Few modern European cities match the elegance of Prague, the capital of what is now the Czech Republic. From the huge Prague Castle to Prague Astronomical ClockIt is the oldest astronomical clock in the world and is still working, attached to Prague City Hall, and there are many historical wonders. But one structure stands out, and for locals, that’s not a good thing
Nicknamed the “Dancing House” or “Ginger and Fred,” the building almost seems to writhe in its corner overlooking the Vltava River. One of the towers is built in the “deconstructionist” style—generally considered the “gingerbread” half of dancer Ginger Rogers—and leans dramatically toward the other as if the two towers were dancing. Designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in collaboration with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and built in 1996, the building’s heavy asymmetry is an incongruous addition to the city’s collection of Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings.
But the Dancing House, which is also home to many unusual pieces of art, is great fun and attracts a lot of visitors to a city that already has more than its share of attractions. Prague—Prague In local language and inhabited by about 1.3 million people – it is not located on the Danube, so we had to take a bus through the southern reaches of the Black Forest to visit it. But the city was a fitting climax to our trip.
We actually saw more than our share of castles and cathedrals on this trip, each more impressive than the last. But we were completely unprepared for the size and scope of Prague Castle, a massive complex of buildings and towers listed by Guinness World Records as the largest ancient castle in the world. Situated majestically on an 18-acre plot of land at the highest point of the city, and consisting of 750,000 square feet of buildings, it still serves as the seat of the government of the Czech Republic.
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Tour the castle grounds
The castle also has its share of architectural styles, the results of “home improvement” updates since it was first built in the 9th century. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles in St. Vitus Cathedral contrast with Romanesque elements in St. George’s Cathedral, both of which are present in the walls of the complex. Even as few as 20yCentury-old touches from the work of Sulvinia artist Josip Plečnik can be found on the grounds, which are guarded by almost motionless ceremonial guards and more action-oriented guards dressed in camouflage and carrying machine guns.
It’s easy to wander the grounds and admire the architecture or schedule a tour of one of the buildings, halls, or museums. Those who want to experience Prague Castle in its entirety should plan for two to three days, taking into account tour groups that are also passing through. Many world leaders have appeared at Prague Castle, including Mick Jagger and the other Rolling Stones when writer-turned-statesman Vaclav Havel was president. (Havel was a fan. He also called the country’s Velvet Revolution, which caused the collapse of communism in the country and amicably separated the Czech Republic from neighboring Sofakia, Lou Reed’s “Velvet Underground,” sources say.)
Another highlight of any visit to Prague is a stroll across the Charles Bridge, a major pedestrian thoroughfare lined with 30 larger-than-life statues of Catholic saints and religious scenes. About halfway across the bridge is a statue of John Nepomuk, a priest working under King Wenceslas IV who was thrown into the Vatlava River and drowned rather than reveal his confession to the queen. A small plaque with a golden cross accompanies the statue at the point of the priest’s “execution,” and legend has it that touching the cross while making a wish will ensure that the wish will come true within a year and a day of the request.
Touching the image of little John raised on the adjacent plaque on his right side is said to bring you further good luck as well as a return visit to Prague. Good luck and a granted wish is always appreciated. As for returning to Prague, we have already made those plans.