Difference between revisions of "Prague/Old Town"
Revision as of 02:48, 20 July 2006
The Old Town of Prague (Czech: Staré Mesto) is the oldest settlement on the right bank.
Old Town Square/Jan Hus monument
That striking man standing atop a patina-green metal mountain in the center of Old Town Square is not Jesus, though he resembles him. It's Jan Hus, the great Czech religious reformer whose Hussite movement caused as much, if not more, friction within the Christian community as Martin Luther. (See sidebar). But Hus himself was a learned man, the rector of Charles University in Prague (one of the first universities in Europe, and still the largest in the Czech Republic). The statue was erected on the 500th anniversary of his death (6 July 1915). Hus preached in the Bethlehem Church in Old Town and was himself not particularly radical, unlike some of the sects who followed him. He believed in Bibles written in the worshiper's language, in the importance of faith instead of a clergyman's intermediation with God - in other words, concepts which threatened the status quo. He was summoned to the Church's Council of Constance in Switzerland by representatives of the emperor, and given a letter of safe conduct to get there and back. Like every member of his family (the Habsburgs) before and after him, the emperor was rabidly Catholic. After Hus refused to repent for his so-called sins and come back into the Church, he was burned at the stake, despite the promise of the emperor.
The Astronomical Clock located on a side tower of the Old Town Hall (reasonably enough, on Old Town Square) is easy to find - just wait until a few minutes before the hour and look for a large group of tourists standing around waiting for something to happen! It also one of the most popular gathering places in Prague.
The clock was built ca. 1410 and can be thought as example of 15th century hi-tech device, projected with participation of math and astronomy professor at Prague University. The mail dial is in principle mechanical astrolabe, showing not only the current time, but also the placement of Sun and Moon in Zodiac, phase of the moon, time of sunrise and sunset, length of astronomical night, time in old Bohemian hours, in unequal hours and other data. From gathering crowds hardly anybody understands all data astronomical dial displays.
Then there is a slow-moving 12-month calendar with incredibly delicate, small figure paintings by 19th century Czech painter Josef Manes. Every day on the hour, the upper, glockenspiel-style section of the clock performs the same scene: Death waves an hourglass, the 12 apostles shuffle past small windows, and a rooster crows. After the hour strikes, a Turk wags his head.
Long after the Turks had ceased to be a threat in Central Europe, their use as an allegorical figure in genre paintings and other art continued. The Czechs often sided with the Hungarians in various battles against increasing imperial power as exercised by the ruling Habsburg family over their dominions, and though the Turks never occupied Prague as they did Budapest, both countries' artists used "the Turk" (a dark-complected figure, usually wearing a turban) to represent the dangers of the world, and especially threats to Christianity. In the astronomical clock, the Turk is meant to be the stranger.
There is a legend about the clock that states the original master builder of its interior clockworks was blinded by the king who commissioned it after the work was completed so the mechanic could never build such a wonderful clock for someone else.
The Obecnàdum was built near the Powder Tower (a storage place for gunpowder and a major trade route entry into the city) on a site called King's Court where once a royal residence stood. In 1901, the Prague Civic Society made a proposal to city authorities to build a center for Czech official and social events. As happened so many other times in recent Prague history, the Czechs were trying to balance the grand buildings erected by the German-speaking community of Prague with suitable edifices of their own. The "German House" (now co-opted and renamed Slovansky dum, or Slavic House, on Na prëope street) and a German casino were enough to make the Czechs want a place of their own.
Lovers of Art Nouveau should bless the memories of the Prague Civic Society's officials, because the Obecnàdum would become one of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau in Prague, filled with artwork by the best Czech artists of the day. Neo-Baroque, neo-Renaissance, Western and Oriental influences – all combined with traditional Czech Art Nouveau. This is what makes the Obecnàdum unique among many beautiful examples of Art Nouveau public buildings in Prague. While the exterior is impressive, the interior is both finely crafted and educational. Almost every prominent living Czech artist worked on the Obecnàdum. Painters Mikolas Ales, Vaclav Jansa, Alfons Mucha, Jakub Obrovsky, Jan Preisler, Josef Wenig, Karel Spillar, Max Svabinsky, Josef Ullman, Frantisek Zenóek, and the sculptors Josef Maratka, Josef Vaclav Myslbek, Karel Novak, Ladislav Saloun, Frantisek Uprka, Bohumil Kafka and Cenek Vosmë carved out an astounding backdrop for the many historical events that would transpire here. Though their contributions are not conspicuously noted, in some cases (such as Alfons Mucha's Mayoral Hall) it is obviously which artist decorated what room.
Convent of St Agnes
U Milosrdných 17. ph 224 810 628. fax 221 879 217. http://www.ngprague.cz/
The Anezsky klaster is the first Early Gothic building in Prague (founded 1234) - something notable in a city filled with amazingly well-preserved examples of Gothic architecture such as St Vitus, the Charles Bridge and the Powder Tower. Over the years the complex's convent, chapels and several churches deteriorated and in some cases, were completely destroyed. After Habsburg emperor Josef II's religious reforms, the convent was shut down in 1782 and converted into lodgings for the poor.
During the National Revival period in the 1890s an Association for the Renewal of the Convent was founded as interest in all things Slavic grew. The Czechs were rediscovering their own national heritage, and what better place to start but here? An intensive archaeological excavation by Ivan Borkovsky in the 1940s uncovered several female royals' graves and those of the head abbesses. The complex was later painstakingly renovated in the 1970s after the National Gallery acquired the property and connected the various buildings together by a series of additions. This echoed the original plan of the convent itself, which was meant to be self-sufficient and contained within its own set of walls. The renovators did such an excellent job, it can be difficult to tell what is old and what is original. The refectory (cafeteria) has small display of artifacts but for full effect, just stand in the room and absorb the collective energy of several centuries. The weight of Czech history hangs heavy in this complex, more so than at the Castle. Perhaps it's because this location isn't very well known, and hasn't been overrun by the "casually interested." The convent complex itself now houses upstairs the 19th century Czech paintings of the National Gallery and occasional display of medieval art in the church spaces on the ground floor.
St Anezka, (Sv Anezka Ceska) who is pictured on the pink 50-crown banknote, is the patron saint of Bohemia and founder of the convent complex. She was a daughter of the ruling Premyslid family, but no wallflower in terms of her activism, intelligence and energy. St Francis of Assisi, after whom one of the churches in the complex is named, founded his religious order in 1209 without the sort of financial backing earlier orders had enjoyed. As communism was crumbling, the remaining religious leadership, decimated over years by Communism's anti-religious influence, lobbied the Vatican to finally declare Anezka a saint. This happened 12 November 1989, though Anezka's niece Elizabeth had started the process in 1328!