Friday, October 14, 2016

Prague Old Town, Wenceslas Square & Cemetery

Prague's Old Town Square is one of the most famous in Europe. The oldest part of a very old city, excavations indicate that the area was permanently inhabited since at least the turn of the first millennium, and probably well before. The area started as a marketplace in the 10th century at the crossroads of European trade routes, but it would have to wait until the town’s subsequent expansion during a time of booming prosperity in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV, to earn the name we know it as today — Staré Město or Old Town — the medieval origins can still be traced. Houses and churches sprang up around the square determining the random network of cobbled lanes spreading out from its ancient heart, many of which surviveWith its ancient buildings, magnificent churches and architectural treasures, it's one of the most beautiful and historical squares in Europe and entirely free of traffic except for a few horse drawn carriages. 

With one of the best-preserved historic city centres and important UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's not long before the streets of Old Town begin to unveil some of the best preserved examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings in Europe. Famous highlights include the Old Town City Hall which dominates the square and is most well known for being home to Prague's Astronomical Clock; there's also the iconic Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn and breathtaking Baroque church of St. Nicholas. Jan Hus, a religious reformer who was burned at stake, is commemorated with a statue in the centre of the square and today is symbol of Czech independence. Perhaps the best approach to explore the area is to choose a direction, wander at will and lose oneself amid a largely undisturbed 14th-century townscape, in a bewildering state of astonishment and wonder.

Prague's Old Town Square with The Church of St Nicholas and monument to Jan Hus

The large monument of the reformer Jan Hus, one of the most important personalities in Czech history; a hundred years before the Protestant Reformation was started by Martin Luther, 
Jan Hus was burnt as a heretic for reformist ideas

The Kinsky Palace in the Old Town Square is regarded as the most beautiful Rococo building in Prague, with its delicate pink and white stucco facade and bubbles!

Gorgeous Art Nouveau exterior of building on Old Town Square is now the Ministry of Regional Development

The twin Gothic spires of the 14th-century Church of Our Lady Before Týn 
is an unmistakable Old Town landmark

The picturesque cobblestone streets of Prague's immensely walkable Old Town, 
with it's captivating blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture

A culinary curiosity, a trdelník is one of the most common pastries to find on Prague's streets,
it's a sweet, fire cooked, cylindrical cake ofter filled with whipped cream

The dough is rolled into thin strips, wound around a spindle called a “trdlo”, glazed with sugar and grilled over open coals until the dough is cooked brown and the sugar caramelized

The famous and very beautiful medieval Astronomical Clock adorns the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square

The tower of the Old Town City Hall was the highest in the city in the Middle Ages

Originally a Gothic house, the 'Minute House' is an arcaded building covered with Renaissance sgraffito and interestingly Franz Kafka lived here as a child 

The rhythm of horse hooves echoing though the city´s Medieval cobblestone streets 
conjures up images of a graceful preindustrial Prague long gone

Baroque relief on a building

View towards the Vltava River with the Old Town Tower on Charles Bridge, the green dome of St.Francis of Assisi and the clock tower of the Clementium

View of Prague Castle from the Astronomical Tower of the Clementium

The crowds on Charles Bridge

The Astronomical Tower of the Clementium with its terrace walkway, reached by climbing the 172 steps of a steep spiral staircase but affords some of the best views over Prague

Commemorative plaque of Francisk Skaryna, a Belarusian humanist, physician, translator and one of the first book printers in Eastern Europe

Even the manhole covers in Prague are artfully considered

The Gothic Powder Tower, located at the edge of Old Town off Wenceslas Square and built in 1475, it was one of Prague's thirteen original city gates

Ever since the structure was used as a gunpowder storage space in the 17th-century, 
it has been known as the 'Powder' Tower

The Municipal House is widely considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in the city

The sumptuous exterior with a large mosaic 'Homage to Prague' by Karel Špillar

Built in 1912, the building is also home to Smetana Hall, one of Prague's largest concert venues

The Secession-era Municipal House Café is considered among the most beautiful cafes in Prague

Sitting down to enjoy a cold Pilsner and admire the art deco interior 
before heading to the Jewish Quarter

Hebrew clock on Josefov Town Hall in the Jewish Quarter in Prague

One of the most impressive sights in Prague is the Old Jewish cemetery in Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto. This cemetery was used from 1439 to 1787 and it is the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe. The Nazis made it a policy to destroy Jewish cemeteries, sometimes using the tombstones for target practice, but Hitler ordered that this cemetery be left intact, since he was planning to build a Jewish museum in Prague after all the Jews in Europe had been exterminated with the intention of creating a ‘museum of an extinct race’. Indeed the Nazis gathered Jewish artefacts from other occupied countries, transporting them to Prague to form part of the museum, and today, these historical monuments form what is called the Jewish Museum in Prague, which along with a significant historical buildings and synagogues saved from redevelopment at the turn of the 20th-century, form the best preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Maisel Synagogue was built in 1590 by Mordecai Maisel, the Mayor of the Prague Jewish Town and the richest Prague citizen in the 16th century, who had it built as his private synagogue

Names of the Holocaust victims from Czech lands on the Pinkas Synagogue's inner wall

Located next to the Old Jewish Cemetery on the site of an old mortuary is the Jewish Ceremonial Hall, which became part of the Jewish Museum in 1926

The Old Jewish Cemetery is among the oldest surviving Jewish burial grounds in the world

The cemetery was expanded several times over the centuries, but was still not big enough to meet the needs of the Jewish Town and as the Jewish faith does not permit moving the dead, the tombs were squeezed in or even piled up on several layers hence the disorderly tangle

The Old Jewish Cemetery now belongs to the Jewish Museum

The old Jewish cemetery with its entangled tombs taken over by vegetation is one of the most famous images of the Josefov Jewish quarter, which together with the Old-New Synagogue, belongs to the most important sites of the Jewish heritage in Prague

Within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on a grave
 to symbolize the permanence of memory as found in the Prague cemetery

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