Introduction to Prague

A Walking Tour Through Prague’s Early History

We’re standing outside the entrance gate to Prague Castle. The line through the security entrance is getting longer and, as we wait for the last few to join us for our walking tour through Prague’s early history, our guide is thinking of ways to beat the queue!

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The view of Prague Castle from the entrance gate into the first courtyard

A week ago we had no intention of visiting Prague but a last minute decision and cheap airfares have bought us here. The lack of research is worrying but our smartest move is to join Context Travel’s Introduction to Prague: Charles Bridge and Beyond tour that give us a basic overview of the historical centre of the city.

A quick walk through the town to our meeting place revealed a very pretty city but I know there is much more and cannot wait for the layers to be revealed.


A Walking Tour through Prague's History

Our guide, Pavla, proposes that we should walk around the northern side of the Palace and down into what was the original moat to head to another, lesser known entrance. Apart from a pleasant crowd free walk amongst the trees, there is no queue at this gate! It’s a great suggestion! Along the way we learn a little of Prague’s early history.

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

 

Prague Castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. This is no mere coincidence.
In the late 800s, this site was chosen for the castle. The river below gave the city access to trade and the view from the hill meant that you could see the enemy coming. A community had already settled below the hill where originally wooden houses and the first stone houses were built.

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The view to Prague Castle

Charles IV

The most significant period in Prague’s history is that of the rule of Charles IV from 1346-1378. When he was elected head of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles made Prague his home. This was the making of Prague. It became an important political and business centre.
Charles started the building of St Vitus Cathedral in the Palace grounds. He built the King Charles Bridge, Charles Street and Charles Square and established the first European university, the Charles University. He also established the New Town, with its grid style streets, outside the Old Town. It’s 650 years old but is still known as the New Town.

Prague was flourishing when Charles died in 1378 . He had gained territories each time he married one of his four wives. Prague was bigger and more important than Paris but after he died in 1378, Prague was never as important again. His son, who took over the rule was not as charismatic or as strong as Charles.

 

Prague Castle

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The rounded Treasury Building in The Castle’s second courtyard

 

Prague Castle, the largest medieval castle in Europe, is a collection of buildings that cross many different eras and architectural styles.

There are three courtyards within the Palace. We’ve entered into the second courtyard where the Treasury Building with its semi circular shape stands before heading to St Vitus Church and the Royal Palace in the third courtyard.

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The ‘new’ facade of St Vitus Church which was built in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Can you spot the few tell tale signs that it is new including a portrait of the builder!

 

St Vitus Church

St Vitus Church is a medieval cathedral built in the gothic style in 1344 by King Charles. By the time of the religious war in 1420 the cathedral was still not finished. In fact, it would take another 500 years before the Cathedral was finally completed. In Charles’ time, the building was started from the east end and only got as far as the transept. It did however incorporate the original round Romanesque chapel and basilica that was built in 1066. The entrance then was via the Golden Mosaic door on the side.

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The Stained glass windows are all new having been built in the early 1900s by a local artist. Interestingly, sponsors are mentioned at the bottom of the paintings!

 

An interesting point that Pavla mentions is that the Czechs are not religious. At a recent census only one third of the 10 million population said they were religious. Most of these were Catholic. This is very different to Poland who was going through the trials of communism at the same time and where most of the population are religious. The reason for this is that during the 40 years of communism in Prague, the churches went underground as nuns and priests were taken prisoners. In Poland they were allowed to practise.

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The silver tomb of St John of Nepomuk

In the church we see the magnificent silver tomb that holds the remains of of St John, Prague’s most revered saint. St John of Nepomuk was the priest who was tortured and thrown off the Charles Bridge in 1396 when he would not reveal to King Wenceslaus IV (Charles’son) the Queen’s confession. There is a plaque on the bridge that marks the spot where he was thrown from. Today, many believers touch and pray at this site. As he was thrown, five stars were seen to come from the river, so all the statues you see of St. John have him with five stars circling his head!

The original King Wenceslaus, he of the Christmas carol fame, ruled from 921 until his brother murdered him in 935. He was buried in the original rotunda but is now interned in the Chapel of St Wenceslaus. The upper part of the chapel’s walls are covered in brilliant frescoes that depict his life and the lower part is decorated with over 1300 semi precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ.

