Prague’s Famed Charles Bridge & Vltava River #TuesdayTravels

Tuesday TravelsPrague’s bridges over the Vltava River are one of the most picturesque aspects of the city, especially the famed Charles Bridge, begun in 1357 and completed in the early 1400s during the reign of King Charles IV. Imagine that. This stone bridge has been standing for over 700 years!

Prague bridges

Prague at Twilight, view of Bridges on Vltava, copyright william87

We walked the bridge one afternoon on our way to the Czech National Museum of Music. It was the only bridge over the Vltava (Moldau in German) until 1841 and was the major connection between Prague Castle and the Old and New Town sections of the city.

Charles Bridge at dawn

Charles Bridge at dawn @ courtyardpix

The bridge is lined with 30 statues, most of them from the Baroque era, though today the statues are replicas. One of the most famous is the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, the saint of Bohemia, one of the three provinces that make up the Czech Republic. who drowned in the Vltava. In 1393 John was thrown into the Vltava on orders of King Venceslaus, presumably because he was the queen’s confessor and refused to give up the secrets of the confessional. He became the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional. He’s also considered to be a protector from floods and drowning. The stars around his head come from the legend that when his body hit the water, stars appeared. Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Saint John of Nepomuk

Statue of Saint John of Nepomuk

More photos of the river and bridges:

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Once we reached the museum of music, we wandered through the exhibits, mostly looking for old violins for research, but I used to play piano, so I had to stop to take some pictures of my favorite instrument.

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We enjoyed the afternoon excursion, very much, but our feet and knees were complaining long before we got back to the hotel. Prague is a walking city, but it’s not easy on the feet and knees! More next week.



World War II in Prague Tour #TuesdayTravels

Tuesday Travels

Part of our trip to Prague was for historical research, so one morning we took the World War II in Prague Tour. First a quick bit of historical background.

The nation of Czechoslovakia was created at the end of World War II when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved and formed into several different nations. Czechoslovakia was a democracy from October 1918 until the Germans marched in on March 15, 1939. His original justification was to re-patriate German speaking Czechoslovakians living in the area known as the Sudentenland, but of course, that area wasn’t enough for his need to create the German empire called the Third Reich. Because the Allies were still trying to avoid war with Germany, there was no military resistance.

Powder Tower

Powder Tower

Our tour started at the Powder Tower, one of the original thirteen city gates. Located in Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the gate separates Old Town from New Town. Our guide met us here and gave a lot of information, but the square is noisy and I missed some of it.

Next he led us back to Old Town Square and the Old Town Hall where the Resistance hid in the underground chambers and used the tunnels under the city to move around without notice. How cool is that?

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The “city under the city” served as headquarters for the Prague resistance. They even had a provisional hospital set up down there. The underground is actually the Romanesque and Gothic section of the Old Town Hall. Like a lot of old European cities, Prague kept building upward, so you have to go down to locate the older rooms. I believe the more rounded arches represent Romanesque style, whereas the Gothic arches are more pointed. I could see knights sitting around these rooms, quaffing ale or mead.

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The biggest success of the resistance was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich of the SS who had been named “Protector” of Bohemia and Moravia by exiled Czech soldiers smuggled back into Prague. The story of the assassination was the basis for the recent film Anthropoid which I have not yet seen. The assassins were hunted down in a church, and Hitler got his revenge by destroying two villages and murdering all males over the age of sixteen. The rest of the villagers were sent to to concentration camps. Was it worth assassinating Heydrich? I guess it depends on your point of view.

One of the reasons the older sections of Prague aren’t modern is that the city largely escaped the bombing campaigns that destroyed so many other cities. There was one bombing raid on the city in Feb. 1945 by the Americans, who claimed that it was an accident. Supposedly the target was Dresden but faulty radar took them off course and they bombed the wrong city. 701 people were killed and the pilots expressed regrets afterward.

astronomical clock

On May 3, 1945, when it became clear Germany was losing the war, the people of Prague rose up and fought the Nazis for three days, with resulting damage to the city including the famous Astronomical Clock. (Luckily it has been restored to original condition.) On May 9, Soviet forces entered the city on March 9, and the grim Iron Curtain descended on the former democracy.

In college, I had a professor who came from Prague. She managed to escape after seeing her husband shot by the Soviets. She always told us how lucky we were to live in the US where citizens were free to criticize the president without being picked up by the secret police! I never forgot that.

The rest of the tour took us through the former Jewish section of the city, which I discussed back in April.

The tour was very interesting and now I really want to see that movie!