01December 2012

My Last Day

Regan left early in the morning to catch her flight back to Canada.  I had one extra day before leaving for Nairobi and it was a gorgeous one.  Blue skies and sunny.  A nice way to end my visit in Prague. 

After taking my time getting ready, I headed to Paul's where I bought a sandwich and mint tea for lunch.  I took the tram towards the Monastery and ate my lunch outside, in the sun.  That felt really nice.  I had to wait for the Boutique to open, so I walked around, found the path that leads directly to the Square and from there to the Loreto.  I listened when the bells chimed a tune, indicating it was noon.  Since I had to wait until 1pm for both the Monastery boutique and Loreto to open, I bided my time by walking around the quaint streets in the area, enjoying the scenery and the warmth of the sun.   

After visiting the Loreto, which was worth waiting for, I walked towards the castle, using the side streets.  Just Gorgeous.  I had to go back to visit St. Vitus Cathedral, as I did not take enough time when I first was there.  I arrived just in time, as it was closing early.  The church emptied slowly, and  I stayed until the very end, when noone was left inside.  I never thought that I  would experience the quiet and a view without the guards and barricades.  How peaceful! I went to the Golden Lane, as I missed that the first time as well.  It was now sundown, and the cold was gripping me again.  I huddled in the Boutique until the light ceremony and choir performance started.  Never did make it back to Old Town and the official first day of the Christmas market.   

Our Lady of Loreto: a Pilgrimage Site

Loreta is a Marian pilgrimage site containing a copy of the Holy House (Santa Casa), the Baroque Church of the Nativity of Our Lord, a cloister and six chapels. The complex took on its current appearance over time. First the Holy House was built in 1626 -1627, gradually followed by a single-storey cloister with chapels, the Baroque Church of the Nativity of Our Lord (1734 - 1735), fountains, space for a unique treasury and more. All this is presented on the outside by a single façade designed by architect Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, whose design was based on the previous plans drawn up by his father, Christoph Dientzenhofer.

After completion, the Loreto has been maintained by the Capuchins, an order connected with the St. Francis of Assisi's Brotherhood.

Loreto Treasury

The Loreto treasury, which started from a substantial donation by Benigna Katharina von Lobkowitz, is priceless. Most items, predominantly monstrances, chalices, altars, miniatures and other votive gifts, stem from the 17th and 18th centuries. The oldest object is a 1510 Gothic chalice donated by Christoph Ferdinand Popel Baronet von Lobkowitz. The most well-known object is a diamond monstrance called the Prague Sun. The gilded silver, 12 kilogramme, 6,222 diamond monstrance (An open or transparent receptacle in which the consecrated Host is exposed for veneration) was created in 1699 by Viennese goldsmiths who followed a design by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

Loreto: Inside the Bell Tower

Loreto Carillon

The Loreto’s frontal façade is dominated by a tall baroque tower built in 1693, where the famous carillon, set in motion in 1695, is located.  

The bells were cast by Amsterdam bellmaker Claude Fremy, and the playing mechanism was constructed by Peter Neumann, a Prague clockmaker. The instrument has a total of 27 bells in the span of over two octaves, with a keyboard of atypical proportions. The bottom octave is also controlled by a row of pedals. The carillon has two separate playing systems – a clock machine with a cylinder that is programmed to play the hymn “A Thousand Times We Hail Thee” on the hour, and a completely independent mechanism that is controlled by the player. 

The carillon was restored in 1994 by Petr Rudolf Manoušek and is one of the oldest working carillons in Europe, especially among those that have been preserved without the use of inauthentic interference. Despite its imprecise tuning, it was decided to keep the original bells for their artistic and historical value, as this is the last existing set of playing bells by C.Fremy in the world – it is not possible to change the fixed tuning of his bells.

Loreta Casa Santa

Santa Casa is the place in Nazareth where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ, the Son of God would be born from her blessed womb. In the very same house the Holy Family stayed after their return from Egypt and Mary lived there for years to come. In 1291, a Christian family named Angeli had the Holy House moved, piece by piece, from Nazareth to Dalmatia and later in 1295 to the Italian town of Loreto. From the name of the Italian family “Angeli” people developed in time the legend that the Holy House had been brought to Loreto by angels. The story has become popular in all Christian world and many other copies of Santa Casa have been built all over the world. This Santa Casa copy, complete with stunning fresco pieces and the statue of Our Lady of Loreta, sits in a delightful courtyard surrounded by chapel-lined arcades. The Loreto in Prague is the biggest and most famous copy of the Santa Casa and attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year.

Loreto Cloister

Church of the Nativity of our Lord

I sat quietly in this small church - in awe.  But at the same time, this style is a bit  (ok a lot) over the top for me.  The Dientzenhofers, an important family of architects, had an impact on the building development of the Prague Loreto in the first half of the 18th century. Christoph Dientzenhofer began the two-phase reconstruction of the church and designed the western facade of the entire complex, which was finished, after his death in 1722, by his son Kilian Ignaz. (The latter is also the author of the design of the terrace with balustrades in front of the facade.) In 1735, Christoph’s stepson, J. G. Aichbauer, finished the final reconstruction of the church, financed (as was most of the interior decoration) by Countess Maria Margarethe Waldstein, née Czernin von Chudenice. 

