The metropolis that lent its name to the Golden Road- Prague- is full. It is full of luxurious buildings around the huge Wenceslas Square in the new town to the majestic Hradschin, from Troja Palace with its zoo in the north to the Vyšehrad in the south of the town. It is full of life, light and energy. It has it all, and it is not without reason a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The experts still disagree though- should the renovation begin with the
stone gothic facades or the baroque plasterwork? The only people who seem to agree on anything are the filmmakers. If the stage needs to be set in any period drama, at any time from the Middle Ages to the dawn of the modern era, Prague is top of the list. This town has the best-preserved scenery for all epochs and in the Barrandov film studios they have the necessary Hollywood know-how. Many people ‘know’ Prague- but so few have actually seen it. An estimated 20 million tourists each year are marched around the town, from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town, from the Charles Bridge and up the Coronation Street to the castle- with stops in over-expensive tourist traps. Join us on a tour that will take you a few steps off the beaten track but will offer you a new perspective on the town and cheap alternatives to the usual run-of-the-mill tourist restaurants.
Prague Stats- Seven hills surround the city through which Smetana’s celebrated Moldova river flows with its eight islands. 1.2 Million people live in Prague in over 100 tower blocks and residential areas on the edge of the town. There are 22 separate town councils, 57 districts and 146 parishes in an area of nearly 50,000 hectares. The thousands of pubs, bars and restaurants in the city give credence to the well known saying “V Praze je blaze
The starting point of our tour is the cable car in Újezd, 100m south of the Malostranské Náměstí.
The Petřin Viewing tower is the second stop on the list. It is a copy of the Eiffel Tower from the World Exhibition of 1891 in Paris and stands in the middle of a beer garden behind the old town walls on the Laurenziburg 327m above the town. Also atop this hill are the ‘Pavilion of Czech Ramblers’ with its curious maze of mirrors. At the top, 60m above the ground visitors have breathtaking views, with the massive Hradschin to the left and the golden dome of the National Theatre, the Moldova and the Višehrad to the right. This is the best overall view of the city and is a perfect way to start, before beginning the big march. (Petřinské sady, Praha 1 tel (00420-2) 257 320 112, www.pis.cz)
Along the old wall behind the tower the Strahovska road leads to the Abbey of the same name with the famous baroque library (open daily 9am-5pm www.strahovskyklaster.cz) and then on via the Loretanska to the courtyard of the Loreta Monastery with the church from Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. This beautiful pilgrimage church is open daily from 9am-12.15pm and 1-4.30pm (www.loreta.cz).
Walking past pretty arcades we approach the guards standing to attention in front of the wrought iron gates of the Hradschin Palace. In the courtyard there is a tourist information office. Here you can buy tickets for the highly recommended guided tours of the entire complex beyond the barrier that is blocking your path. (Tel. 224 371 111, www.hrad.cz April-October Tues-Sun 9pm-5pm, Nov-Mar 9pm-4pm)
As we pass the entrances to wonderful arcades…
Golden Snack Tips
Bohemia Bagel: For a quick and healthy snack before climbing Petřin hill opposite the cable car at Újezd 16.
Palfy Palác: A real palace for gourmets, the little terrace with a view of the castle and the top class Bohemian/French cuisine. Valdštejnská 14, Tel. 57 53 05 22
Hostinec U Kalicha: Good country cooking. Na Bojišti 12-14
Casa Blu: In the style of a Cuban student bar, the drinks are very reasonably priced, 8pm- 12pm, Kozí 15.
...we walk on towards the stony-faced guards in front of the Hradschin with its gold painted wrought iron gates. In the inner courtyard there is a tourist information stand where they sell tickets for the tour around the complex. This is not just advisable but necessary, as there are barriers blocking the entrance to the golden alleys beyond.
After this take the street down the steep hill Nerudova (Named after Jan Neruda- who provided Pablo Neruda, the Chilean writer with his pseudonym), past numerous restaurants, consulates and embassies until you reach the Malostranské Náměstí/ (Malostranské Square) where the majestic baroque church of St Nikolaus stands. This is one of the many churches of the Dientzenhofer family, and contains the fresco ‘The Adoration of St Nikolaus’ which is certainly worth a few minutes of your time.
Scurrilous: The Sex Machine Museum, Melantrichova 18.
