Category Archives: Czech Republic

Golden City of a Hundred Spires, Part II

The next stop was St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town, you can see the green top behind us.

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Yes, but did you have cake?

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

We did, we did, we had honey cake! It’s called Medovník, and it has layers of honey-filled pastry, cream and nuts. Like this!

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Back to the story and St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town, we went there for an oboe and organ recital (Jan Thuri oboe, Josef Kšica organ). Our two favourite instruments!

St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The Baroque organ in the church has over 4,000 pipes up to six metres in length and was played by Mozart in 1787! Mozart’s spectacular masterpiece, Mass in C, was first performed in the Church of Saint Nicholas on his first visit to Prague, when he came to conduct Le nozze di Figaro. On 19th January 1787 he gave the first performance of the Symphony No. 38 in D major which has been called the Prague Symphony since then.

Main organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Great organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Main organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Great organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

Above the organ is a fresco of Saint Cecilia, patroness of music.

The church originally had three organs, with only two surviving. The Great Organ is in the main gallery and the smaller organ is in the side gallery.

Small organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Small organ at St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The Baroque architecture of St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town is uniquely impressive even among the imposing churches of Prague. Both of the Dientzenhofers, father and son, shared the building of this unique structure, in 1703-11 and 1737-52, along with Anselmo Lurago, who was responsible for the high bell tower (1750-56). In the nave of the church, one can admire paintings and statues representative of the High Baroque.

Interior of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Interior of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

The ceiling fresco above the nave, celebrating St Nicholas, is one of the largest in Europe, at 1500 metre square, painted by Jan Lukáš Kracker, and depicts some of the famous deeds of St Nicholas. The fresco in the dome, devoted to the Holy Trinity is by František Xaver Palko. The four massive statues of the Church Teachers are by the sculptor František Ignác Platzer.

Dome of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Dome of St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
Statue in St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
Statue in St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague

299 steps will take you 65m up to the gallery of the bell tower, which offers great panoramic views.

 View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
View from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
National Theatre seen from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague
National Theatre seen from Tower of St Nicholas Church Lesser Town, Prague

The National Theatre has a great story. Over a number of years, during a period of growing nationalism, a public collection was taken up to build a theatre. No sooner did it opened, that the National Theatre burned down. But civic pride wasn’t about to go up in smoke and people opened their pockets once more and the building was finally reopened in 1883. The festive and patriotic opera Libuše by Bedřich Smetana was performed for the occasion. Smetana was the first Czech composer to draw his cultural heritage for his work, folk melodies, rhythms, the actual history and language of his country. Smetana is considered by many to be the father of Czech music. He set the great river Vltava to music. Smetana’s work speaks with a proud Bohemian accent.  (end of Vltava) In 1848, while scraping together a living as a pianist and a teacher, Smetana opened a music school in Prague, on the corner of the old Town Square. It was during this time that he began composing. Eight years later he moved to Sweden in order to advance his musical career. In 1861 he returned to Bohemia, hoping to take up the post of conductor at the provisional theatre, but he didn’t finally get the node until five years later.

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra appeared for the first time in 1894, as the orchestra of the Prague National Theatre.

National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre, Prague

Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer was also the architect of the church of the same name in Old Town Square. Here we went to a soprano and organ concert (Jana Jonášová soprano, Bohumir Rabas organ) playing Bach, Mozart and Dvořák.

St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague

The Church of St Nicholas in Old Town Square is mentioned for the first time in connection with a flood on the Vltava in 1273. The beautiful new church was completed in 1735. The interior was inspired by the chapel of St. Louis-des-invalides in Paris. In the interior of the church are paintings in the dome on motives from the lives of St Nicholas and St Benedict and from the Old Testament by Cosmas Damian Asam, from 1735-36. The delicate stucco decoration was executed by Bernardo Spinetti, and the frescos by Peter Adam the Elder. The sculptures are by Antonín Braun.

Interior of St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague
Interior of St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague

In 1781 the decoration inside St. Nicholas was removed after emperor Josef II ordered the closure of all monasteries without a social function. The church was restored during the second World War, when Czech army units stationed at St. Nicholas worked alongside professional artists to restore the interior decoration. Much of what we see today is thanks to their meticulous efforts.

It wasn’t until 1901, when the Krenn House in front of it was demolished, that St. Nicholas’s stunning façade became visible to the rest of the Old Town Square.

Very tasty…

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Then we went to a concert in the splendid Chapel of Mirrors at the Klementinum.

