Walk 26: Prague City Walk: Good King Wenceslas last looked out in

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Difficult to estimate but probably about 3 miles (4.82 km)

Time to walk: Again this is a 1 or 2 day walk – for us it was a couple of days as there’s loads to stop & see, cafes & bars to rest, eat, drink in, museums & don’t miss all the churches

Difficulty: All on hard street paths. The climbs up to the Castle & gardens are quite steep, but just simply take your time & it’s a breeze

Parking: n/a

Public toilets: Cafes etc

Map of the route: We’ve included a large map & one of the Old Town including the incredible Jewish Quarter

We’d wanted to visit Prague for quite a long time, feeling that we’d seen it on several occasions in films such as Mission Impossible

Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe & the historic centre is just simply stunning.  The city is rich in outstanding monuments from all periods of its history, many of which we’ll see on our walk

As early as the Middle Ages, Prague became one of the leading cultural centres of Christian Europe & the University, founded in 1348, is one of the earliest in Europe

For most of its history Prague has been an ethnically mixed city with important Czech, German & Jewish populations

After years of Communism in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell & the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague, Czechoslovakia finally freeing itself from communism & Soviet influence. In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic & capital of two administrative units, the Czech Republic & Central Bohemian Region

Prague has had a reputation for stag parties, but from our experience these have long since moved on. We’re happy to report though that some of the best beer in the world still exists & it’s very, very reasonably priced!!

We’ll have some more history lessons en route so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts outside the Florenc Bus Station & heads straight down Na Porici towards the city centre. Immediately we come across one of Prague’s institutions…its tram system

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On the left down here’s a restaurant that’s very inviting…

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2. Eventually we arrive at an open area that contains several buildings that sets the tone for the architecture of this beautiful city. Firstly there’s the amazing (& that word will be used several times…) Municipal House

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This is Prague’s tribute to Art Nouveau so walk in & have a nose around as it’s a bit special…

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One of the most beautiful & striking features is Karel Spillar‘s mosaic above the main entrance called ‘Homage to Prague’ which can be seen in our first photo above

It’s also got a place in history, as it was from here that Czechoslovakia was declared an independent state in 1918. Today it houses, restaurants, cafes, exhibition halls, shops & is also home to the Prague Symphony Orchestra

3. Just next door to Municipal House is another of Prague’s iconic buildings, Powder Gate

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This building was used to store gunpowder in the 17th century hence its name & it was destroyed by Prussian forces in 1757. The original property was built in the 15th century by King Vladislav II at the city’s eastern gate. The facade we see today dates from 1876

4. We could head straight down Celetna into the Old Town, but will save that for later & instead take Na Prikope. After about 1/4 mile we turn left into another of Prague’s main landmarks…Wenceslas Square

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Wenceslas Square was originally a medieval horse market, but was developed in the 19th century to become the commercial hub of Prague. In 1848 it was given its current name in honour of Bohemia’s patron saint. The majority of the buildings we see today date from the early 20th century

As we walk up the Square we’ll touch on other moments of history…

5. On the left’s the Hotel Europa

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One of Prague’s most famous hotels, the Europa was built in 1889 & was originally called Archduke Stephan. Between 1903 – 1905 it was rebuild in art nouveau style

6. Moving further up the Square the National Museum starts to impose itself…

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…& somewhat tucked away halfway up here is the tiny Communist Memorial which is a memorial to the victims of Communism, such as the two men who died in protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 when tanks rolled through Prague’s streets killing more than 100 protestors. Jan Palach set himself on fire in the Square

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Co-incidentally the most recent historic event that took place in Wenceslas Square was in 1989 when crowds filled it to celebrate the end of communism

7. Ahead of us now lies the imposing statue of St Wenceslas

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The ‘Good King’ (he was actually a Prince) was the second Christian ruler He was murdered by his brother in 935 & later made a saint

The area under the horse’s tail is a traditional meeting place in Prague – a bit like the clock on Waterloo Station

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8. The National Museum is an imposing building, but unfortunately we were unable to go in as it’s undergoing a massive renovation programme & is due to reopen in 2015…

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It’s well worth climbing the steps to get the view back down the Square…

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Although the Museum wasn’t open the excellent museum cafe just over the road on the left as we face it is well worth a visit – very cheap & excellent local grub (try the various soups!)