It was consecrated on 7 June 1737, but work on the interior continued until the end of 1738. The principal altar is decorated with an alleged replica of a Renaissance painting of the Adoration (perhaps from the circle of F. Lippi), with a wrought rocaille frame and sculptures of SS Joseph, Joachim, God the Father and the angels, by M. Schönherr (1701-1743). The two side altars of St Felicissimus and St Marcia, with the large reliquary display cases, are located in the chancel.

The side altars in the nave have superb Rococo paintings of St Apollonia and St Agatha, by Anton Kern (1709-1747), supplemented at the sides by equally impressive sculptural pairs of cherubs by Richard Prachner.

The original organ by the master L. Spiegel, provided at the expense of Countess Eleonore Caroline von Lobkowitz in 1718, was replaced between 1734-38 by a new instrument by the masters F. Katzer and K. Weltzer from Králíky. The frescoes of the Nativity of Our Lord and the Adoration of the Magi are the work of J. A. Schöpfl (1702-1772); they are inferior to the painting in the third vaulting field above the chancel, with the scene of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, by W. L. Reiner (1698-1743)..2 

My Last Night

The last hours of the day were spent listening to a choir sing while the Christmas tree lights were turned on outside of St. Vitus Cathedral, a yearly ritual I am told...  and one more walk over the Bridge, looking over the beautiful landscape that is Prague.

30November 2012

A worthy assessment of the area by both domestic and foreign experts resulted in the acquisition of historic monument preservation status. In 1963, the town was declared a Municipal Preserve, in 1989 the castle became a National Monument, and in 1992 the entire complex was included onto the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monuments.

The mighty complex of the castle is erected on the rock promontory which has been sculpted by the Vltava river on the southern side and by the  Polečnice stream on the northern side. The castle towers proudly above the refined Renaissance and Baroque burgher architecture of the town below. 

Like a precious pearl, the town of Český Krumlov is situated in a valley surrounded by Blansko Forest to the north and the undulating foothills of Šumava to the south and west.

The name of the castle Krumlov originated from the Latin expression castrum crumnau or in ancient German Crumbenowe. It reflects the configuration of the landscape, krumben ouwe, the place on the rugged meadow. The expression "Český" has been used in connection with Krumlov since the middle of the 15th century.

The historical development of the town is marked mainly by four aristocratic families: the Lords of Krumlov, the Rosenbergs, Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs.

The Czech noble family of the Lords of Krumlov originated as one of the branches of the Vítkovci family. The last member of Lords of Krumlov was Wok who died without descendants in the year 1302, and the Krumlov castle together with the contiguous surroundings fell upon the Rosenberg branch of the Vítkovci family. The Coat-of-arms of the Lords of Krumlov was represented by a green five-petalled rose in a silver field.

Perhaps the most significant marks are those of the family of the Rosenbergs (1302-1602).  The town lived through the greatest cultural and economical bloom during the Renaissance, under the rule of Wilhelm von Rosenberg.  Their symbol was that of a red five-petalled rose with a gold center in a silver field.

In the 17th century the Krumlov dominion passed onto  the Eggenberg family (1622-1719).  They built the first theatre in 1675 but interest in theatre declined after the death of Johann Christian I. von Eggenberg in 1710.  The family emblem is composed of a trio of ravens bearing a golden crown.

The German noble family of Schwarzenbergs was originally called the Lords of Seinsheim and their proper emblem was a shield with silver and blue stripes. After the conquest of Raab, the Turkish fortress, the emblem was enlarged in 1599 with the head of a Turk, his eyes being pecked out by a raven. 

During the second generation of the new owners, the princes of Schwarzenberg, interest in theatre culture rose again. During the reign of Josef Adam zu Schwarzenberg, the original Eggenberg theatre was rebuilt in 1765 along with a large-scale Baroque reconstruction of the rest of Krumlov castle.  

It was a few hours drive to get to Cesky Kremlov.  We walked through the grounds and headed to the museum.  Because of the time of the year, I was not expecting nice gardens or active fountains, however I was disappointed that none of the Castle rooms, cellars or buildings were open.  We would have to be satisfied with the castle museum.  A big creepy factor was the relic room.  How odd that someone would collect bones and keep them in their house.  In the end, seeing artifacts in cases is not that interesting.  The bulding itself, with thick walled structures and stone floors is what caught my eye.  It must cost a fortune to heat this place, which is probably why everything else is closed.  After the museum we stopped for lunch at this medieval restaurant.  Cool atmosphere and yes huge portions of porc was on the menu!

We had free time after lunch for walking around town to soak up some of the beautiful architecture and painted buildings. 

I did not intend on buying anything, but I discovered the most beautiful jewelry.  A green jagged semi transparent stone, which turned out to be meteorite.  One stone in particular, encased in silver caught my attention, and I ended up getting it, with some proding by Regan.  I am glad that I did, as it is unique to this area of the world, and I really like green, even though I do not have anything to wear that matches.

What we did not know when we booked this tour, is that everything, except the castle museum would be closed.  I was greatly disappointed, as I was really looking forward to visiting the baroque theatre, my main motivation for coming to Cesky Krumlov.  October would have been a much better month to travel to Prague, as so many more things would have been open.  Also, a day trip is really not enough, a few days spent here when everything is open would allow you to soak up the many layers of rich history that are present here.

