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Prague Castle at sunset, Czech Republic
If large and ancient castles are on the agenda, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) and the Castle District (Hradčany) is not about to disappoint.
Founded in 880 AD and once the medieval seat of the Kings of Bohemia, Prague Castle serves today as the headquarters of the President of the Czech Republic.
Within its extensive area of over seven hectares – the equivalent of seven football fields – stands an intriguing complex of gardens, alleyways, state residencies, museums, art galleries and churches.
The beautiful St Vitus Cathedral, whose Art-Nouveau stained glass windows and landmark features are definitely not to be missed.
The castle’s chequered history includes the notorious Defenestrations of Prague, which helped to start the Thirty Years War in 1618 – the very windows from which significant people were tossed are still poignantly in evidence.
A leisurely walk in the grounds affords fabulous views of the whole of Prague below as the tourist drifts down into the old town.
Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic
A descent on foot from Prague Castle leads the visitor to the Charles Bridge. The beautiful and amply irrigated River Vltava, or Moldau, which flows through Prague, is spanned by many bridges.
But by far the oldest and most famous of these, and to my mind well worth the traversing, is the Gothic style Charles Bridge which connects the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) to the Old Town (Staré Město Pražské).
Although commissioned in 1357 by Charles IV, the then King and Holy Roman Emperor, to replace the damaged Judith Bridge, it was not until the beginning of the 15th century, in 1402, that it came to completion.
During its early centuries it was simply referred to as the Stone Bridge, or Kamenný most. It has also been called Prague Bridge, or Pražský most, but after 1870 it was officially named Charles Bridge, or Karlův most.
Built of Bohemian sandstone, it stands 13 ft above the water level, is 9.5m wide and has a total span of 515.8m bank to bank, supported by sixteen arches shielded by ice-guards, with the greatest arch span being 13.4m.
As the most important access route to Prague castle in earlier centuries, the Charles Bridge was the only means of crossing the Vltava until 1841.
The way across is decorated by a continuous display of 30, mostly Baroque, pieces of statuary; the passer-by can commune with the myriad of saints and patrons along its balustrades.
The characteristic age-darkening on many of them having been rubbed off to reveal shiny metallic surfaces through years of homage-paying pedestrians stroking them for luck.
Since 1965, however, all the original statues have been replaced by replicas and the originals can only be seen on display in the Lapidarium of the National Museum.
Meandering across its span, a multiplicity of local artists can be seen displaying and offering their works of art for sale. Although in former times the bridge was used for public transport, horse-trams, then electric trams and later buses, nowadays it is purely pedestrianised.
To discover the history of the Charles Bridge for yourself, why not visit the Charles Bridge Museum and see the world’s largest and most detailed model of the bridge under construction? From here too, take a guided boat trip to explore the city from its waterways.
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The Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj)
The Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic
And so to the Old Town Square where, on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall, the fascinated tourist can encounter one of the most wondrous artefacts of Prague.
The medieval Astronomical Clock, which celebrated its 605th birthday on October 9th 2015, making it the third oldest in the world.
It is in fact the oldest clock of its type still fully-functioning; it is said that should it ever be neglected, it will bring suffering to the city of Prague. A skeleton representing death will nod its head in warning should the clock ever be about to become unloved.
A miser carrying a bag of gold and twelve apostles can also be found on the face of the clock. It’s astronomical face has a background depicting the standing Earth and Sky.
Four main movements surround it: the zodiac, an outer rotating circle, a Sun icon and a Moon icon. It was created in 1410 by two men, Mikuláš of Kadaň and a Catholic priest, Jan Sindel, to show the annual movement of celestial bodies across the sky.
Despite the fact that the clock was destroyed by a Nazi attack during the Prague Uprising, since its repair in 1948 it has run without a hitch.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí)
Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic
A five minute walk away from the Old Town Square lies the other of the two main squares in Prague, Wenceslas Square.
Although built in 1348 by Charles IV, in contrast to the antiquities of the Old Town, Wenceslas Square in the New Town (Nové Město) of Prague sports vibrant modernity with its bars, restaurants, apartments, banks, shops, hotels and nightclubs, ranged along its two parallel 750m lengths.
The square is actually an elegant, elongated rectangular boulevard, originally a horse market, centred with flower beds and arboretums and bounded on both sides by roads.
Tramlines run through the centre and all three metro lines intersect at Wenceslas Square.
At the top of Wenceslas Square is the National Museum, with its statue of its namesake the good King Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic and to the left the Prague State Opera can be found.
Wenceslas Square is where it’s all at, where Czechs go to unwind, where communities gather, where friends arrange to meet under the statue of good King Wenceslas and where visitors can soak up the lively Czech atmosphere.
Petrin Tower (Petřínská Rozhledna)
The Lookout Tower, or Petrin Tower, Petrin Hill Park, Prague, Czech Republic
For those appreciative of cityscape scenery, coupled with the magnificence of a bygone age, there's no better way to round up your Prague sojourn than to ascend the Petrin Hill.
Visitors can travel up by funicular railway, (although the more robust walker might prefer to make the half-hour trek up the hill path), and climb the Petrin Observation Tower (Petřínská Rozhledna).
It’s not for the faint-hearted though, with a grand total of 299 stairs running in sections around the inside of the tower! Fortunately an elevator is available for the less able.
Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Tower, built in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition, affords a wondrous vantage point for views over the whole of Prague city.
Standing 63.5 metres tall, the steel frame tower resembles its forerunner, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and is a major tourist attraction with its gift shop, cafeteria on the main level and an exhibition area on the lower level.
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