On this day, we were joined on the trip by our daughter Savanna and son-in law Jason! We were so excited to be able to share some of our experience with them. Once they arrived, we visited another open-air market closer to “home.” We had a delicious lunch of a variety of food this time, and then we were on our way. We had hired a “Tours By Locals” guide, Eva, since we always tend to enjoy being shown around the city by someone who knows the ins and outs.
Czech Republic hasn’t always been called that. In fact, it’s a fairly new country as a republic. It was founded in 1918 by its first president, Václav Havel. During World War II, its president at the time negotiated with the Germans to allow occupation so that it wouldn’t be destroyed by bombing like so many other European cities. It was occupied from 1939 to 1945, until the Russian Army came in and “liberated” it. For three years, it was under Russian rule, but in 1948, they pushed the Russians out. Those in power at the time were the Czech communist party, who stayed in charge until 1989. Eva told us she had grown up in communist Prague and had become a revolutionist in the eighties when, like so many others in her country, grew tired of communism and ousted the communist party. She was very proud to share her experience of passing out fliers encouraging people to vote for a democracy. She was also proud to explain that it was called the Velvet Revolution because no one was killed during this uprising.
There are still many remnants of life before World War II. In fact, the only bombing that took place during World War II was an accidental bombing by American forces, who had missed their target and later paid to make repairs of the over 200 buildings damaged. The Prague castle, the first building of which was raised in 870, has been the home of Bohemian rulers, and then Czech presidents. It is the largest ancient castle in the world. It is really a compound of buildings surrounding a square and dominated by the St. Vitus Cathedral, built in 1344. The grandeur and beauty of this complex had us captivated. One of the highlights was a newer (1930) stained glass window designed by Mucha (pronounced Moohah). The colors of this piece caught my eyes from the minute I walked into the cathedral and held them. Our guide told us that Mucha was commissioned to do this window and that he had become famous creating posters for Parisian actress Sarah Bernhardt. Once I saw one of his posters, I started seeing them all over the city.
Another point of interest was the defenestration window. Are you learning a new word, or am I even more sorely uneducated in vocabulary than I thought I was? The definition of this word is the act of throwing someone out of a window. It is more often used today as the act of ousting someone from authority. Jan Hus, who was preaching against the Catholic Church, was burned at the stake as a heretic. His followers, the Hussites, continued his mission, and in 1419, they threw the mayor of Prague and six other town officials out the window to show their displeasure. This was the beginning of the Hussite War over religion and triggered the “need” for the Catholic Crusades in Prague and the surrounding area. Then in 1618, Protestant noblemen threw two imperial governors of the Holy Royal Empire out the same window to show their displeasure with Catholicism being forced on them once again. This began the Thirty Years War, one of the longest and most destructive wars in history. This was a religious war in the Holy Roman Empire that included what is now France, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, The Netherlands, and Poland. Between military action, violence, famine, and plague, over eight million people died during this time.
We went to the Wallenstein palace next, mostly to see its magnificent gardens situated within its complex. Built in the 1600s, the palace and gardens are a beautiful place to breathe, right in the middle of a busy city. In fact, Prague actually made this castle a public park in 2002. We enjoyed this place of quiet and beauty, and we even went back later for a concert. We somehow got the wrong time and arrived when the concert was over, but we rested on its benches and got another look at the garden anyway! One of the centerpieces was a dripstone wall. It was somehow grotesque and beautiful at the same time. We looked at it for a long time, finding faces of animals and monsters in the midst of this crazy garden wall.
As we walked, Eva explained important things about the city, like its “national beverage”: Beer. She explained that there were 22 reasons to choose it over any other beverage. Examples she gave were, “It boosts your metabolism. It has many antioxidants. It contains many B vitamins.” On average, Czech people drink 160 liters per year, even more than the German people. Czechs began brewing beer in 1625, and at one point, the brewing industry produced 87% of the country’s economy! A state-owned brewery was established in 1795 and began shipping beer all over the world. It was called Budweiser and produced a lager called Budweiser Bier. By 1895, it was incorporated and exporting to the United States. In 1896, Aldophus Busch, who had remembered encountering Bohemian beer on his European travels, began brewing beer using the Bohemian process. He named it Budweiser beer. There have been lawsuits ever since over the Budweiser name.
Eva also told us about addresses in Czech, and that they only recently replaced house signs, which used to be the major way to find your way around. Each block or so, there would be a somewhat of a landmark house that had a fancy sign. You could say, for example, “I live 3 doors down from Three Cranes,” meaning the house with three cranes on its sign.
She told us about the beautiful canal and about the terrible flood they had not too long ago that flooded many of the houses along the canal and triggered a change in building requirements.
Eva also told us of the famous Charles Bridge over the Vltava River. Its construction was begun in 1357 by King Charles IV and took 42 years to build. It connected Prague Castle with the rest of the city and helped Prague become an important trade route between Eastern and Western Europe. Saint John of Nepomuk was martyred on the Charles Bridge. It is said that the queen of Bohemia went to him for confession. The king wanted to know what she confessed. When he refused to reveal her secrets, the king had him tortured and then executed by throwing him off the bridge in chains. When he did so, 5 new stars appeared in the sky over that part of the river, leading to his sainthood.
There is a statue commemorating the martyrdom of Saint John of Nepomuk, along with 29 other statues. None of them are original, however. They are replacements for the originals that were put there in the 1700s and are now in the national museum. The bridge is quite beautiful. During our stay in Prague, we walked back and forth across this bridge at least three times, and we also walked across another bridge to get pictures of the Charles Bridge!
We finally arrived at Wencaslas Square. We were too tired to explore it, after walking twelve miles that day. We pivoted around, taking pictures, got take out, and went back “home” to eat and to crash. More of this beautiful square tomorrow…