In the beginning of the 20th century the castle theatre was used only occasionally and was not open to the public. 

Only two records from 1903 and 1906 record the use of the theatre for social events.

All of the artistic and technical equipment of the theatre is located partly in the theatre itself and partly in the neighboring building, which is used as a theatre museum.

Proof of the rich theatre culture of the Český Krumlov castle is preserved in material objects (the theatre building, stage, orchestra pit, auditorium, stage machinery, fire fighting and signalization technology, technical props, etc.), in written pieces (librettos, partituras, particelas, notes), in literature (books about theatre art, about the repertoire, dances, ceremonies, festivals, construction and craftsmanship principles), in pictures and iconographic materials (examples of costumes, scenes, drafts, studies, portraits, with musical, dance and theatre subjects). This rich study material offers the possibility of the complex study of theatre history.

In the 20th century the theatre was used only for a short time from 1956 untill 1964 as a part of  the South Bohemian Theatre Festival. In 1966 the theatre buildings and equipment were declared to be in catastrophic condition. The state historical caretakers finally had good reasons to have the theatre closed for regular theatrical performances and to the public. Restoration work began and continues until now.  At present, we estimate that about 80% of all theatre inventory has been completed and restored. The introduction of trial visiting periods by the general public commenced in the autumn of 1997. 

View from the Roof of the Dancing Building

The food was expensive but the French cuisine tasted really nice, and no porc!  Unusual for me, but I had a drink with alcohol, with homemade syrup made with lavender.  It was yummy, although a bit sweet.  Had to wait for the ice to melt, but you probably should drink it that way. A bit disappointing though was the view from the dinning area. Only small oblong windows and depending on where you were sitting, you could not see much. When we were leaving, we noticed an adjacent section with bigger windows and nicer views.  Too bad that we did not notice on our way in.  Before leaving, we went on the roof and took our last photos of Prague's nightscape.  We did not stay long as it was windy and cold. The building portrays two people dancing hence the original name of the edifice: Fred and Ginger after the famous dance couple  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The building soon became known as the 'dancing house'. Zagreb-born Czech architect Vlado Milunić describes the building as a dance performed after the Velvet Revolution.

The construction of the building in what is described as a deconstructionist style (the architects themselves consider the style 'new Baroque'),  created quite a stir since the modern building starkly contrasts with its surroundings, both in its architecture and in its use of materials. Opposition against the building continued even after it was completed in 1996 but eventually Prague citizens have come to accept and even appreciate the building.

An interesting chandelier got our attention.  How does it work?

29November 2012

This morning we went to a local cafe for breakfast.  Nice cheap food where the locals hang out.  Across the street was this church and market.  Regan loves markets as much as she loves puppets.  We hung out for a while and I bought some bath salts and a baboushka hat.The black hat had fake black and white fur around it and you can wrap it around you like a scarf.  Today was a miserable, cold and wet day.  The week started at +9 and it must be close to zero degrees today.  The rain just made it feel all the more cold.  I brought my pleather jacket, which was excellent for cuting the wind and protecting me from the rain - but it was not warm.  Today, I definitely could have worn a winter jacket.  

Art Museum

The Veletrzni Palace, part of the National Gallery of Prague, was once destined to outdo the Pompidou Center in Paris in sheer size and cultural power. The Museum's history dates back to 1796 when a group of prominent representatives of Bohemia patriotic aristocracy and enlightened middle-class intellectuals formed the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts and established the Academy of Fine Arts and the Picture Gallery.  In 1918 the Picture Gallery became a central art collection of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. In 1995 a new gallery dedicated to modern art opened in the refurbished Veletržní Palace. In Prague 7 sits a huge gem of a building, the Veletrzni Palace; constructed from the design of Oldrich Tyl and Josef Fuchs in the years 1925-1929, this massive building was used for trade fairs until 1951 after which it was home to several international companies. A heartbreaking fire destroyed it in 1974. Four vast floors, resembling a huge cruise ship, house a wonderfully impressive collection of 19th to 21st century European and Czech art.  The vast collection contains a large number of Czech and Slovak paintings and sculptures, including works by Gutfreund, Kupka, Fila, Benes and Bohumil Kubišta.

Loved this exhibit by Thomas Ott, a Swiss artist and comic book author.  Ott's stories and independent works are linked by the theme of classic horror. This is also reflected in the scratchboard technique that has made him famous.

František Kupka, was a Czech painter and graphic artist. He was a pioneer and co-founder of the early phases of the abstract art movement and Orphic cubism.

Because of the bad weather, today was a perfect day to spend inside.  We spent a few hours going through the three floors of the permanent collection, most of which were Czech artists.  Their international section was very small, which makes sense considering they were under communist rule until 1989 and outside influences were not encouraged.  They did have a gorgeous Klimt painting.

I have to admit that I really enjoyed this Exhibit and that I am a fan of Art Nouveau.  I appreciate the drawing skills and realism and how the graphic design can easily be transfered for commercial use.  Never made it to the Mucha Museum though.

