Travel: Medieval Dreams of Prague

Prague, how can I even begin to describe the city that beckoned to me, the land that shimmers of fairytales, and the nights filled with good friends, appetizing beer, and laughter. This city succeeded where others have failed, she completely disarmed my strategic schedule, teasing me with her untarnished history, her colorful culture, and her people.

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This city’s origins are from the Paleolithic age. In 200 BC, the celts established an oppidum in the south, and at the end of the 1st century BC, this population was primarily composed of the Germanic Tribes. This gave way to Slavics in the 6th century AD, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Legend says that a Czech Duchess and Prophet  Slavics and her husband, Přemysl, founded this as a simple fortified fort in the year 800. They were also the founders of the Přemyslid dynasty. The first masonry beneath Prague Castle dates from 885.

This region became the seat of the dukes, and in time, the capital for the kings of Bohemia. During this time, it was elevated to archbishopric, and became a vibrant merchant city for individuals from all regions of europe. In the 14th century, Prague flourished as the third largest city and Imperial Capital of the Holy Roman Empire. During this time, under the reign of emperor Charles IV, construction of the Saint Vitus Cathedral was completed. He also personally laid the first foundation stone for the Charles Bridge.

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However, the flourishing was not to last, the trade guilds became increasingly more powerful as the craftsmen deftly wielded the economy  As a result a large differentiation in social strate occurred  and the number of poor people continued to increase. You can still see remains of a fortification wall that was built, despite being unnecessary  in the 1360s to provide employment to workers and food for their families.

I like Charles IV already! He seemed sympathetic to the struggles of the commoners, and tried to alleviate their suffering during the famine. Unfortunately, He died in 1378, and during the reign of his son, King Wenceslaus IV, intense religious turmoil began to invade the city…

Travel: Absinthe Woes

The hostel I chose to stay out while in Prague was truly like family, including a communal dinner that gave residents ample opportunity to make new friends, discover new cultures, share drinking games, and mingle while simultaneously causing havoc on the town. This was also the case when I decided to partake in the festivities on a Friday night.

English: Absinthe

Somewhere along the lines I got convinced to take a shot of Absinthe. (when in Europe after all ^_^). Fortunately I am a practical person, and that was the limit to my drinking for the night, in addition to a glass of wine and a bottle of cider earlier in the evening. It was far too easy to lose track of time in the club, enjoying the beat of the music.

My friends and I had difficulty locating the appropriate tram stop back to the hostel however, and we ended up running to catch the WRONG one, and had to hop off to wait for the RIGHT tram in the opposite direction. We then had a chow-down at the hostel, and didn’t succeed in crawling off to bed until around 5 AM.

Unfortunately, despite the memorable night this had a ripple effect on my carefully planned itinerary. I was unable to charge anything, or remember to set it to charge before passing out; Therefore upon waking up late, I had to finish some organizational tasks on my computer, and charge my camera and phone before I could leave. I only had one adapter. Needless to say, my Saturday was very slow and not that productive.

Have you ever had one of those days? You just need a do-nothing, think-nothing, never leave home escape. I think I was probably long due for one, since I have now been traveling in Europe for over a month. What do you do when you hit this point?

Travel: Kutna Hora

I made some new and worldly friends while on a day trip from Prague. One of them I met because we jointly decided to split this delicious looking ham that was roasting over an open spit in the Old Town Square. I had to run off to join a scheduled tour, but we met at the train station the following day, and she made a friend on the platform before I met up with her, and then we picked up another stray after we arrived in Kutna Hora. It never ceases to amaze me how minute splashes of fate can cause endless ripples of connections and friendships.

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Kutna Hora is a well-preserved town about 1-hour outside of Prague. It began in 1142 with the founding of the first Cistercian Monastery in Bohemia. This evolved into a town when German Miners began to mine for silver in the mountainous region of Kuttenberg that was part of the Monastery land. In 1300, King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia issued the code Ius Regale Monanorum, a legal document specifying the technical terms and conditions necessary for operation of the mines. The city than underwent economic boom, and expanded rapidly competing with Prague in all aspects.

