Prague Things to Do Tips by Nemorino
Prague Things to Do: 5,103 reviews and 9,047 photos
1. People in the castle courtyard
They call it "the largest coherent castle complex in the world." with an area of almost 70,000 m².
There are two types of admission tickets, the "long visit" and the "short visit". I took the short visit, so I missed out on the Powder Tower, the Picture Gallery and a permanent exhibition called "The Story of Prague Castle".
Second photo: Looking up at the castle and cathedral, with the river and Charles Bridge in the foreground.
Address: Prazsky hrad
Directions: GPS 50° 5'25.12" North; 14°24'1.07" East
Phone: +420 224 371 111
1. Basilica of St. George from the outside
This church is within the grounds of Prague Castle, and is included in the "short visit" admission ticket.
The outside is a baroque façade from the seventeenth century, but the inside is the oldest church in the castle complex, a Romanesque church that was founded around the year 920.
Classical music concerts are often held in the Basilica of St. George, typically every second evening at 18:30. For example, they were recently advertising a "Prague Castle Concert" by a group called " The Old Prague Music Ensemble," consisting of 5 musicians and a singer named Libuse Moravcova-Myratska. Their program was quite typical for a tourist concert:
B. Smetana: Vltava [aka the Moldau]
F. Schubert: Ave Maria with soprano
A. Dvořák: Humoresque, Largo from the New World Symphony, Slavonic Dance no. 8
C. Franck: Panis Angelicus with soprano
J. Pachelbel: Canon in D
G. Bizet: Intermezzo and Ouverture from the opera Carmen
A. Vivaldi: Four Seasons - Spring, 2nd movement from Winter
G. F. Händel: Lascia ch'io pianga with soprano (This aria from Händel's opera Rinaldo is a favorite of mine, as I have explained in one of my Halle tips entitled Händel as an opera composer.)
T. Albinoni: Adagio
W. A. Mozart: Alleluja with soprano
J. Brahms: Hungarian dances no.5 & 6
You could hear most of these pieces six or seven times a week if you went to all the tourist concerts in the Castle and Old Town of Prague.
Second photo: Inside the Basilica of St. George.
Address: Bazilika sv. Jiri, Jiřská 33, 119 00 Prague
1. Entrance to the Old Royal Palace
The second Prague defenestration took place here in the Old Royal Palace in the year 1618, when a group of angry Protestants bribed their way into the castle and threw three Catholics out of a third-storey window, two high Catholic officials and their secretary. This was one of the incidents that set off the dreadful Thirty Years' War, which devastated much of central Europe and killed off two-thirds of the German population.
Amazingly, the three people who were defenestrated actually survived their fall from the third-floor window. The Catholics claimed they had survived because angels intervened to save them. The Protestants said it was because they landed in a soft pile of horse manure.
(The first Prague defenestration happened nearly two centuries earlier, in the year 1419, when seven members of the city council were thrown out of a window of the city hall. All seven were killed, either by the fall or by the angry mob that was waiting out in the street.)
Second photo: Vladislov Hall in the Old Royal Palace.
Third photo: All Saints Church in the Old Royal Palace.
Address: Prazsky hrad
Directions: GPS 50° 5'30.12" North; 14°24'15.02" East
1. Prague from the Old Royal Palace
As long as you don't let yourself be defenestrated you can have some fine views of Prague from the Old Royal Palace.
Charles Bridge is in the center of the first photo.
Second photo: The Vltava (Moldau) River from the Old Royal Palace, looking downstream.
Address: Prazsky hrad
Directions: GPS 50° 5'30.12" North; 14°24'15.02" East
1. Inside St. Vitus Cathedral
All I knew about St. Vitus up to now is that there is a disease named after him, St. Vitus dance, otherwise known as Sydenham chorea, in which the patient makes jerky movements that look vaguely like some sort of dance. It turns out that St. Vitus dance is a sign of acute rheumatic fever and occurs mainly in girls before puberty.
St. Vitus himself was a saint from Sicily about whom little is known, except that he died as a martyr in the year 303. By some accounts he was a seven- or twelve-year-old boy when he was killed.
The St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague is within the castle walls. It is included in both the "short visit" and the "long visit" admission tickets. Actually you can enter the cathedral without a ticket and just stand in the back behind the pews, which is what a lot of people do, but then there is a barrier where you have to show your ticket to go further.
Second photo: Stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral.
Address: Katedrala sv. Vita, Vaclava a Vojtecha
Directions: Prague Castle
GPS 50° 5'26.20" North; 14°23'59.65" East
1. View from the Rosenberg Palace
Also included in the "short visit" admission ticket is the Rosenberg Palace, which was originally built as a Renaissance palace for the aristocratic Rosenberg family. In the eighteenth century it was rebuilt in Baroque style. Starting in 1756 it was used as a "residence for unmarried women from insolvent noble families."
One apartment in the Rosenberg Palace (second photo) has been furnished to look like the apartment of a noble lady living in the Institute in the eighteenth century, using antique furniture and other items from the depository of Prague Castle.