David Cerny is arguably one of the most popular contemporary artists in the Czech Republic.  Of notable fame are his crawling babies (up a radio tower) and his large scale bronze babies with weird faces. 

In front of the Kafka Museum there are two bronze sculptures peeing into a receptable in the form of the Czech Republic.  What is interesting is that there is an electric mechanism driven by a couple of microprocessors that swivels the upper part of the body, while the penis moves up and down. The stream of water 'writes' quotes from famous Prague residents.  Visitors can interact with the sculptures by sending a SMS message to a number that is displayed.  The living statue then “writes” the text of the message before carrying on as before. 

The hanging Freud sculpture is interesting and the one that everyone misses... including me.  

I saw the fingers in Cesky Kremlov and the sculpture was attributed to Cerny. Interesting placement. it looked like it was holding up the building. 

Went to see this show at the Image Black Light Theatre.  The photos are stunning, but the dancers in the show did not stop for us to 'see the pictures'.   Also not all of the dancers were of equal talent.  This show has a lot of potential.  It could have been spectacular, but I was left  feeling a bit disappointed. 

Africania - Black Light Show

Went to see this show at the Image Black Light Theatre.  The photos are stunning, but the dancers in the show did not stop for us to 'see the pictures'.   Also not all of the dancers were of equal talent.  This show has a lot of potential.  It could have been spectacular, but I was left  feeling a bit disappointed.

28November 2012
Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, in Bohemia and in England.  Within a few decades of Wenceslas's death four biographies of him were in circulation. These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex justus, or "righteous king", that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.

Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, the chronicler Cosmas of Prague, writing in about the year 1119, states:

"But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched."

Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II.

Although Wenceslas was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on the regal dignity and title" and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a "king".  The usual English spelling of Duke Wenceslas' name, Wenceslaus, is occasionally encountered in later textual variants of the carol.  Wenceslas is not to be confused with King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (Wenceslaus I Premyslid), who lived more than three centuries later. An equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas and other patrons of Bohemia (St. Adalbert, St. Ludmila, St. Prokop and St. Agnes of Bohemia) is located on Wenceslaus Square in Prague. His helmet and armour are on display inside Prague Castle. The hymn "Svatý Václave" (Saint Wenceslas) or "Saint Wenceslas Chorale " is one of the oldest known Czech songs in history. Its roots can be found in the 12th century and it still belongs to the most popular religious songs to this day. In 1918, in the beginning of the Czechoslovak state, the song was discussed as one of the possible choices for the national anthem. Since 2000, the feast day of Saint Wenceslas (September 28) is a public holiday in the Czech Republic, celebrated as Czech Statehood Day.

Wencenles Square

Less a square than a boulevard, Wenceslas Square has the shape of a very long (750 m, total area 45,000 m²) rectangle, in a northwest–southeast direction. The street slopes upward to the southeast side. At that end, the street is dominated by the grand neoclassical Czech National Museum. The northwest end runs up against the border between the New Town and the Old Town.

The two obvious landmarks of Wenceslas Square are the  National Museum Building and the statue of Wenceslas. A more recent landmark is a bronze cross  set into the ground in front of the National Museum to honour both Palach and Zajíc who committed suicide by self-immolation as a political protest.

The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. It is part of the historic centre of Prague, a World Heritage Site.

Formerly known as Koňský trh (Horse Market), for its periodic accommodation of horse markets during the Middle Ages, it was renamed Svatováclavské náměstí (Saint Wenceslas square) in 1848 on the proposal of Karel Havlíček Borovský.

28November 2012
The evening at the restored Medieval Tavern was very entertaining.  I loved the music, especially the drummers and the ambiance was perfect. Most of the places in Old Town seem to have basements, a vestige of the Medieval era.  A city built on top of a city. I love the feel of them.

A historical show played out all around us: with swordsmen, jugglers and beautiful dancers in authentic costumes.  When it came to the fire dances, I thought for sure that some of the decor hanging from the beams would catch fire.  Everything seemed to be made of natural materials.  The dinner included various medieval and traditional Czech dishes.  I  opted for duck (which I did not like much) although porc knee was the speciality. The bit of goulash that was served to us was awful.  I am so glad that I never ordered it in a restaurant.

28November 2012

Main Gate

The main entrance is decorated with a Baroque gateway from the 18th century, holding a statue of St. Norbert. A statue of the same Saint is situated on a column in the middle of the courtyard.

You will wonder why some of my photos have bright blue skies while others are more grey, that is because I came to the Monastery twice with differing weather.  I could not use most of the photos I took on the blue sky day as the finger of my glove got into the picture and I did not notice.

Hladová zeď (The Hunger Wall) is a medieval defence wall beside the Monastery. It was built on Petřín Hill during 1360-1362 by order of Charles IV. The purpose of the construction was to strengthen the fortifications of Prague Castle and Malá Strana (Lesser Town) against any attack from the west or south. The adjective Hladová (hunger) appeared after a 1361 famine, when the construction of the wall provided livelihood for the city's poor. The term hladová zeď has become a Czech euphemism for useless public works.