9. Suitably replenished we head back down the Square & turn left into Narodni which leads us down to the river Vitava which is the longest in the Czech Republic…

…where we cross Legion Bridge

The view of Legion Bridge from Charles Bridge

The view of Legion Bridge from Charles Bridge

The Legion Bridge joins Střelecký Ostrov and the Lesser Quarter & was built between 1898 – 1901 by Anthony Balšánek Jiri Soukup. It was opened in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I

After World War I it’s name was changed to the Legion Bridge. Its art decoration, such as stone & bronze handrail lighting lampposts, underwent repairs in the years 1981 – 1983. The towers on both sides of the bridge were used to collect tolls

10. We’re heading for one of the largest parks in Prague…Petrin Hill. Ahead of us on the steps are some incredible statues forming the Memorial to the Victims of Communism

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It shows seven bronze figures descending a flight of stairs. The statues appear more “decayed” the further away they are from you – losing limbs & their bodies breaking open. It symbolises how political prisoners were affected by Communism

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11. As we’ve lots of walking to do & need to get up to the top of the park the Funicular is the only way to go. It’s cheap, has great views &…has 2 stops. Just to say we need the second one not the first!!

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At the top we turn right & follow the path to Prague’s own Eiffel Tower…the Observation Tower…

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A mini version of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower was built in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition

The tower is 60m (299 steps) tall, which doesn’t seem particularly high until you add in the fact that it sits at the summit of Petrin Hill, which is 1043 feet high

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12. Next door in this small complex is the onion domed Church of St Lawrence

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This is the principle church of the Old Catholic faith in the Czech Republic

Next door is the famous Mirror Maze which we didn’t visit as reviews are mixed…

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13. The place we’re really heading for (besides the Castle) is the Strahov Monastry &, to get there, it’s a case of following the steps & paths which take us to the left…

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The fabulous views across Prague are now starting to unfold…

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14. Eventually we arrive at the Monastery which still functions today & also houses the nations oldest books in the Strahov Library…

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We didn’t go into the Library as it was closed, but the pictures we found make it look well worth a visit…

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The other area here that’s worthy of note is the Strahov Monastic Brewery founded by King Vladislav II in 1142. The microbrewery serves about ten variations of St. Norbert beer together with traditional Czech cuisine

15. Our route out of the Monastery grounds lies through the gate below…

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…where we turn right down Lorentanska heading towards one of Prague’s most holy pilgrimage sites… The Loreto

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IMG_9939If you can get there on the hour the chimes are performed by over 30 bells. Here’s a clip we found on Youtube…

16. You have to pay for a photo permit here & it’s well worth the fee

At the heart of the site is its claim to fame & most proud possession – a replica of the original Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy, believed to be the house where the Virgin Mary received the Incarnation. This, together with the grandiose of the place was designed to lure the Czech people back to the Catholic faith

The Santa Casa sits in the middle of the courtyard, but it’s well worth a walk around the beautiful ‘arcades’ first…

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IMG_992117. One of the most ornate, yet strangest, & in a way spookiest, churches we’ve ever been to sits in this complex…the Church of the Nativity

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18. In 2011 a major find was unearthed in the crypt in the church – see this link for details. There’s a reconstruction round the other side of the Arcades…

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19. Now let’s have a look at the Santa Casa itself…

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Santa Casa is the place in Nazareth where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would be born from her blessed womb

In 1291 a Christian family named Angeli had the Holy House moved piece by piece from Nazareth to Dalmatia & later in 1295 to the Italian town of Loreto. The legend goes is that the name Angeli meant that the house was moved by Angels. The story has become popular in all Christian world & many other copies of Santa Casa have been built all over the world

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20. There’s one final place to have a look at before we leave the Loreto…the Treasury