For most of the twentieth century the palace was used for offices of the Interior Ministry and later the Castle Administration. After a thorough restoration, the palace was opened to the public in April 2010 for the first time in its history.
Second photo: This is how the apartments might have been furnished in the eighteenth century for unmarried noblewomen who lived there.
Third photo: An eighteenth century mousetrap (with mouse) and toilet box in the Rosenberg Palace.
Address: Prazsky hrad
Directions: GPS 50° 5'28.83" North; 14°24'14.59" East
1. Entrance to the Lobkowicz Palace
Next door to the Rosenberg Palace is another palace which strictly speaking is not a part of Prague Castle, because it is (again) the private property of the Lobkowicz family, an aristocratic family which has "played a prominent role in Central European history for over six hundred years", according to their palace website.
The palace was acquired by the Lobkowicz family in 1604 through the marriage of the 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568-1628), who served as Chancellor to three Habsburg emperors. Ever since then, the palace has been in the family except when it was confiscated by the Nazis (1939-1945) and the Communists (1948-1989).
The current "prince", who doesn't use the title and in fact is not allowed to under Czech law, is William Lobkowicz, born in Boston in 1961. He studied European History at Harvard and became a successful businessman in America. In 1990, after the fall of the Communists, he returned to the Czech Republic to reclaim and restore his family's properties, including their huge art collection which had been dispersed by the Nazis and Communists.
Many of the art works from the family collection are now on display at the Lobkowicz Palace Museum, which has only been open to the public since April 2007. They have one Brueghel, namely "Haymaking" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and two paintings of London by Canaletto, along with many other paintings from several centuries.
Also on display are items from the family's large music collection, including rare historical instruments and musical scores such as the original handwritten manuscripts of symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven. The seventh Prince Lobkovicz, Joseph Franz Maximilian (1772-1816), was the patron of Beethoven, supporting him financially so he could compose his symphonies and other works.
The price of admission to the Lobkowicz Palace Museum (currently 275 CZK which is a little more than 11 Euros) includes an audio guide, available in eight languages. The English version is narrated by William Lobkowicz himself, with guest appearances by other family members and by the curator of the art collection. You can listen to some excerpts from the English-language audio guide on the Palace website at http://www.lobkowicz.cz/Lobkowicz-Palace-9.htm.
Going through the Lobkowicz Palace Museum with the audio guide gives you a marvelous overview of several centuries of Central European history, along with art history and music history, all tied together by the story of sixteen generations of the Lobkowicz family.
Second photo: Poster showing recent generations of the Lobkowicz family.
Third photo: The Baroque 17th century concert hall in the Lobkowicz Palace, where classical music concerts are held daily at 1.00 pm. The concert hall can seat over a hundred people, but there were only sixteen of us in the audience on the day I attended. The concert, I'm sorry to say, was a flop, consisting of the most hackneyed and trivial tourist-concert selections played by three totally unmotivated musicians. Though the concert hall is beautifully painted, the acoustics are unfortunate, accentuating the shrillness of the flute and the clunkiness of the piano. Only the viola sounded normal. So my recommendation would be to skip the concert and just concentrate on the marvelous museum collections instead.
Fourth photo: Lobkowicz Palace from below.
Fifth photo: View of the city of Prague from the terrace below the Lobkowicz Palace.
Address: Jiřská 3, 119 08 Prague 1
Directions: GPS 50° 5'29.37" North; 14°24'16.93" East
Phone: +420 233 312 925
1. Entrance to the Franz Kafka Museum
This unusual and wonderfully creative museum consists of a long-term exhibition called "The City of K., Franz Kafka and Prague", which originated in another city entirely, namely Barcelona, where it opened in 1999. Numerous people from Barcelona were involved in creating the exhibition, which seems to have benefited enormously from their insights and fresh input.
After Barcelona, the exhibition was moved to the Jewish Museum in New York, where it was shown in 2002-2003. Then in 2005 it was finally installed in Prague, the city where Franz Kafka was born in 1883 and where he lived, worked and wrote for most of his life.
For me this museum was a series of memory jogs, since I read most of Kafka's books and stories nearly half a century ago.
One of the things I learned at the museum was that Kafka's day job was not nearly as senseless as he made it out to be. Kafka claimed to hate his office job, and in his stories he often wrote about people who were helplessly caught in the web of a mindless bureaucracy, in situations that are now often described as "Kafkaesque".
But at another level Kafka was a diligent employee who was rightfully proud of his accomplishments at the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, where he worked for many years in a department devoted to preventing industrial accidents. He wrote the department's annual reports on factory safety, and was even promoted to department head shortly before he had to resign because of illness.
My personal connection to this is that my Canadian/American grandfather, who was only five years younger than Kafka, was the managing director of the National Safety Council in the United States from 1913 to 1942, so he was very much involved in industrial accident prevention throughout his working life. (But otherwise my grandfather was a very different sort of person who never even read any of Kafka's books as far as I know.)
(Yes, this is the same grandfather who was booked on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912, but changed his booking at short notice for business reasons. No doubt his narrow escape from the sinking of the Titanic reinforced his life-long interest in safety and accident prevention.)