The Monastery

After his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1138, Bishop of Olomouc Jindrich Zdík had the idea of establishing a monastery in Prague. With assistance from the Prague rulers and bishops, a monastery was set up in a place called Strahov, but failed to prosper. It was not until 1143, when Premonstratensians from the Rhineland arrived in Strahov, that the monastic community started to develop successfully.

The Premonstratensians built a wooden monastery and started building a Romanesque basilica. The choir was probably standing as early as 1149. After completing the basilica in 1182, work then started on the stone monastery buildings.  After a fire in 1258, the monastery complex was reconstructed. The monastery's material and spiritual development halted in 1420 when the Hussites plundered the abbey.

The period up until the end of the 16th century was a time of decline for the monastery, when it only just managed to eke out an existence. The monastery's possession took a turn for the better when Jan Lohelius arrived on the scene. In 1586 he is elected Strahov Abbot and starts renovating the monastery, literally and spiritually. He has the dilapidated church rebuilt, erected monastery workshops, reconstructed the prelature as well as the convent, and opened new gardens. By 1594, a twelve-member community of brothers is living in the monastery. When Lohelius is appointed Archbishop of Prague in 1612, .6 his place at the abbey is taken over by Kašpar Questenberg, who continues his work.

The reconstruction of the lower cloisters and the prelature is completed. The Hospital of St Elizabeth is set up in Pohooelec, a monastery brewery is built, the College of St Norbert is established in the New Prague Town as a place of study for the members of the order, and the church is reconstructed and extended westwards. One of Questenberg's greatest feats was to oversee the translation of the relics of the founder of the Premonstratensians, St Norbert, from Magdeburg to Strahov, where they still rest. Towards the end of the Thirty Years' War, the abbey is again sacked and plundered, this time by a Finnish regiment of the Swedish army. They stole many precious objects from the church as well as manuscripts and printed books from the library. Work starts on restoring the monastery after the war, and Abbot Franck rebuilds the damaged prelature and erects a new Hospital. Under Abbot Jeroným Hirnhaim, the library hall (today's Theological Hall) is completed in 1679. In the 18th century, work continues on rebuilding the monastery in the Baroque style: a new summer refectory is opened, the brewery is rebuilt, and the farmland around the monastery is reworked. War hit the monastery again in 1742 when bombardment by the French laid siege to Prague. After this episode, the original medieval structures are rebuilt in the Baroque style The last great piece of building work in the abbey complex is the construction of a new library hall (today's Philosophical Hall) under Abbot Václav Mayer. The monasterial buildings then essentially remained as they were until the 1950's, when the official activity of monasteries was halted by the Communist regime and in-depth archaeological research of the whole complex started. During this time, at least part of the Romanesque structure of the monastery was renewed in a very careful way. After the fall of communism in1989, when the abbey was returned to the Premonstratensians, costly reconstruction of the entire complex began and is still going on to this day.

Assumption of our Lady

The Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady was constructed as a triple-aisle Romanesque basilica, 56 m long and 22 m wide, with a transept and two prismatic towers. This design did not last long, because the church was rebuilt in Gothic style after a fire in 1258. The flat wooden ceiling was replaced by a dome and the Chapel of St. Ursula was added to the northern transept.

After being plundered by the Hussites and left to fall into disrepair for many years, Abbot Jan Lohelius started repairing and reconstructing the church in Renaissance style. Lohelius' successor, Abbot Kašpar Questenberg, had the basilica extended westwards and built a new façade. The Chapel of Our Lady of Passau was added to the southern transept.

In 1742, the basilica was severely damaged again, this time during the French bombardment of Prague. The building was given a Baroque overhaul under the leadership of Italian architect Anselmo Lurago, and the fruit of this project is today's church.

Today the basilica nave is 63 metres long, 10 metres wide, and 16 metres high. It ends in an apse, which hosts an altar of marble from Slivenec, made by Lauermann in 1768. There are ten side altars located at the pillars which separate the nave from the transepts. The sculptural work on the main altar was made by Ignác Platzer in 1768. Pictures by Liška, Willmann, and Palko adorn the ten side altars, devoted to the Nativity of Our Lord, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, St John Nepomuk, Mary Magdalene, the Conversion of St Paul, St Martin, St Anne, St Augustine, the Bohemian Patron Saints, and the Visitation.

The west side of the basilica ends in an organ loft, holding an organ built in 1774 by the Strahov Premonstratensian Lohel Oehlschlaegl. Mozart improvised on the organ when he visited Strahov in 1787.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Passau has been added to the basilica transept, and contains the tomb of General Pappenheim, a hero of the Thirty Years' War.

The vault of the church was painted in 1774 by Neunhertz, who created a cycle of frescoes there with motives of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Along the walls of the nave, in the cartouches by Palliardi, there are frescoes with scenes from the life of St Norbert by Neunhertz.

Philosophical Hall

During the last quarter of the 18th century, Abbot Václav Mayer decided to build new library rooms for the numerous additions to the library. For this purpose he had the Philosophical Hall built in the location of the original granary.

This hall was built by John Ignatius Palliardi, a naturalized Italian architect. The front wall was built as early as 1783, the interior made of walnut was brought from the abolished Premonstratensian monastery in Louka u Znojma. The dimensions of the future hall were adapted to the size of the shelves. The interior was installed in the period 1794 – 1797 by its original author, Jan Lahofer of Tasovice, and modified to early classicist style. The remarkable dimensions of the hall (length 32m, width 10m and height 14m) are emphasized by the monumental ceiling painting by F. Anton Maulbertsch of Vienna.