The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague
The Chapel of Mirrors, Klementinum, Prague

It was erected after 1720 by architect František Maxmilián Kaňka. In the rich plaster decorations of the walls are set mirrors, which give the chapel its name. Its premises are utilised for concerts by chamber music ensembles.

The complex of the Klementinum, spread out in the space between Marian Squares, Charles Street, Knights of the Cross Square, and the streets of Křižovnická and Platnéřská, was built in the mid 16th century by the Jesuits. After dissolution of the Jesuit Order in 1773, the Klementinum was acquired by the Charles-Ferdinand University and established as an observatory, library, and university by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Klementinum, Prague
Klementinum, Prague

The whole complex boasts precious artistic works. Perhaps the best known is the University Library. It is currently in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic. The guided tour of the Klementinum covers the Baroque library hall, Meridian hall and the Astronomical tower.

University Library, Klementinum, Prague
University Library, Klementinum, Prague

The interioir of the baroque library has remained intact since the 18th century. The hall is decorated with ceiling frescoes by Jan Hiebl depicting allegorical motifs of education, and portraits of Jesuit saints, patrons of the university and prominent representatives of this order. At the head of the hall is a portrait of Emperor Joseph II, who arranged for the books from abolished monastic libraries to be sent to Klementinum. Also remarkable is the collection of geografical and astronomical globes in the center of the library. These are mainly works of the Jesuits. Among the globes are also astronomical clocks, constructed mainly by Jan Klein.

University Library, Klementinum, Prague
University Library, Klementinum, Prague

The Astronomical Tower was built in 1722 to a height of 68 meters. At the top stands a statue of Atlas carrying the celestial sphere by Matthias Bernard Braun. Construction of the tower was related to the development of astronomical studies in the country. At the time of the construction of Klementinum, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Thadeus Hájek worked in Prague. Astronomy was part of the university curriculum since its inception, but the observatory was founded in Klementinum at the instigation of Joseph Stepling, its first director, in the years 1751-1752. Astronomical instruments were installed in the tower and it became the main spot for astronomical measurements.

Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
View of Prague from the Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague
View of Prague from the Astronomical Tower, Klementinum, Prague

The most impressive landmarks in Prague seems to collect along the banks of the river Vltava. The most impressive is the Dvořák Hall, or Rudolfinum.

Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague
Dvořák Hall, Prague

Antonin Leopold Dvořák, through his music, shared that Czech heart with the world. Dvořák learned the folk fiddle as a child and eventually became accomplished on the viola, playing in dance bands from the age of 18. After nine years as a member of the orchestra at the Prague provisional theatre, Dvořák became the organist at St Adalbert’s Church. He’d been composing steadily, in obscurity, all the while. By his early 30s, this works and manuscripts included symphonies and chamber music. And then, in 1874,  Dvořák received his first real break. He entered a number of works in a competition for struggling young artists. One of the judges was Johannes Brahms, who was so impressed with Dvořák, that he awarded him first prize and from that time on, he took a deep personal interest in his career. Brahms introduced Dvořák to his own publisher, who commissioned the Czech to write some Slavonic Dances for piano duet. Playing exotic dances side by side with a close friend on the piano stool was a popular musical past time in the 1870s. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances made him instantly popular in drawing rooms in Paris and London and all the way across the Atlantic. He toured and conducted extensively, but in 1892 he set sail with his family for New York where he became director of the National Conservatory of Music.

Statue of Antonín Dvořák, Jan Palach Square, Dvořák Hall
Statue of Antonín Dvořák, Jan Palach Square, Dvořák Hall

Antonin Dvořák was the most persuasive of all Czech musical ambassadors. The world fell in love with his music immediately. Cambridge University in Britain gave him an honorary degree in 1891. In America, he was asked to teach at the National Conservatory in New York. Some of his paychecks bounced but that didn’t stop him from writing one of the most famous piece of American music, the New World symphony, that can sit alongside Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Dvořák’s music was not the music of the immigrants, it was the music of the slaves, of the native americans, and it is notable for its power and its dignity.

Dvořák returned to Prague for good after three years in the United States and conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum, in the hall that now bears his name. He was hailed by the people as their greatest living composer.

Look. everybody gets one piece of cake!

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Golden City of a Hundred Spires

What are we watching?

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

A musical journey through Prague. We visited Prague! And we had our own musical journey. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with its principal conductor Jiří Bělohlávek at Dvořák Hall, a concert at St Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square, a concert at Lobkowics Palace in Prague Castle, a concert at the Klementinum and another concert at St Nicholas Church in Lesser Town. One can never have too many churches dedicated to St Nicholas. He brings presents! 🙂

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Prague is known as the Golden City of A Hundred Spires, based on a count by 19th century mathematician Bernard Bolzano. Today’s count is estimated by Prague Information Service at 500. The river Vltava, the Czech national river, cruises through Prague on its journey to the Elba and eventually into the North Sea. In Prague, it is crossed by 18 bridges.