However, as we know with all great cities, they tend to fall as well. This began with an unsuccessful attack by Emperor Sigismund on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars in the early 1400s. After Bohemia passed to the Hapsburg Monarchy of Austria, the richest mine was flooded in the mid-1500s, effectively shutting down the city’s main industry. In 1770, the area was further devastate by fire, and the mines were officially abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

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After struggling with some navigation issues, we managed to make our way to the Sedlec Ossuary; it is more commonly called the Roman Catholic ‘bone-chapel.’ This stems from the interior decor that is estimated to consist of the bones of between 40,000 to 70,000 people. While this may seem dark and ominous, it can be understood when one considers the mass graves required in the mid-14th century, during the Black Plague, and the early-15th century, during the Hussite Wars. After 1511, a blind monk was assigned the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking the bones, this resulted in macabre pyramids, a chandelier, and a coat of arms.

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The visuals I saw both made me shudder in mild fear, since it is still common to associate bones with death and decay. But I also began to understand the chapel as a final resting place for peace. The bleached and starkness of the coloring doesn’t signify emptiness or being alone, but it speaks of purity, and entering the next life cleansed of sins and regrets.

We then stopped by the St. Barbara Church. (Of course! Another Church!); It is one of the most famous Gothic Churches in central Europe. It make’s sense that St. Barbara is the patron saint of minors, therefore a religious building attributed to her is appropriate. Construction of this sprawling cathedral began in 1388, but work was interrupted multiple times and it was not complete until 1905. It doesn’t even live up to the original design, as the it called for a larger church up to twice the size of the present one.

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Travel: Old Prague

In the midst of Prague lies the old town. I ventured into this step back into time, to bear witness to sprawling medieval architecture that helps maintain the city’s archaic atmosphere. I used the word archaic not to emphasize viewing her as rough or uncultured, but to stress how well her ancient roots are preserved.

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An Astronomical Clock on the face of the city hall’s tower dominates the old square. It’s name is the Orloj; It is an ingenious contraption designed by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel in 1410. Jan Šindel was a professor of astronomy and mathematics at the Charles University. Over the decades and centuries, it has been subject to additional decorative features, maintenance, and repair. The clock itself was almost lost to the incendiary fire from German attacks on May 7-8, 1945 during the Prague Uprising.

 

There are two legends about this icon of Prague:

  1. The first is that the clockmaker was blinded by the city so that he could not repeat his magnificent work; they say that in revenge, he broke the clock and it was irreparable for the next hundred years. 
  2. The second is that if the clock is neglected, or it’s operation is in jeopardy, the city will suffer.

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I was fortunate enough to approach the clock a few minutes before it hit the hour. On each hour, a rotation of 12 figures can be seen within its windows. This is known as “The Walk of the Apostles.”; Glimpses were caught as each appeared for a brief moment before giving way to the next apostle.

Additionally, there are four figures that flank the clock, representative of 4 virtues that were despised in the 1400; they were vanity, greed, death, and pleasure or entertainment.

After this, I detoured to (you guessed it!) two of Prague’s most famous churches in the square:

St. Nicholas Church was built between 1704 and 1755, and is often described as “the most impressive example of Prague Baroque.” It lies on the remains of a 13th century gothic church. The interior decoration is particularly mesmerizing due to the detail of the frescos by Jan Lukas Kracker and Frantisek Xaver Palo. Furthermore ornamentation is provided with Frantisek Ignac Platzer’s sculptures. Mozartis known to have made an appearance here when he played the Baroque Organ, consisting of 4,000 pipes and up to 6 meters in length, in 1787.

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Our Lady before Tyn dominates the Prague Skyline as if it is the Watchdog of the city. This site originally housed a Romanesque Church in the 11th century, and was replaced by an earlier Gothic Church in 1256. The oldest pipe organ in Prague lies within it’s walls. Additionally, the Danish Astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried here. You may also consider it fascinating to know that this is the church that appears in the opening scenes of xXx.

I wrapped up my history  filled day by treating myself to a famous Czech Opera at the State Opera House. The interior was decorated extravagantly and I felt a little drab amongst my peers. (I am backpacking across Europe after all, how fancy did you think I could get?). Rusalka was filled with magic, beautiful soaring voices, and ethereal actors.

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