The Treasury originates from the 16th–18th centuries & consists of a collection of valuable liturgical items

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The most valuable & famous piece is the “Diamond Monstrance”, decorated with 6,222 diamonds and dating from the end of the 17th century (1695)

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It really is a spectacular piece & deserves the vaults & security that keep it safe

21. It’s time to move on down the same road to arrive at one of Prague’s most famous tourist attractions…the Castle

Prague Castle is the official residence & office of the President of the Czech Republic. Dating back to the 9th century, the Castle has been a seat of power for Kings of Bohemia, Roman Emperors, & Presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept in a hidden room

The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world

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The Castle area contains several different buildings so let’s have a look at each in turn. You can wander through much of the complex for free, but have to pay to see the interiors. You choose, but definitely do not miss St Vitus’ Cathedral

It’s also great to get a welcome…

22. Before heading into the complex we had to wait for the Changing of the Guard which happens every hour – here’s the clips we took…

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23. The complex is all about courtyards & at the moment we’re stood in Hradcany Square & need to pass through the gates into where the Changing of the Guard took place…

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Passing through the arch into the Second Courtyard is where we purchase the tickets to enter which buildings we want to & then passing through into the Third Courtyard we’re faced with with the imposing St Vitus’ Cathedral

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24. This spectacular Gothic cathedral is an unmissable sight in Prague. Prince Wenceslas first built a pagan worship site here & dedicated it to St Vitus, a Roman saint. Matthew d’Arras began work on the cathedral in 1344, but work was only completed in 1929

The inside’s simply stunning…

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Inside’s a little chapel called Wenceslas Chapel which stands on the site where the prince built the first rotunda. It now contains his tomb…

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Just wander round the rest of the cathedral – it’s amazing…

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25. Back outside we move around the edge of the cathedral & into St George’s Square where we find the Old Royal Palace. It was the seat of Czech rulers from the 12th century & was rebuilt several times through the years, so is an amazing mix of several architectural styles, mostly Gothic and Renaissance

It contains an amazing room called Vladislav Hall which has an incredible vaulted ceiling…

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Since the Czech Republic was formed Presidents have been chosen here, but it was also used for several coronations &, strangely, jousting tournaments – the horses were ridden up our exit known as the Riders’ Staircase

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26. Outside the palace is another incredible building…St George’s Basilica…

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St. George’s Basilica was founded by Prince Vratislav in 920 & was subsequently enlarged in 973 with the construction of St. George’s Benedictine Convent. In 1142 it had to be rebuilt following a fire & the Baroque facade was added in 1671-1691

Within the church lie several tombs of major historic importance… St. Ludmila, the saint and widow of the 9th century ruler Prince Borivoj plus Prince Vratislav and Boleslav II

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27. Back outside we head further along & left into the famous Golden Lane which is worth the ticket price…

Quick Grog anyone….

Quick Grog anyone….

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Golden Lane dates from the 15th Century & comprises 11 historic houses, inside which period scenes have been created to show the life of the artisans who once lived in them

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In the upper level of the houses is a massive armoury display…

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28. Back on the Lane there’s plenty of places to visit…

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…including a fantastic puppet shop…

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We visited at Easter so here’s a wonderful welcome wreath…

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There’s also a house that used to be occupied by a filmmaker…

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29. The final place we’ll visit in the Castle complex is the Daliborka Tower

Daliborka tower was built in 1496 as part of the castle fortifications & was used as a sort of upper class prison for nobility who even had the luxury of heating. Later, however, its inhabitants were from more varied backgrounds

It is pretty gruesome…

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30. Coming out of the tower there’s a small square with a statue that everyone likes to rub…hence the shine…

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There’s also another great viewpoint here before we head down into the city again…

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31. So let’s go…heading down the steps at the side of the castle…

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It’s pretty steep down here but eventually we come to the Mala Strana which contains the amazing Church of Saint Nicholas. Mala Strana is known as The Little Quarter & was originally called Prague Minor

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Doesn’t look much from the outside does it? Well you just wait!

