Prague Highlights - the Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge

Prague is one of my favourite cities and it was somewhere I always hoped to return to at some point. So when I did get that chance again I absolutely jumped at it. Luckily my first visit was long enough ago that, whilst I remembered all the main tourist spots, there was still plenty to rediscover or discover this time around as well. It is a beautiful and incredibly photogenic city full of exceptionally pretty buildings and there's lots of interest there too. Prague suffered considerably less damage during the Second World War than many other major cities in the region and so this has meant it has retained much of its original historic architecture including some wonderful examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Art Nouveau to name just a few, making it a real gem to visit.

The region's history dates back to the Paleolithic age, whilst later both a Celts tribe and several Germanic tribes settled the area before eventually they were succeeded by Slavic and Czech tribes. The building of what was to become Prague castle began in the 9th century on the same site as a fortified settlement that had existed since the year 800. The legendary origins of Prague though are attributed to the 8th century duchess and prophetess Libuše and her husband Přemysl. He was the founder of the Přemyslid dynasty, a Czech royal family who reigned in the Duchy of Bohemia and later the Kingdom of Bohemia and Margraviate of Moravia as well as in parts of Poland, Hungary and Austria. Legend states that the duchess stood on a cliff high above the Vltava river and said, 'I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars', and that she then ordered the building of the castle and a town that was to be called Praha.

Obviously we did all the prime tourist spots over the course of our trip including several visits to both the Old Town square and the Charles bridge. The Old Town square's origins date back to the 10th century and it, like much of Prague, is filled with a whole variety of those gorgeous architectural styles, surrounded by baroque churches and delightful candy coloured buildings. The square's most famous resident is probably the astronomical clock, first installed in 1410 but that's certainly not the oldest. Among the many other buildings in the square the Tyn church for example, has origins that date back much further, and a high-Gothic structure dating from 1385.

The astronomical clock was a scientific feat in its day and despite several renovations since still remains a great example of the technology of its time. It's definitely one of the main draws for tourists with crowds gathering in front of it every hour to see it in action. I had vague memories of watching it on my first visit to the city but seeing it again I have to admit that it seemed more quaint than I recalled and perhaps just a bit underwhelming this time around. Obviously though you do need to remember its age and on that basis it's still worth seeing at least once on your trip. You can see a little of the hourly display in the video clip I took below after we managed to secure a good viewing spot in one of the nearby cafes. The figures around the clock all have a meaning which would have been understood by the residents of Prague in the 15th century. The four figures by the clock represent the biggest civic anxieties of the time, vanity, greed, death and Pagan invasion and the four figures below represent the Chronicler, Angel, Astronomer and Philosopher. On the hour Death rings a bell and the Twelve Apostles parade past the windows above the clock and it ends with a cock crowing.

Above the astronomical clock and below a view around the Old Town Square

From the Old Town square you don't have to walk far to come to one of the city's other main tourist spots, the Charles bridge. Building of the bridge began in 1357 and was completed at the beginning of the 15th century, replacing an older bridge that had been badly damaged by flooding in 1342. It was originally called Stone bridge or Prague bridge but has been known as the Charles bridge since 1870. It was the only means of crossing the Vltava river until 1841 and so was the most important connection between Prague castle and the old town and surrounding areas on the opposite bank. It also increased Prague's importance as a trade route between eastern and western Europe. Since its completion though it has suffered several natural disasters and witnessed many historic events, flooding has damaged its pillars on several occasions and it has been at the forefront of several battles during its history.

If you've seen any photos of the Charles bridge you'll be familiar with the many statues that adorn it. There are thirty of these in total, they are mostly baroque and were mainly erected between 1683 and 1714. They depict various saints and patron saints and include a statue of the Lamentation of Christ depicting Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary mourning the dead Christ, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Wenceslas, a statue of the Madonna, St. Dominic and Thomas Aquinas, the Crucifix and Calvary, St. John the Baptist and St. Augustine.

The bridge is truly beautiful but don't go expecting to get the bridge to yourself, unless, I guess, you went incredibly early in the morning. The bridge is typically heaving with tourists, plus there are a multitude of pop up stalls selling Prague souvenirs enticing people to spend their money. Despite that though and with a bit of patience you can still enjoy the bridge and get some great photos too, so don't be put off.

Walking around the old town of Prague it's not hard to understand what attracts so many to come and visit this delightful city. The architecture is gorgeous, its history fascinating and soaking up a little of the old town's charm for yourself as you stroll its cobbled streets is easy to achieve. Both of my visits to Prague have been during the summer months but I don't imagine there are many times of the year that you could visit without encountering large crowds of tourists, especially in these prime tourist spots. I'd love to visit in the winter time around Christmas to explore the markets etc. as I imagine it would be even more magical looking. Go prepared for the crowds and armed with some patience and I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time.


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