On  August 8, 1793, the Abbot started to discuss with F. A. Maulbertsch, whose murals he knew from Louka where Maulbertsch painted a fresco called “Spiritual Development of Mankind” on the library ceiling in 1776-78. The basic idea was to express how philosophies and sciences together with religion have been improving since the beginning of mankind.

As a guarantee of this search, Divine Providence is put in the middle of the mural, surrounded by virtues and vices. Development of Mankind starts with its dawning, which is combined with Old Testament motifs. In the center of the events there are tablets with the Ten Commandments and Moses, the Ark of the Covenant is behind them. Other figures pictured include Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Salomon and David. On the left-hand side we see the development of the Greek civilization from the mythical times through the period of Alexander the Great all the way to the philosophers Socrates, Diogenes and Democritos. The evolution of science is illustrated on the right-hand side ( Aesculapos, Pythagoras, Socrates in prison).

There is a sign that says 'Wenceslaus secundus, hic primus'.  It tells us that the founder of the hall, Václav Mayer, was the second abbot to be named Václav, but the first Václav of the library.

Philosophical Hall

The opposite side is dominated by a scene from the New Testament, St. Paul's speech at Areopagus in Athens. Wenceslas, Patron Saint of Bohemia, stands in the right-hand corner, with a banner with the Eagle of St Wenceslas swaying in his left hand. The old woman on his right is his grandmother, St. Ludmila. Underneath him, among the four Fathers of the Church (Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory) stands St. Methodius, who christianized the second Bishop of Prague, St. Adalbert. The last in the line, with an enlightened face and holding his abbot's croizer is the founder of the hall, Abbot Václav Mayer. To his right, are other Bohemian patron saints, St. John of Nepomuk and St. Norbert (founder of the Premonstratensian Order) are kneeling.

At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, the library became famous in Europe. Numerous visits by important people have been recorded since 1792.

In 1812, the Austrian Princess and wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Louise, donated to the Strahov Library many books, a Viennese set of porcelain, and, most significantly, a four-volume work about the first Louvre museum. When this exclusive publication had been completed, Napoleon is said to have ordered the whole print run to be destroyed, and kept just three or four complete series. He was afraid that his reputation would be ruined by the fact that the work listed the origin of a whole number of exhibits, stolen particularly in Italy. This book gift was stored in a special high cabinet overlooking the other furniture in the hall.

Opposite the entrance doors, on the other side of the hall, there is a bust of the Strahov librarian and archivist Prior Cyril Straka, who made a substantial contribution in cataloguing and in the process of making the library and archival materials available to the public, primarily in the first quarter of the 20th century. He was also one of the foremost experts on Czech bookbinding. It was Straka who named the two halls after traditional separate philosophical and theological study subjects. In addition to philosophy, which originally included all the sciences, we can also find works from other disciplines which were taught at universities: philosophy; astronomy, mathematics, history, philology, etc. There are more than 33,000 volumes in this hall.

Theological Hall

The Theological Hall was built under Abbot Jeroným Hirnhaim (1671-1679). The architect was a Prague burgher of Italian origin, Giovanni Domennico Orsi, whose Italian school is evident in the stucco cartouches. The Baroque concept of the library is demonstrated by the shelves; unlike the Romanesque treasury system or the Gothic desk system, the books were stored upright. Above the shelves, there are gilded wooded carved decorations with wooden cartouches. This was a rudimentary library aid, because the pictures in the wooden cartouches and their titles specified the type of literature stored on the shelves. Fifty years later, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the translation of St Norbert's relics (1727), the hall was extended by several metres. It was then decorated with frescoes by the Strahov Premonstratensian and painter Siard Nosecký. Symbolically, he presented the true wisdom we acquire through piety and fear in God. In his tracts, Hirnhaim opposed scholasticism and its rationalistic understanding of the world and truth, which he believed to be false or proud wisdom. He wanted to gain an understanding of the world through true humble piety. A person enlightened by faith, but build on knowledge and education. The library hosts several frescoes as a symbol of this principle. Above the forged iron gates on the other side of the library there is a small legend: INITIUM SAPIENTIAE TIMOR DOMINI (the beginning of wisdom is fear of God). It remains a paradox that the philosophical works of the library's founder were put on the index of forbidden books and were therefore placed in special locked cabinets above both the hall doors. Hirnhaim himself had these cabinets installed. As time passed, publication of his works was permitted, and they became the inspiration for Siard Nosecký.

Theological Hall

The left-hand side of the hall is dominated by a Late-Gothic wooden statue of St John the Evangelist. The link between this statue and the library is his small pouch, held by St John in his left hand. This pouch is called a girdle-book or travel bag.  Few have been preserved.  They either get destroyed during journeys or cut off on inclusion in the book collection. On the right-hand side, there is a 'compilation wheel', commissioned by the library in 1678 and used to compile texts. The scribe had the various sources he was using distributed over the shelves of the wheel. The planet mechanism means that when turned, its shelves were kept at the same angle so the books are not liable to fall.