Second photo: A poster at the entrance to the Franz Kafka Museum at the Herget Brickworks.
Third photo: Ticket to the Franz Kafka Museum.
Address: Cihelná 2b, 118 00 Prague 1-Lesser Town
Directions: On the left bank of the Vltava (Moldau) River, below the Charles Bridge.
GPS 50° 5'16.46" North; 14°24'37.35" East.
Phone: +420 257 535 507
1. The Kepler Museum in Prague
This is another quite new museum, opened in 2009 in the International Year of Astronomy, and is no doubt one of the world's smallest museums, consisting of one room with a few text panels in Czech and English.
But these text panels are very well done, giving a good introduction to the life and work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who was in Prague from 1600-1612. While reading through the text panels and looking at the diagrams and pictures I was reminded about how I felt in school when I first learned about Kepler's three laws of planetary motion: I was astounded by the first two laws and baffled by the third, much like the reactions of Kepler's contemporaries when he first proposed the laws in the early seventeenth century.
Kepler's first law is that the orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the sun at one of the two foci. I remember finding this counter-intuitive at first (why should the sun be at one focus and why isn't there anything at the other focus?), though by now it seems rather obvious.
The same with the second law: why should a line joining a planet and the sun sweep out equal areas during equal intervals of time? Actually this is just another way of saying that a planet moves faster when it is closer to the sun, but it took a while for this to sink in. I'm not an astronomer, obviously.
I'm also not a mathematician, otherwise I wouldn't have been so baffled by Kepler's third law, which simply (simply?) explains why Mercury zips around the sun at nearly 48 km per second, while the Earth goes less than 30 and Neptune goes less than 6 km per second. I naively thought that planets having greater distances to travel should try to go faster, not slower, and I suppose that as a poor innocent humanities major I was intimidated by the square of one thing being directly proportional to the cube of something else, though it isn't really all that mysterious and is explained very well in the museum.
(Of course planets can't "try" to do anything; they just do what they're told -- by gravity or the curvature of space-time or whatever.)
Since this is a small museum the admission price is quite reasonable. As a "senior" I paid all of 20 CKZ, which is less than one Euro. For this I got not only admission to the museum, but also an attractive and informative ticket (third photo) indicating that I entered the museum at exactly 11:42:04 on April 9, 2011, when the sun was in Beran-Aries and the moon was in Rak-Cancer. The moon phase on that day was a waxing crescent, sunset was at 18:46 and sunrise at 5:20. Old Bohemian Time was 16:56, Sidereal Time was 0:51 and the Babylonian Hour was 6. Any questions?
In a later phase of his life Kepler (or Keppler) lived in Ulm for two years, as I mentioned in one of my Ulm tips.
(Have I mentioned hat Kepler successfully defended his mother in court when she was indicted on charges of witchcraft? More on that some other time.)
Second photo: Plaque on Kepler's house in Karlova Street: "Johannes Kepler 1571-1630".
Third photo: Ticket to the Kepler Museum.
Address: Karlova 4, Prague
Directions: In a little passage near the east end of Charles Bridge.
GPS 50° 5'9.64" North; 14°24'53.12" East.
Phone: 608 971 236
The National Museum at sunset
One of the first words I learned in Czech this time was Národní, meaning national, since there are lots of "national" things in Prague.
As a non-nationalist I am not terribly enthusiastic about this. I tend to agree with Karl W. Deutsch (1912-1992), who was born in Prague and studied here until the Nazis seized power. He then moved to America and became a professor at MIT, Yale and Harvard. In his book Nationalism and its alternatives he wrote that a nation is a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors. (This statement is often quoted in various forms; I don't know which is the original.)
Anyway, in Prague there is a National Theater (Národní divadlo) which is on the National Street (Národní ulice), and of course there is also a National Museum (Národní muzeum).
I didn't visit the National Museum this time, thinking I could go there any old time when the weather wasn't so good, but now it turns out that the main museum building at Wenceslas Square will be closed for badly needed repairs and reconstruction work for nearly four years from July 2011 to June 2015.
The museum website lists various problems that have arisen since this building was first opened in 1891, including damage by a German bomb in 1945 and machine-gun fire by Russian soldiers in 1968, followed by damage during the construction of the Metro station (line A) in 1978.
The website also says: "The greatest threat to the building was probably the thoughtless and insensitive construction of the so-called North-South Highway which was taken right through the centre of the city, the two sides of which embraced the National Museum itself. The paradox is that the opening ceremony for this highway in 1978 was held in the Pantheon of the National Museum. The building has been cut off from Wenceslas Square by the lower lanes of the motorway, both as regards communications and also visibly, and has begun to suffer from the excessive noise, dangerously high level of dust and constant vibrations."
This is the same motorway which cuts off the State Opera from the rest of the city.
The museum website notes that "the problem of the motorway has not been solved satisfactorily yet."
Address: Václavské náměstí 68, 115 79 Praha 1
Directions: GPS 50° 4'43.30" North; 14°25'50.80" East, facing Wenceslas Square.
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