Tag Archives: Czech Republic

Prague Castle

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Prague Castle was truly the highlight of our visit to the city. Perched atop a hill overlooking the Vltava River and the center of Prague, it is extremely hard to miss the beauty and grandeur of this symbol of Czech history, culture, and politics.

Prague CastleThe founding of the Castle complex predates any mention of it in records, as they think it was founded sometime in 880. Since then, it has endured a long history of changing regimes, new architectural additions, and at least a few wars. The Castle has been called home by Bohemian kings, Roman emperors, Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, and communist government officials – if the walls could talk! Nowadays, it functions as the residence and office for the President of the Czech Republic and remains a popular attraction for visitors to Prague.

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Prague Castle

Prague Castle

It really is more of a complex than just a castle – it takes the Guinness Book title for largest ancient castle in the world. The complex is it’s own small city – it includes the cathedral and a few other places of worship, what were once living quarters, government buildings, shops, restaurants, gardens – even a torture chamber. The Bohemian crown jewels are also housed (or hidden, really) within the complex. It is rumored that the Bohemian crown jewels are cursed, and that any illegitimate ruler who wears the crown will die within a year. And so the story goes that while Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich was a resident of the Castle, he placed the crown on his head and died less than a year later.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague CastleOne of the highlights in the Castle complex is Golden Lane, a 15th century row of dwellings that once housed goldsmiths and artisans. Within each house are time-period exhibits and artifacts to explore, including medieval armor, a bedroom and workshop space set up as it would have been during that time, a lookout with weapons and crossbows, and a tower that was once used as a dungeon.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague CastleAnother highlight was St. Vitus Cathedral, home to some of my absolute favorite stained glass artwork of any we saw while in Europe – the colors and stories depicted were so bright and intricate. Begun in 1344 but not finished until 1929, the cathedral was built in the Gothic style of architecture like many similar cathedrals throughout Europe – making it extremely large and imposing. But the most impressive aspect to me was not the flying buttresses, but the stained glass. The cathedral is also the eternal resting place of former Roman emperors and Bohemian kings – some of their bodies still on display in glass-faced tombs, bones and all.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague CastleWe took our time wandering the grounds and exploring the buildings, gardens, and taking in the amazing views of the city. The grounds were immaculate and very well taken care of – there is even a vineyard where you can taste wine!

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague CastlePrague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague CastleWhile we were in Prague, we visited the Castle two days in a row – there was so much to see that we really couldn’t fit it all in one day. It was very enlightening to get a glimpse of not only the way people lived, but also how people were ruled over half a world away and hundreds of years ago. It puts into perspective how small our own sliver of time is in relation to human history as a whole and reiterates that things are always changing.

Imagine: The John Lennon Wall

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By December of 1989, the people of Czechoslovakia had endured over 40 years of oppressive communist rule. Prior to that, they were subjected to years of occupation by Nazi Germany – a dark period in which many of the country’s Jews were exterminated. But by 1980, something was brewing among the youth in the Eastern European country.

Nearly ten years prior, in 1971, John Lennon released his second solo album, Imagine, which became one of his most popular and was an anthem to peace and the anti-war movement. Although popular Western music was banned from being played by the communist government, Lennon himself was viewed by many young Czechs as a pacifist hero. After Lennon was murdered in 1980, rebellious young Czechs, in a nod to Lennon and in defiance of communist officials, painted his portrait on a wall in Prague, along with song lyrics and anti-communist messages.

Although the secret police continued to attempt to paint over the original messages, the wall quickly became a tableau representing freedom of speech, peace, and non-violent and peaceful rebellion against the oppressive communist regime. Today, the original messages are buried underneath many coats of paint and subsequent messages of peace and paintings of John Lennon’s face, but people still come to the wall to contribute their own messages of freedom, hope, love and everything John Lennon.

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Lennon WallLennon WallBy 1989, the Velvet Revolution was in full-swing. Through non-violent protest, dissidents and activists of the country had achieved freedom from communist oppression after 41 years, and a democratic government was restored. Shortly thereafter, communism fell in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Hungary.

On our visit, people from all walks of life were at the wall, adding their own messages. There was a young boy with his father, a punk-rock-dressed couple, and a teenage girl in a floral skirt. Quite fittingly, there was a street performer singing the infamous song, Imagine, for tips. Literally and figuratively, the wall and John Lennon’s messages were still bringing people together in 2012 – over three decades after his death.

Prague’s Jewish Cemetery

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Away from the bustle of city streets in Prague lies a secluded, rather woodsy, and nearly hidden plot of land – you can’t see in from the outside and entry is strictly regulated. The high walls hide it from outsiders, but once you enter, what lies ahead is quite a unique sight – Prague’s Jewish cemetery.

Although there are 12,000 visible tombstones, there are thought to be more than 100,000 people buried here in total; the cemetery was in use from 1439 to 1787. As it was explained to us, the Jewish community kept asking for additional land to perform burials, but they were discriminated against and thus were denied. The rabbis were told that plot of land was all that they would get, and since their religion states that they must be buried, they had no other choice but to continue to bury on top of existing plots – creating what is thought to be nearly 12 layers of tombs.

Taking a stroll through the cemetery is eerie, sad, and empathy-inducing all at once. And although one can imagine the kind of discrimination and circumstances that would lead to this, we can’t really know the story and the strife of every individual here, we can only think of the situation collectively by seeing the number of headstones (and the ones we can’t see but know are there) and what they represent.

Maniacally, Prague’s entire Jewish quarter (called Josefov), including its synagogues and this cemetery, were carefully preserved through the Holocaust because Hitler wanted to leave it as a relic of an extinct race, like a twisted museum. I guess in some ways it did become a museum of sorts, although not for that purpose – more for the purpose of exhibiting what Hitler and others tried to do, although they ultimately failed. Now those intentions are wrapped up as part of the history of this place, even though they weren’t meant to be.

Prague Jewish Cemetery

Prague Jewish Cemetery

I had to think about how and why this is has morphed into a tourist attraction as well – is it because it looks different than typical cemeteries? Is it the grim backstory? Fascination with different religious practices after death? I thought about this as I walked the winding path, the sound of crunching gravel the only noise around me, because I was the only one there. It was a crisp autumn day and this part of Prague was uncharacteristically quiet. Once I neared the end of the path, I turned around towards the way I came to see a jagged sea of headstones almost as far as the eye could reach, like each one was vying, desperately, to be remembered.