Monday, June 24, 2013

Czech Republic: Brno and Prague

Prague, Czech Republic - Looking across the Vltava River
I've been back in the U.S. for almost a month, and I'm still working on these posts... and I still have lots more to share.  We saw so many amazing things that it's hard to sift through it all, not to mention the time it takes to look up information on what we actually saw!

On our way back to Germany, we drove through the Czech Republic and made stops in Brno and Prague (Praha in Czech).  Some websites advised against driving through the Czech Republic because of bad roads and poorly placed road signs, but it was the shortest route back to Berlin (and I REALLY wanted to go to Prague).  That night we did nearly get lost because of detour that directed us off of the highway, but we found our way back to the highway and into Germany.  Prague was worth the trip (even with the roads and even though we had to do a currency exchange because the Czech Republic hasn't made the switch the Euro yet)!

Brno:  Prague was the highlight of our drive through the Czech Republic, but before Prague, we stopped in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.  We were there for a very short time and didn't see that much of the city, but it was an interesting city to visit.

Brno, Czech Republic - Liberty Square
Liberty Square, above, was the main square during the Middle Ages.  Brno has been inhabited since the prehistoric era.  The direct ancestor of Brno was a fortified settlement of the Great Moravia Empire, inhabited from the Neolithic Era to the early 11th century.

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul

Driving into the city of Brno, it is impossible to miss the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which rests on top of the Petrov hill.  The chapel was founded on the Petrov hill in the 11th century.  It has undergone many changes since which have resulted in the Gothic Cathedral that can be seen on the hill today.

The bell at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul is traditionally rung at 11 a.m. rather than noon.  Legend is that during the Thirty Years' War, the invading Swedes had promised to call off their attack if they had not succeeded in taking the city by midday on the 15th of August.  With the battle underway, some citizens rang the bell an hour early, which fooled the Swedes into breaking off the attack and leaving empty handed.  History tells us that Brno was the only city to effectively ward off the Swedes during the war.

Looking toward the City from the Petrov Hill

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on the Petrov hill
Prague:  After our short stop in Brno, we continued North through the Czech Republic to Prague.  I was intrigued by the idea of visiting Prague after seeing it on TV in shows such as HGTV's House Hunters (HGTV can make any city sound intriguing), though I wasn't totally sure what the draw was.  I'm so glad we made the trip!

Prague, looking toward the Prague Castle from the Vltava River

Crossing the Charles Bridge heading into Old Town

Prague, founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, is the historical capital of Bohemia Proper.  Prague was not only the capital of the Czech state but also the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors.  It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Emperor.  After World War 1, it became the capital of Czechoslovakia.  The city also played major roles in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

Prague Castle
The Prague Castle, one of the most important sights in Prague, has been the home of the offices of the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and the Presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.  The castle is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest ancient castle in the world.  The history of the castle dates back to the 9th century, when the first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary was built (today only the foundations of the church survive).

Basilica of Saint Vitus 
Basilica of St. George
The Basilica of Saint Vitus and the Basilica of St. George were founded during the reign of Vratislav during the first half of the 10th century.  Both churches are located within the Prague Castle.  

The Basilica of St. George, originally founded in 920, now houses the 19th century Bohemian Art Collection and also serves as a concert hall.  The Baroque facade dates from the late 17th century.

The two photos above show the front view of the St. Vitus Cathedral.  
We walked into the main entrance of the Prague Castle and through a courtyard and then through another archway that opened up to the Basilica Saint Vitus, a grand Gothic cathedral.  The cathedral is so close to the wall that you can't see its entire face at one time.  The original cathedral, founded in 925 was an early Romanesque rotunda.  In 1060, prince Spytihnev II embarked on building a more spacious church because the existing rotunda was not spacious enough to accomodate the patrons.  The present day Gothic cathedral was founded in November of 1344 and building continued for hundreds of years, with several architects, most notably Peter Parler who also designed the Charles bridge and the Frauenkirche in Nuremberg, Germany.

Like many other churches in the region, the Basilica Saint Vitus is currently being cleaned and restored.
Entrance to the Prague Castle
View from Prague Castle
Changing of the Guard

Two more noteworthy churches sit in Prague's Old Town Square, the gothic, two towered, Church of Our Lady Before Tyn sits directly behind street buildings that house restaurants on their first floors.  We walked through an alleyway to see the church only to find that the church has actually been built into the buildings in front of it.  Although it is impossible to see the much of the front of the church, the gothic towers, peaking above the other buildings and rising into the sky, are a stark contrast in the mostly baroque style town square.  The second of these churches is the baroque style, St. Nicholas Church (shown below).  The square is also home to the Prague Astronomical Clock (also shown below).  The clock was originally installed in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world.

Old Town Square
St. Nicholas Church
Prague Astronomical Clock built into the Old City Hall
Old City Hall

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