A number of globes (both astronomical and terrestrial) line both sides of the Theological Hall. Some of them come from the workshop of the Rotterdam-based family Blaeu, which specialized in manufacturing maps, atlases, and globes in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Over 18,000 volumes are stored in the Theological Hall. The name of the hall comes from the content of these works. The northern wall contains nothing but different editions of the Bible or parts of the Bible in many languages.

In 1993 and 1994, the interior of the hall was restored; the shelves were completely dismantled and the wood was treated. At the end of the 1980's, the original red paint was discovered under the later blue-grey paint, and this red was used in the restoration as the oldest layer. The parquets from the 20th century were replaced with a historically and aesthetically more accurate copy of the original Baroque flooring. Originally the visitors' route went through all the main areas of the library. Eventually, the tour was adjusted to the current version, as the humidity in the halls fluctuated so much during the day that the condition of the frescoes and book bindings was in jeopardy.

The St. Rochus Church is situated to the left of the entrance gateway of Strahov Monastery. St. Rochus Church is a Gothic-Renaissance single-nave construction with three polygonal apsidal recesses.  It was built by the Holy Roman Emperor and Czech King Rudolph II in 1603-1612 as a votive church to avert the plague epidemic in 1599. This former Catholic church, unused for a very long time, was left damaged and desecrated, but is now the home of the MIRO Gallery, where the aim is to present international modern art to the general public. MIRO Gallery was established in Berlin in 1987. It has been based at the Church of St. Rochus at Strahov Monastery since 1994, when the gallery relocated to Prague from Berlin. This unique location was acquired through the kind assistance of celebrated Czech vocalist Karel Gott, who provided gallery founder Miro Smolák with an interest-free loan of CZK 1 million to secure the space. Since then, several dozen masters on the international and Czech art scenes have been exhibited at St. Rochus. The most well-known have been Picasso, Miró, Dalí, Chagall, Rodin, Warhol and others. In 2001,  MIRO Gallery was named the “most popular commercial gallery in Prague”.  
27November 2012
This evening we went on a 'Ghost and Legends Tour' of Old Town.  We heard stories about alchemy, murder, curses, executions, the restless spirits still said to wander the narrow streets of Old Town, and the dark secrets behind the famous astronomical clock.   We also visited the underground, to the cellars and former dungeons beneath the Old Town Hall. These underground chambers, dating back to the 12th century, have witnessed executions, torture and tragedy, and have their own special energy. Many strange 'orbs' and other unexplained phenomena have been captured in photos.

One of the oldest streets in Prague, Celetna Lane, connects the Old Town Square with the Republic Square.  House 27 stands at the place, where used to be the church of Knights Templar in the 13th century.  The Order of Knights Templar was abolished in 1312. 

Kinsky Palace in the Old Town Square, doesn’t stand in line with the neighbouring buildings. A legend says that the town council didn’t want to permit the special position of the palace and that the count bribed three councilmen for the permit. The count was eventually brought to trial but because he had a permit he was released. The three councilmen, however, were hanged in front of the palace.

This former Jesuit college in the Prague Old Town is the second largest building complex after Prague Castle.  The Enlightenment reformist Emperor Joseph II. forced the Jesuits to leave Prague in 1773. It is said, that they left their enormous treasure hidden somewhere in the Clementinum. The legend says, that they woke up a poor bricklayer in the night, took him blindfolded to the Clementinum and paid him to wall up the place, where they put the treasure.  He tried to come back later, but he never found the place again.

The execution of 27 leaders of the rebellion against Emperor Matthias took place at the Old Town Square in 1621. Commemorating the sad event. y.6 ou can see 27 crosses, symbols of swords and a thorn crown in the pavement by the Old Town City Hall..6  A legend says that the ghosts of the executed noblemen return to the square every year on June 21, the day of the execution.

Church of St James

The large Church of St James is situated in Prague Old Town. Its decorations are considered to be one of the most beautiful and valuable in Prague. The church contains 23 chapels and is connected to many legends. The church’s acoustics are great and many concerts are held here. One of the prides of the church is a magnificent organ from 1702.

This church was first built by Minorites (a branch of the Franciscans) in Gothic style. It suffered great damage in the fire of 1689. It was then rebuilt in the Baroque style. The tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice inside the church is one of the most beautiful Baroque tombs in Bohemia. 

After Count Vratislav was buried, people could hear dreadful sounds from the tomb. Religious people thought that the spirit of the count couldn’t find peace and they sprinkled the tomb with holy water. After a few days the sound stopped. Several years later, when the tomb was open again, they found the coffin damaged and the remains of the count outside the coffin. He had been buried alive, and when he woke up from his deep unconsciousness, he tried to alert the people in the church but instead found a terrible death.

Several great artists contributed to the decorations of the Church of St James, such as Peter Brandl, Hans von Aachen, Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner and many others. It is said that the author of the picture on the main altar, Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner, was protected by the picture he was creating, even though everybody around him died of plague. The moment after the painter made his last stroke of the brush, he was infected with the plaque and died the same day.