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The Chapel of St Wenceslaus

You can’t enter the Chapel but look through the door for the small doorway to the right of the coffin. This leads to the crypt where the Crown Jewels are held. Seven keys held by seven different people are needed to open the door. This only happens on important ceremonial occasions….the last being in 2003 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Czech Republic’s independence.

 

The Royal Palace

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The Royal Palace is not grand. The ground floor dates back to the 1100s but Charles built another floor over this in the 1300s.  The ceiling here has no support at all. It is held by pillars from outside. In those days it was used as a jousting arena by knights on horseback.

Maria Theresa, the most famous Hapsburg monarch who reigned from 1740-1780 renovated Prague Castle in 1750 so most of the rooms are from that era. This new palace incorporates the older parts of the Palace.

 

Golden Lane

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

Our last stop in the Castle is at Golden Lane, a street of medieval houses dating back to the end of the 15th century. Originally they were built for marksmen, but alchemists were supposed to have moved in a bit later but many believe this to be legend. What is known is that the famous Czech writer, Franz Kafka lived at number 22 for two years from 1916.

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

As as we leave the castle, we have magnificent views over Prague

The Lesser Town (Malá Strana)

In 1540 fire damaged this part of the city destroying the medieval wooden houses that stood there.
After the fire, wealthy aristocrats arrived and built the beautiful Baroque and Renaissance palaces that we now see in Malá Strana. Today these palaces are home to many embassies.

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

Under Charles Bridge in Malá Strana

 

We wander through this part of the town and down to the low lying Vltava River. The river is prone to flooding and in 2002 the flood was so bad that many of the first floors of the buildings adjoining the river were under water. The water level rose to two thirds of the arch of the Charles Bridge. In 2013 flood gates were installed to stop the flooding. They’re not easy to see but if you look in the ground at this low level you will be able to see where they rise from!

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

Charles Bridge with its many statues and gate into the Old Town

We then head across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town passing the thirty statues of different saints that line the bridge. Many of these are replicas, with the originals now exhibited in the National Museum

Old Town Square

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

Old Town Square

Old Town Square boasts many different architectural styles. There is Gothic architecture of the 1300s, the Renaissance buildings of the 1500s, the Baroque style Church of St Nicholas, Rococo Palaces and Classicism buildings of the 1700s. You’ll also see art nouveau buildings. With the expert guidance of Pavla, I can now see that Old Town Square has them all!

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The statue in the square is of Jan Hess, the church reformer of 1415 who was burned at the stake. His followers then began the religious war.

 

A Walking Tour through Prague's History

The Astronomical Clock with the astronomical dial above the calendar dial

 

The Old Town Astronomical Clock is one of the most important sights in the Old Square. It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world. The town hall was established as the seat of Old Town administration in 1338. It started life as a patrician’s home, undergoing many renovations and additions through the centuries.  The clock tower was completed in 1364 but it was not until 1410 that the clock, built by a clockmaker and an astronomer, started operating. The calendar dial was added in 1490 when the facade was decorated.

One of the stories surrounding the clock is that its purported maker, Jan Hanuš was blinded after he had finished the clock so that he could never build another. The records show he was not the maker of the clock but this hasn’t stopped the story becoming a legend.

The astrological dial, the calendar dial and the moving figures all make up this incredible timepiece.
On the hour, crowds gather to watch the small doors at the top open and figures of the twelve apostles circle. Don’t blink..it is over in 10-15 seconds

It is a fitting finish to our fabulous introduction to Prague.

 

Context Travel

Context Travel have many tours in Prague covering different periods in the city’s history. Our walking tour, Introduction to Prague Walking Tour was perfect for us. There is a great selection of history tours covering different periods in the city’s history, interesting architectural tours and a Jewish Prague Tour. The other tour I loved the sound of was Great Minds, Grand Spaces: Prague’s Cafe Tour.

To see all Context Travel’s Prague Tours, head to their web page: Context Travel’s Prague Tours

Context Travel are known for their small group tours led by local docents who are very knowledgeable. The difference it makes to be introduced to a city with the knowledge of a fabulous guide cannot be underestimated.  They have tours in many cities around the world from Stockholm to Shanghai, Barcelona to Buenos Aires and Naples to New York so check their website to see if your next holiday destination is there!

Disclaimer: My tour with Context Travel was complimentary. All opinions are my own. Having taken Context Travel tours in other countries, I know their tours are excellent and have no hesitation in recommending them.

