Prague – Day 2

Friday 24 August

We’re going to spend all day exploring Prague castle.

We catch the tram up the hill and enter through one of the many gates. First though we watch the changing of the guard. It’s great to watch the precision marching and the drill. 

I want to see the palaces that are supposed to be outside the castle grounds, but with so many gates I’m not sure outside which gate. We find the first courtyard and exit the gate there. We are surrounded by the four palaces! I know that down an alley next to the Archbishop’s palace we will find the Steinberg palace which I have read holds a major private collection of European art. It does. Much of the byzantine art is by florentine and Sienese artists. It is exquisite. There is also Etruscan work.  There is an enclosed courtyard outside. There were very few people looking at the art, and nobody is outside. It is an oasis of solitude. Everybody is in such a rush to get to the castle that this marvellous art and garden are overlooked.

As we approach the Matthias gate to re- enter the castle, the noon changing of the guard is about to happen. The street outside the gate is cleared before a group of soldiers come marching through. First, the two guards at this entrance are changed, then the troop continues through the castle to provide the guards for the rest of the day. The guards are changed every hour, but this procession only happens at noon.  It’s impressive.

From the first courtyard we move into the second where there is a  big fountain, then on through  the  third and, wham! There is St Vitus!  It soars upwards,  just fifty metres away from the archway. Its proximity is sudden and awesome.

The nave is long, the vault high. The stained glass windows behind the altar are tall and narrow. I turn and look back at the huge, beautiful rose window. The organ is massive. Everything about this cathedral is on a grand scale. There are twenty one chapels, all ornate. The sarcophagus of Charles 4th is almost unbelievably ostentatious, but the solid silver casket with over a thousand gems is gorgeous. 

Engineering had clearly not caught up with the dreams and designs of the architect. Outside, the main entrance before the cathedral was completed is known as the golden portal because there are numerous solid gold knobs on the wooden doors. But the effect is somewhat diminished by the need to have a rib down the centre so, rather than having one big entrance, there are two quite narrow doors separated by the rib. Nonetheless the doors are beautiful.

The cathedral and its clock tower can be seen from all over Prague. The view from the tower is said to be spectacular, so I climb all 297 steps of the spiral staircase. On the way down I can feel the Odstock electrode on the back of my knee. It’s quite painful as I bend my knee on every step. This is probably not good … 

Next we visit the Old Royal palace. I particularly want to see the Vladislav Hall. It is impressive with its high vault, wooden floors and it’s sheer size. I can imagine great banquets here. The Diet room next door is interesting. It’s some sort of court where decisions were made. The only woman ever allowed in that room was Marie Antoinette the Queen of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. She was the mother of Marie Antoinette who was guillotined during the French Revolution.

There are other Palaces within the castle. They hold art collections and museums but the only other place that I’m interested in is St George’s Basilica, a Romanesque church. It is made of stone with a high wooden ceiling. There are remnants of friezes on arches. Its simplicity is beautiful. It was built in the tenth century, but renovations have uncovered a first century crypt (with skeleton) under the foundations. 

We wheel/walk down the hill from the castle to the Lesser Quarter then along to the Charles Bridge and back to the hotel. 

Tonight, at 10pm we are going to St Salvatore for a candle lit concert. The organ is magnificent, as is the tenor. The absolute highlights were Schubert’s Ave Maria, and Bach’s Toccata in Fugue – brilliant!

St Salvatore is opposite the Charles Bridge. As we approach the bridge we can see the statues are a brilliant white under the floodlights. Somehow the lights have turned even the grey statues into a startling white. As a flock of birds fly past, through the lights, they too turn white. The whole scene is surreal.

It’s been a great day!

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