flanked by fine converted town houses, terraced cafés and bars. The stone turrets and ornate gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn are one of the square’s most striking features. Nearby, the old Town Hall has an astronomical clock dating to the 14th century. Its elaborate parts include a Zodiacal ring and moving figures, Jesus Christ among them, who pops out of a trapdoor every hour along with Death, who tolls the bell. The tower can be ascended for commanding views of the square.Read more
Beyond the square, Nové Město (New Town) was laid down by Charles IV in 1348. It is home to Wenceslas Square, a stately boulevard filled with vibrant hotels, chic stores, and restaurants, as well as some exceptionally fine and more recently constructed art nouveau architecture. Towards the river, Josefov, Prague’s Jewish quarter, retains many of its historic buildings, including six synagogues. The Old-New synagogue, a 13th century stonework structure with brooding gothic tones, is the oldest in Central Europe and the community’s main house of worship.
Several bridges cross the dark waters of the Vltava River, none as famous as the 14th century Charles Bridge, a pedestrian walkway filled with street artists and itinerant musicians. Over the centuries, the Catholics added numerous statues to the bridge and today it boasts 75. The most famous is Saint John of Nepomuk – touch him for luck.
On the other side of the water, a gothic bridge tower marks the old neighbourhood of Malá Strana, the streets rising and falling with a network of alleyways and stone houses, all lit by soft amber lanterns after dusk. At the main town square you’ll find Saint Nicholas Church with its frescos and statues, its fine painted dome, and commanding belfry tower.
To the west lies Prague Castle, the largest Medieval castle in Europe, the seat of Czech rulers for centuries and now home to the offices of the President of the Republic. Its complex includes an eclectic mix of palaces and religious structures, fortifications and state buildings, all linked by courtyards. It is a popular place for concerts.