Furthermore, most visitors know little about Prague’s rich history. The city is a perfect example of what the other capitals of Europe would have looked like, had it not been for the devastating bombing of the world wars. London, Paris, Berlin – they are all very different to their pre-war appearance, but Prague maintains its centuries-old architecture.
What hidden delights can you see in Prague?
ALCHEMISTS AND THE DEVIL
The Faust House is one of the buildings on the famous Charles Square (in Czech, Karlovo námĕstí). According to legend, Dr. Faust – who sold his soul to the devil – occupied this house once upon a time. This connection came about due to the fact that one of the owners of the house, Václav of Opava, was involved in the mysterious study of alchemy. Another alchemist, English con man Edward Kelley, owned the house in the 17th century. The house suffered damage, including holes in the roof, due to experiments performed by yet another owner, Ferdinand Mladota. (These holes gave rise to a story that the infamous Faust had been taken through the roof by the devil himself.) In keeping with its nature, in the 19th century the house was owned by Karl Jaenig, a man who could most charitably be described as “eccentric”. Jaenig kept a working gallows in the house and slept in a coffin. The Faust House is at Karlovo námĕstí 40 and 41.
A HORSE, A GENERAL AND THE VIEW
The equestrian statue on Vítkov Hill (photo). The statue can be seen at quite a distance, and for good reason – it’s the largest equestrian statue in the world. The man represented by the statue was Jan Žížka, a renowned general during the Hussite wars of the 15th century. Žížka’s tactics included teaching farmers how to fight in battle by using farm implements. The Czech names for two of their weapons were adopted by the English language: pistol and howitzer. Vítkov Hill was the site of one of Žížka’s major victories, on July 14, 1420. To get there, take bus 133 or 207 from Florence to Tachovského námĕstí, then walk up the hill.
CHURCHES AND LEGENDS
The Church of St. James the Greater is a fascinating place to view, with many a story associated with it. The church is the second-largest in Prague, after St. Vitus’ Cathedral. When you enter, look to your right and up. You will see a metal rod protruding from the wall, with a chain suspended from it. At the end of the chain is what appears to be a branch. In reality, it’s a mummified arm.
Legend has it that a thief hid in the church one night, planning to rob it of its many treasures. Spotting a necklace around a statue of the Virgin Mary, he reached for it – only to have the statue seize his arm and hold it fast. In the morning, the priests found him still in the statue’s clutches. All attempts to free him failed, and finally, they were forced to amputate his arm. Once the arm had been severed, the statue released its hold.
There is an elaborate tomb on the right and up the aisle a bit belongs to Count Vratislav of Mitrovice. The count died in 1712 of dropsy (now known as edema). As befitted a man of his rank, he was buried with full honors in this magnificent tomb. After the funeral, however, noises began to emanate from the tomb. Churchgoers believed that the count wasn’t resting easily in his grave, so they prayed and sprinkled holy water upon it. A few years later, the tomb was opened to reveal a ghastly sight. The count’s coffin was open, and his body was outside of it. Scratches on the inside of the coffin showed that the count had been buried alive; he managed to escape the coffin, but was unable to make his way out of the tomb. The noises had been a vain attempt to summon help.
Even without the morbid legends, the church is a fascinating place to visit, almost unbelievably rich in paintings, carvings, and icons. You may have the good luck of entering the church when the famous organ is being played.
The church is located at Malá Štupartská 6, in Old Town. Enter carefully; a service may be in progress.
The Rotunda of the Holy Rood still stands on a corner in Old Town. This building, which dates from the 11th century, is one of the oldest in Prague, and one of only three rotundas in the city. It came close to being demolished in the 19th century, but fortunately, was saved by the Artistic Forum; as you will see, the adjoining building was constructed neatly around the rotunda. The little church stands on the corner of Konviktská Street and Karoliny Svĕtlé Street.
The Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia is well worth visiting, and not in an area where tourists generally go. It dates from early in the 13th century, and is Bohemia’s oldest Gothic building. When the building was only a few years old, Agnes (a member of royalty, and daughter of the powerful King Ottokar II) became the abbess. The convent is now a part of Prague’s National Museum, housing works of early medieval and Renaissance art. It is located at U milosrdných 17.
For those who would like more in-depth exploration, a Jewish history/Holocaust tour is offered by a local guide. For details, check with the hotel.
Written by Erin Naillon