32. The Church was built between 1704-1755 on the site where once stood a Gothic church from the 13th century also dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It’s been described as “the most impressive example of Prague Baroque”

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33. Now we walk down the hill towards the river passing some very interesting advertising…

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Only 9€ !!

Only 9€ !!

Look…she's just having a fag break

Look…she’s just having a fag break

34. We’re now at another of Prague’s major landmarks..The Charles Bridge, however we’re not going to cross it just yet as we have something else to see first

So instead of crossing the under the bridge tower we turn left down the steps onto the small bridge over the split river an area known locally as Little Venice…

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It's obviously a romantic place

It’s obviously a romantic place

35. At the bottom of the steps we need to head under the bridge below, turning right & then left…

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…where we arrive at the John Lennon Wall…

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Since the 1980s it’s been filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti & lyrics from Beatles‘ songs

In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák who ordered it be painted over. This led to a clash between hundreds of students & security police on the nearby Charles Bridge

The wall continuously undergoes change & the original portrait of Lennon has been long lost under layers of new paint. Today, the wall represents a symbol of global ideals such as love and peace

Here’s a clip we took…

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Swift one?

Swift one?

36. Heading left we arrive at the river again & the bridge is above us…

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…so we climb up the steps & look back at the magnificent gate…

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The spectacular Charles Bridge has witnessed processions, battles, executions &, more recently, film shoots

Constructed between 1357 & 1402 it was built by Peter Parlef. It’s most distinguishing feature is the 30 statues of saints & other religious figures that sit on it, but these weren’t installed until 1683 onwards to encourage the people back to Mass

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Halfway across the bridge is the cross below where John Nepomuk’s body was thrown into the river. John Nepomuk is a national saint of the Czech Republic, who was drowned in the Vltava river on the orders of Wenceslas

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His own statue is slightly further along & rubbing his brass plaque is supposed to bring luck…

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…but petting the dog on the adjacent one is a new addition…

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The views back towards the castle are impressive…

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…& there’s always some entertainment about…

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37. Continue to move across the bridge & the architecture ahead looks amazing…

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…& the statues continue as we head towards the other gate…

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38. Having crossed the bridge we head straight over the road into the pedestrian street called Karlova which is full of restaurants & small shops. On the right’s another famous institution…The Black Light Theatre of Prague

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Black Light Theatre performance style’s characterised by the use of black box theatre augmented by black light illusion. This form of theatre originated from Asia & has become a speciality of Prague

Also along here is a shop selling one of the city’s food delicacies…Tredelnik

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Trdelník is a traditional sweet pastry originally coming from Transylvania. It’s made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick, then grilled & topped with sugar & walnut mix. The ones below were cooked over charcoal…

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39. Just keep following the streets & eventually we’ll come to to the hub, & probably the main attraction of Prague…The Old Town Square…

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It was Easter when we visited so the Square was decorated accordingly. The Old Town Square is the heart & soul of this city & a marketplace has been here since the 11th century

40. One of the first attractions we come to on the left is the amazing Astronomical Clock

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Each hour, on the hour, the crowds gather & you’re in for a treat. Here’s a clip we took & please excuse the Japanese Tour Guide…

http://youtu.be/O7J_lNov_MA 

Like we said there was an Easter market on so you couldn’t get the whole picture of the square…

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It looks better at night which we’ll show you later

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41. There’s records of a market being held here since the 11th century. One of the most impressive buildings is The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn which is the gothic building with spires below. The spires are actually different sizes denoted the masculine & feminine sides of the world…

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Again it’s more impressive at night. Unfortunately there’s a strict ban on photography inside the church

The square was full of stalls selling local goodies plus offering the obligatory horse & cart rides…

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Easter decorations

Easter decorations

42. It was time now to visit an important part of the city – the Jewish Quarter

It’s not far from the Old Town Square so we take the main street on the north side called Parizska which contains the modern & fashionable stores

The main area of the Jewish Quarter is on the left down here. Unfortunately, as it was Easter all of the synagogues & the cemetery were closed so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we wanted