 

Other posts you may enjoy:

Exploring Venice by Boat
Twelve  Days in Ireland: Our Itinerary
Eating on the Other Side of Florence
6 Fun Melbourne Restaurants 

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21 Responses to A Walking Tour Through Prague’s Early History

  1. Donna Janke November 28, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    What a great introduction to Prague and its history. Its a city I’d like to visit some day. Beautiful buildings.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      It was the best way to be introduced to Prague Donna. we learnt so much about the history of the city and by doing this introductory tour, it also made the layout of the city so much easier to understand. Prague is a fabulous city. I hope you get to visit one day. If you do, take the Context Travel tour!

  2. Karen (Back Road Journal) November 28, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

    Our son was in Prague over the summer and I felt like I was following his footsteps through your post…very enjoyable.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 11:26 am #

      Thanks Karen. I’m sure your son loved his time in Prague. Great to know that I’ve kept his holiday going for you! It’s a wonderful city and one that, if you haven’t visited, you should put on the wish list!

  3. Karen Warren November 28, 2016 at 11:59 pm #

    I love Context’s tours! So much history that you’d never have discovered for yourself.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      They are fabulous tours aren’t they Karen. We would never have learnt as much as we did about Prague without taking the tour.

  4. Doreen Pendgracs November 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    I would love to visit Prague! Old Town and the Golden Lane look like they would we highlights for me. Thx for sharing. I’ve definitely pinned your post.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 10:44 am #

      Prague is a fascinating city Doreen and one that I’m sure you’d enjoy. Both the Lesser Town and the Old Tow were equally fascinating. There’s also some great chocolate places to go! Thank you for the pin as well

  5. Rachel Heller November 30, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    I’ll be in Prague in February, so this post is very timely for me. I’ll pass on the recommendation to my husband, who will be coming along to check out Prague while I work!

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      Great that you’re going so soon Rachel. It’ll still be freezing and probably crowded too! Context have a great selection of tours in Prague so I’m sure there’s one that he’ll enjoy.

  6. Suzanne Fluhr November 30, 2016 at 2:22 am #

    We enjoyed a Context Travel tour in Edinburgh, Scotland. They are actually based in my hometown of Philadelphia and I hope to sometime see my hometown through the eyes of an expert.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 11:12 am #

      That’s a great idea to do a Context tour in your home city Suzanne. You never know what snippet you may learn. I’ve looked at the ones they do in Sydney and Melbourne and may follow suit when I’m next there.

  7. Patti December 1, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    We visited Prague in March of 2015 and stayed for 7 nights. We fell madly in love with the city and had such a great time. The architecture was jaw dropping and just exploring the old historic sites, strolling along the river and visiting the cathedrals made for perfect days.

    We took a spoof selfie with the castle guards, next to the gray/white little guard houses you have in your photo.

    Look forward to a return visit one day.

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 11:16 am #

      It’s a city that is easy to fall in love with Patti. We had the same length of time and I think you need everyone of those days to be able to enjoy the city and see it properly. It sounds as though it was a lot warmer than our visit in October when we had a surprise cold spell. Those guards and their little houses were very cute…what a great selfie it would have been!

  8. Sue Reddel December 2, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    I’ve always wanted to explore Prague. The Context Travel Walking Tour sounds just perfect. I love walking through cities and learning from a guide. Your photos really bring the journey to your reader. Nice post!

    • Jenny Freedman December 2, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks Sue. This tour was definitely a fabulous introduction to the city. It always makes a difference when you get to know a city through the eyes of an extremely knowledgeable local. I hope you visit Prague soon.

  9. Nathalie December 3, 2016 at 12:59 am #

    We’d love to make it to Prague someday and it sounds like a walking tour is a great way to learn about the city and its history.

    • Jenny Freedman December 8, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

      The walking tour was a great introduction to a city we had not done any research on. I loved learning about how the city had developed over time and the important players in the city’s life.

  10. Irene S. Levine December 7, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Your visit to Prague proves once again that Context Travel is a great way to immerse yourself in a city and leave with a far richer understanding than would be possible it you visited it on your own.

  11. Peggy January 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    I loved Prague! I went in November and it was snowing – the city literally looks like a fairy tale in the snow!

    • Jenny Freedman February 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

      I would love to see Prague in the snow Peggy. It was unusually cold when we were there and we had to have a quick shop before we could head out but going in winter you would be prepared for it! Hopefully we’ll get back one day!

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