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The flow of the river is captured by Smetana in his symphonic poem, Vltava. A devoutly patriotic work, Vltava captures in music Smetana’s love of his homeland. Completed in 1874 and first performed the following year, the piece constitutes the second movement of a six-movement suite, Má vlast (My Country), which premiered in its entirety in Prague on November 5, 1882.

Prague has been here for a while and has a rich history. On of the early kings of Prague was Wenceslas, born in 907 CE, the very same Wenceslas as in the Christmas carol (Good King Wenceslas).

In the middle ages, during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Prague flourished, it was bigger than either Paris or London. The Town Square is still flourishing because so much of the city retains its baroque appeal it’s a booming tourist destination. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to tumble into the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale, just step into Prague’s Old Town Square. In this pedestrian-packed medieval market place, ornate frontages rise up on all sides like pieces of gingerbread and heels click on cobbles that have seen nearly a millennium of footfalls. As the setting for Prague’s famous astronomical clock, the square is visited by almost everyone, but that doesn’t diminish its sense of timeless wonder.

Old Town Square, Prague
Old Town Square, Prague

Charles the IV was a king who loved learning and the arts. He established many institutions in Prague, including the first university in Central Europe, called Charles University today.

Charles University, Prague
Charles University, Prague

Despite many wars and fires, Prague Castle has grown from its 9th century origins into a unique complex, the largest of its kind in Europe.

Looming above the Vltava’s left bank, its serried ranks of spires, towers and palaces dominate the city centre like a fairy-tale fortress. Within its walls lies a varied and fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries that are home to some of the Czech Republic’s greatest artistic and cultural treasures.

Prague Castle
Prague Castle

The castle has always been the seat of Czech monarchs as well as the official residence of the head of state. Its history begins in the 9th century, when Prince Bořivoj founded a fortified settlement here. It grew haphazardly as rulers made their own additions – there have been four major reconstructions, from that of Prince Soběslav in the 12th century to a classical facelift under Empress Maria Theresa, creating an eclectic mixture of architectural styles.

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle
Cathedral of St Vitus, Prague Castle

This eclectic collection of styles is on evidence in St Vitus Cathedral, the city’s most distinctive landmark within the massive grounds of Prague Castle. St Vitus was a young Sicilian martyr who was thrown to the lions during the roman persecution. A relic of a piece of one of his arms was sent to King Wenceslaus as a gesture of good will from a neighboring king, Henri I. The cathedral houses a most eclectic collection of artworks and structures stretching from the Renaissance through to the 20th century: the graphic depiction of the murder of the Good King Wenceslaus, a neo-Gothic altar, a royal box for church, the tombs of kings and queens, including the final resting place for Wenceslaus. You will also find the bronze ring that king Wenceslaus held on to as he was murdered by his brother.

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

During the 16th century, the Austrian Habsburgs invaded Prague and assumed power. Rudolf II, eldest son of Maximilian I and his successor, was the third Habsburg king of Bohemia in the 16th century. He was described in his day as the greatest art patron in the world and turned the city into one of Europe’s leading centre for the arts and sciences.
Astronomy in Rudolfine Prague

Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious art collections were exhibited.

Spanish Hall, Prague Castle
Spanish Hall, Prague Castle

Rudolf had a grand view of the red-tiled roofs of the splendid mansions of the Mala Strana (Lesser Town) under the castle walls and then across wide River Vltava he would have seen the spires and steeples of the Old Town.

Lesser Town, view from Prague Castle
Lesser Town, view from Prague Castle

The great meandering River Vltava divided the Old Town, the New Town and the Jewish Town from the Lesser Town and the Castle which rose up on a steep hill to the north and dominated the city. Clearly visible below was the solid stone bridge built by his illustrious ancestor Charles IV and founded on 9 July 1357 at 5.31am, a time chosen carefully for its propitious astrological and numerical associations. At that very moment, a conjunction of the Sun with Saturn occurred, with the great luminary of the sky overpowering the gloomy influence of the malefic planet.

The castle and Charles Bridge, Prague
The castle and Charles Bridge, Prague

Rudolf was fascinated by its sacred numerology: the date and time of its foundation consisted of favourable odd primary numbers which ascended and descended palindromically: 1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 9 / 7 / 5 / 3 / 1. In addition, the setting sun on the summer solstice lined up Charles Bridge with an architrave of the Castle’s cathedral.