Visitors should also notice a mumified forearm more than 400 years old hanging on the right of the entrance. It belonged to a thief who tried to steel some jewels from the Madonna on the high altar one night. But the Madonna grapped his hand and didn’t want to let it go. The thief had to wait there until the next morning. The next day, when the Minorites came to the Church, they tried to separate the thief from the Madonna, but in vain. They had to cut his arm. Then the Madonna let the hand go. The monks hung the arm to remember this event and as a warning for other thieves.

When we entered this church, it was dark, cold and uninviting.  Lights would turn on only when you got close enough to trigger the sensor.  In many places there were signs on the floor that said, no entry, alarm will sound and if you got too close, the alarm did go on until you stepped away.

Disappointingly, we could not see the spectacular ceilings of the church.  We hardly made out where the mummified hand was placed.  The atmosphere added to the creepiness of the experience. 

Only knew to come here because of the Ghost Tour we participated in.  

27November 2012

Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock

Prague's old Town Hall was built in 1364. The astronomical clock in the town hall's tower is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Originally the building served only as the city hall of the old town, but later became the city hall for all of Prague. It is now only used for ceremonial functions.

After John the Blind, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, accorded the citizens of Prague the privilege of having their own district council in 1338, they decided to build a town hall, paid for by a duty levied on wine. The almost 70 meters (230 ft) high tower was completed in 1364. Due to continuous expansions, the town hall now consists of a colorful collection of Gothic and Renaissance-style buildings. During the Second World War the complex was severely damaged when the nazis suppressed the Prague uprising, but it is now thoroughly restored.

The Old Town Hall is famous for its beautiful façade clock. The clock dates back to the beginning of the 15th century. Clock maker Hanuš, who perfected the construction in 1490 was, according to legend, made blind by the city council to prevent him from making a more beautiful clock elsewhere. Most of the mechanism still used today was made by Jan Táborský between 1552 and 1572.

The clock is a magnet for tourists, especially just before the hour, when the twelve apostles march past. The skeleton on the right, depicting Death, starts the show by pulling on a string. In the meantime he looks at his other hand, in which he holds an hourglass. Then, two windows open, from where the apostles march.

Below the apostles is the astronomical clock, which has the earth in the middle of the universe. The clock was created to show the then presumed rotation of the sun and the moon around the earth. The clock also shows the movement of the sun and the moon in relation to the signs of zodiac. Below the astronomical clock is a calendar. The calendar, built by Josef Mánes in 1866, shows the days of the year together with symbolic pictures of the months of the year.

I was wondering why we saw suds on the ground in the Old Town Square.  Interesting busking although the kids would gleefully run and burst the ginormous bubbles.

Trdelník is made from rolled dough, wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix.  Still does not beat a beavertail.
27November 2012
02-PICT7444-CZECH2012 Charles Bridge is a 14th century stone bridge linking the two sides of Prague. This magnificent structure is one of the city's finest attractions, and is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) and Prague Castle.  From the bridge, you have stunning views of the Prague skyline.  The wide expanse of the river flows beneath it, flanked on both sides by elegant buildings. Prague Castle towers above in its eminent position. Here you are truly in the centre of the city.

King Charles IV commissioned the bridge. The foundation stone was laid in 1357. Charles IV's favourite architect and builder, Peter Parler, oversaw the majority of the work. The initial idea was to build a functional construction for knight tournaments, and for many years the only decoration on the bridge was a simple crucifix. Later, the Catholic desire for ornamentation resulted in 30 statues being erected between 1600 and 1800.  There are now 75 statues on Charles Bridge, but most are copies, as floods and catastrophes over the centuries damaged the originals. Perhaps the most interesting, as well as the oldest, is that of John of Nepomuk (8th from the right as you cross towards Prague Castle).  The entrance to Charles Bridge is marked at both ends by towers: the Old Town Bridge Tower and the Malá Strana Bridge Tower.2 .

John Lennon Wall

Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs.

In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as "Lennonism" and Czech authorities described these people as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Even when the wall was repainted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of youth ideals such as love and peace. The wall is owned by the Knights of Malta, who allow the graffiti to continue
26November 2012
06-puppet show advert-CZECH2012I discovered that Regan really loved puppets.  She really wanted to go see a puppet show.  We went to see 'Don Giovanni', the 'opera of operas' written by Mozart, at the National Marionette Theatre.  I was not expecting it, but Mozart was a puppet in the show! It would seem that Mozart composed this opera specifically for Prague, It premiered at the Estates Theatre in 1787 and was conducted by Mozart himself.  Mozart had a special relationship with Prague and its people, saying that Prague was the 'good city' that supported him at a time when he had allegedly been neglected and scorned by Vienna. All the puppets were tall and clothed in period costumes, set against an18th century stage set.  The set was worn out by extensive use, and I must admit was a distraction.  The show was not as magical as I thought it would be. The theatre itself was small and a bit delapidated.  The shop, which one would expect to be superb in its selection of marionettes, was disappointing. The stage was small, with water stained curtains and paint peeling from the walls, but the show presented us with quite a few good laughs.  The opera, which was a recording, was quite long.  The best parts were when the pupetteers got on stage and became actors  and part of the show.  The golem character was pretty fantastic as well.  Not all puppets were equal though, some had better articulation then others.

It was a great way to spend the evening.


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