It’s impossible to date the arrival of the Jews in Prague, but mention is made of one of their settlements being destroyed in the 13th century & them being made to live in a walled ghetto community that’s now this quarter. During World War II nearly 80,000 Czech & Moravian Jews died in the Holocaust

The first synagogue we come to on the left is the Old-New Synagogue & we need to turn left down Cervena to reach the front…

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This is Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270 in gothic style, it was one of Prague’s first gothic buildings. Services have been held there continually since it was built, with an exception of the years of Nazi occupation in 1942 – 1945

It’s said that the Old–New Synagogue was built of stones from the Second Temple in Jerusalem demolished in 70 A.D. The stones were allegedly brought to Prague by angels. They said, that they have to be given back to Jerusalem when a new temple will be built there after the Messiah arrives

The legend of Prague Golem is connected to the Old–New Synagogue. Golem was a monster made of clay by Rabi Jehud Löwa ben Bezalel in the 16th century. He was created to defend Jews & help them in bad times. Golem looked like a human being & could be brought to life by a piece of parchment with secret symbols placed into his mouth. Golem later became aggressive & violent & had to be stopped by Rabi Löwa & made “dead” again. According to the legend, there are still remains of the Golem monster kept in the garret & he can be “awaken” again when needed. It’s noted that the Nazi’s never visited the interior

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Is that the Golum Father?

Is that the Golum Father?

43. Heading straight down the street opposite is the Old Jewish Cemetery, which was also closed. At first sight the level of the cemetery is quite a lot above head-height…

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We’ll get a better perspective on this shortly, but the reason is that because this was one of the few burial sites available to Jews, when the site was full, the graves were built up on top of each other in layers

It’s estimated about 200,000 people are buried here, the earliest being 1439 & the final burial in 1787. It really is a moving place

44. At the end of this road’s the Ceremonial Hall

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…which is also the entrance into the cemetery…

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The Ceremonial Hall was built in the early 1900’s & was home to the Jewish community’s Burial Society

45. Retracing our steps & then turning right & right again we arrive in Siroka where we walk along the containment wall of the Old Jewish Cemetery & this really brings it home as to the number of graves here with the most recent ones on the top level & the oldest below the level we’re walking…

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At the end of this street is the Pinkas Synagogue

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After World War II this building became a memorial to the estimated 80,000 Czech & Moravian victims of the Holocaust. The names & dates of all those known to have perished in the Terezin concentration camp or other extermination camps across Eastern Europe are written on the wall

Equally moving is the exhibition of writings & paintings made by the children, 10,000 of which were under the age of 15, confined in Terezin…

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…& there’s another view of the cemetery through a gate along here…

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46. Retracing our steps back to the junction we now turn right down Maiselova…

…where we come to our final synagogue on the left, the Maisel Synagogue

At the time of its construction this was the largest synagogue in Prague until fire destroyed it & much of the ghetto in 1689. It now contains a great collection of Jewish silver work, much of which was looted by the Nazis who planned to build a museum in Prague dedicated to the Jews as an ‘extinct’ race

47. At the of this road we’re back in the Old Square…

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…& then feeling hungry head back up Celetna towards The Powder Gate…

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Interesting ornament...

Interesting ornament…

48. To head back to where we started it would be straight over the square, but the light’s fading & we’re getting hungry. So turning back along Celetna, on the right is a cracking little ‘cave’ restaurant we can recommend called Restaurace U Templaru…

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Basically you eat in an ancient cave & it’s very traditional Czech food (dumplings!), but with some amazing beer!

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49. So dinner over it’s time to head back down onwards the Old Square & enjoy Prague at its very best…

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….& then just head back towards the river to see the Castle in all its glory…

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50. Finally heading back up Celetna we see The Powder Store lit up…

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…where we end our long walk around stunning Prague

As we said this walk can be split up into a couple of days as it’s easy to spend almost a whole day in the Castle area, especially if you want to see inside all the buildings

There’s more to see than the Castle though & don’t miss the Jewish Quarter

Prague’s a stunning city &, if you visit read up well before you go. History makes a city & this one certainly has lots

 

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