What wasn’t yet visible in Lesser Town was St Nicholas Church, which was founded in 1704. It is the most significant baroque structure in the city. The history of the church gives you an idea of just how much Mozart was loved in Prague. He played the organ here during his visits in 1787. Shortly after he died in 1791, the whole city paid tribute to him through a number of performances of his Requiem by the Prague Theatre Orchestra at St Nicholas.

St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague
St Nicholas Church, Lesser Town, Prague

Rudolf, who loved moving mechanical objects, would also have appreciated the large astronomical clock, made in 1410, on the front of the Town Hall in the main square. It indicated the time of day in Babylonian time and Old Bohemian time. The clock, which still exists, also depicted Ptolemy’s model of the universe with the Earth at its centre and charted the movements of the sun and moon through the signs of the zodiac. Moving figures were added in 1490. On the hour, the twelve Apostles appeared in windows before disappearing back inside the clock. Perched on pinnacles at four corners were figures representing what was considered to be the chief threats to Bohemia at the time: the lender with his money bags; Death, depicted as a skeleton carrying an hourglass and tolling a bell; a Turk shaking his turbaned head; and Vanity admiring his reflection in a mirror. Four other immovable figures symbolised Philosophy, Religion, Astronomy and History. Rudolf shared his ancestor’s vision of Prague as the centre of the empire but went one step further: he saw it as the hub of the universe. As a result, Prague became the most cosmopolitan city in Europe.

Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, Prague
Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, Prague

But after Rudolf’s death in 1612, the nation declined until the 18th century and the reign of Empress Maria Theresa when many of the buildings we still see today were established. The city had to be rebuilt following the destruction it suffered during the Seven Years War.

No day at Prague Castle is complete without attending a classical music concert performed in the beautifully decorated 17th century baroque Concert Hall of the Lobkowicz Palace.

Concert at Lobkowicz Palace, Prague Castle
Concert at Lobkowicz Palace, Prague Castle, Thu 7 May – Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Donizetti, Smetana, Suk, Dvorak

The Lobkowicz Palace is the only privately owned building in the Prague Castle complex and home to the highly acclaimed Lobkowicz Collections and Museum. Highlights from the Museum include works by masters such as Antonio Canaletto, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Diego Velázquez; an impressive display of family and royal portraits; fine porcelain, ceramics and rare decorative arts dating from the 16th to 19th centuries.

It also includes the finest private library in Central Europe, as well as an unparalleled collection of musical instruments, original scores and autograph manuscripts by many of the greatest composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries, including manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart, such as Beethoven’s 3rd (Eroica), 4th and 5th symphonies, as well as Mozart’s hand written re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah.

Beethoven Score
Beethoven’s score for his third symphony

After the lunchtime concert, it was time for a little lunch at Lobkowicz Palace Café – burger, chips and Czech beer. Just like this!

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

The Golden City of A Hundred Spires

Suitably fortified, it was time for visit St Vitus Cathedral.

Cathedral of St Vitus, Prague
Cathedral of St Vitus, Prague Castle

Prague became an archbishopric in 1344. Construction of the Cathedral of St Vitus on the grounds of Prague Castle began almost immediately, and Matthias von Arras was commissioned as master mason. Before his death in 1352, he managed to complete the choir gallery and main choir arcade in the southern French Gothic style. Arras was succeeded by Peter Parler, who had previously worked on the Church of the Holy Cross in Schwäbisch-Gmünd. Parler introduced significant technical innovations that subtly increased the dynamics of the interior. For example, he dispensed with the transverse arches separating the bays in the nave, thereby creating a new kind of visually continuous type of vault from west to east that spans the bays with decorative, interlacing diagonal ribs.

Cathedral of St Vitus
Cathedral of St Vitus, Interior

Parler’s second ground-breaking innovation was in the triforium, whose window-filled back wall joined with the panes in the clerestory to create a single, light-flooded membrane of glass. In breaking away from the traditional methods, Peter Parler brought a playful lightness and originality to sacred architecture. The famous triforium busts in Prague Cathedral are a testament to Parler’s awareness of this fact: along with the family of Emperor Charles IV and the archbishop of Prague, the two master builders of the cathedral are also portrayed.

Cathedral of St Vitus, detail of a wall segment with triforium busts
Cathedral of St Vitus, detail of a wall segment with triforium busts
Cathedral of St Vitus, Bust of Peter Parler in the triforium
Cathedral of St Vitus, Bust of Peter Parler in the triforium

That was a full day! Time for a little rest in the gardens…

Palace gardens below Prague Castle
Palace gardens below Prague Castle