Nightlife of the New Bohemians:
Národní divadlo: The golden architecture of the National Theatre is not the only reason the opera productions shine. Ostrovní 1
Magic Lantern: the first multimedia project in the history of theatre. Národní třída 4 www.laterna.cz
Reduta: One of the best-known jazz clubs in Prague. Národní třída 20.
Rock Café: Amateur Czech bands make you screamlike a teenager. Národní třída 20
Lávka: Top club with a terrace next to the Charles Bridge, novotného lávka 1, 9pm-5am
The next station on the list, or ‘Příští zastávka’ as the announcer says on the metro, is the Charles Bridge (Karlův most). This 10m wide and 520m long bridge is both start and finish line on the Golden Road. It was built in 1357 by Peter Parler under order of Charles IV and in 1657 and 1714 baroque statues were added flanking the monument to Saint Nepomuk, whom King Wenceslas IV had had drowned in the Moldova. Opposite, through the old drawbridge gate the old town awaits with it’s little streets and alleys weaving and twisting through to the Old Town Ring (Staroměstské Náměstí), and opens out onto the town hall square (from 1338) where the astronomical clock attracts hundreds of tourists every hour on the hour, where the 12 Apostles have been playing their glockenspiel day in, day out since 1410.
The Jewish Cemetery with the grave of the famous Rabbi Löw, who created Golem
If the weather is good, take the lift to the top of the Town Hall Tower, where the views of the Old Town, the Teyn Church and further afield are worth the squeeze. The town hall also houses the Tourist Information Offices (Pražka Informa
The wealth of the Upper Palatinate and Amberg with its official residence and importance at the centre of the mining industry influenced the architecture in the area greatly. Between the ‘Hammerschlösser’ (the mansions built by the aristocracy near their works) a union of the owners of the mines and iron works was established, the Hammereinigung (1387-1626), a fore-runner to the European agreements of today and a kind of mining union enabling the free trade and transport of the materials between signatories was ratified.
It is at this stage of the journey that the Golden Road splits. The good took the ‘right’ way through Weiden and Bärnau, the bad through Wernberg and Waidhaus, which in the end proved to be the cheaper of the two. Despite the popularity of two routes the trade that Charles IV supported and promoted brought much wealth to many a town and the region in general. Majestic town halls sprang up in which the tradesmen could do business. Later during the baroque period the acanthus leaf found fame in interior architecture and decoration. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans used the motif widely, and it was ‘rediscovered’ and used in the embellishment of many an altar and church.
Kaiser Barbarossa made Eger the seat of his Kingdom and the surrounding area was redesigned and refurbished, creating what was to be an example to all regions under the name of Provincia Egrensis. Later as Kaiser Ludwig of Bavaria had to give up the town to his rival and successor Charles IV the region retained its importance and its own parliament until 1806 when it became a part of Bohemia.
The neighbouring Stiftland, or as it was known the ancient province of Tirschenreuth, was under the jurisdiction of Cistercian monks in Waldsassen during this time and they kept a very close contact with Egerland.
The Kaiser ordered the use of his own official route but was also very aware of the advantages of the ‘forbidden’ option. Charles IV sent his own Imperial Regalia on the forbidden street through Waidhaus, which shows that there was indeed good reason to circumnavigate the heights of Bärnau as proved by the routing of the A6, the modern alternative to the ancient trade route, which seems to follow the unauthorised path.
Goethe composed poems during his stay in Karlsbad around July 1806 of which several contain references to the healing waters and clays of the mineral springs. He did more for Bohemian bathing culture than anybody else and he probably owed his Faust-like creativity and libido to his stay here, having drunk the waters then as we do today, from a small spouted cup decorated with roses.
The Golden way, or Zlata cesta drives a path through Bohemia, a blessed land that had been cultivated for years by the locals until it was torn to pieces in the Nationalist uprising of the 1930’s and 40’s. Villages and towns were raised to the ground and all that remains are mere traces that might be stumbled upon by the more adventurous of ramblers.
At the time of Charles IV Prague was one of the largest cities in Europe with over 40,000 residents. The Prague of today has 30 times that many and it houses the inhabitants in seemingly endless rows of high-rise concrete blocks. The tradesmen of yesteryear were spared this rather grey view of the town, and that is why we chose to approach the city of a hundred spires along a different route. Prague was not only full of churches, but also surrounded by a ring of castles and fortified houses that should not escape your attention. But first we will stick to our original plan and near the town of Udolky, the last port of call before Prague, we will visit a fictional medieval village.