Saturday 25 August
Today we plan on crossing the Charles Bridge again to visit the Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana). We take the tram to the Town Square (Malostranske namesti) and head for St Nicholas Church. You can see its dome from across the river and from Prague castle. It must be a large church but nothing prepares us for the interior. Wow! It’s unlike anything we’ve seen so far! It’s light and airy … And dramatic. Every piece of the ceiling is painted with frescoes. It matches the Sistine chapel in magnitude if not in detail (and talent). Light pours in and the huge polished white marble statues glow. Four larger than life sized statues round the altar represent the Eastern Church Fathers. They are a bit weird, with one of the priests holding a staff and pinning a man down on the ground by his throat.
Around the base of the dome are four large white marble (all the statues lare of white marble) statues of women, then in between them are six smaller statues, life sized, recessed into the base of the dome.
The floor is made of slate and white marble flagstones.
I notice that the altar is set up so that if a priest were saying mass, his back would be to the congregation. I assume that the church is no longer used as such. Peter confirms this when he notes that there is no tabernacle light. Also, there is a charge to enter, something that can’t happen in a church. (Though once you’re in the church you’re often charged for climbing a tower, or visiting a crypt …)
The pipes of the vast organ are white with gold finishing. Apparently Mozart played this organ during his stay in Prague. (Much seems to be made in Prague of Mozart’s stay here). The gold finishing on the organ and elsewhere is more understated than in the other churches and, instead of dark wooden decorative features, the columns and pulpit are made from coloured marble. Above the altar, is another larger than life sized statue, this one a gold plated copper statue of St Nicholas. The dome is huge, with windows set in it. Around almost the entire church runs a balcony made of marble. We are able to climb to the balcony and see how it has alcoves that may have been used by dignitaries perhaps, rather like boxes in an opera house. The alcoves are decorated with large paintings.
Downstairs again we look at the side chapels, some of which are a bit gruesome with boxes containing plaster skeletons in odd postures, probably symbolising something that is lost on us twenty first century westerners.
We make our way to a garden I read about. It’s supposed to be behind the Wallenstein Palace (which is now the Czech Senate), which is only a few hundred metres away. There is a large ornamental pond near the entrance, a few peahens roaming about, some gardens, and a fountain in front of a frescoed stage …. And the melting wall! It’s a sculpture! A wall somewhat pretentiously described as dark and mysterious, supposedly a blend of synthetic and nature. The crevices hide animals, snakes and faces. The wall extends around an aviary in which there are half a dozen sleeping owls … The wall is supposed to contrast with the sound of birds. Well these birds won’t make a sound during daylight so I suppose the sculptor means silent birds. It’s bizarre, but I’m glad we’ve found it.
Next stop is the Vrtbovska gardens. They’re not far away either. But I’ve read that they can be easily overlooked because they are hidden behind a gate that simply has its street address, number 25 Karmelitska.
These gardens couldn’t be more different from the ones we’ve just visited. They are beautiful. The gardens rise in terraces and on each level are small renaissance style gardens. A wedding is about to begin, and we enter to violins being readied to perform Ave Maria, Vivaldies Four Seasons and more. It’s exquisite. The gardens are a natural amphitheatre and as we climb we hear the music clearly.
At the top we among the roof tops of Prague. It’s surreal. The view is stunning. Look down, we see the gardens, look to the left and right, we see into people’s apartments, look across and we see the spires and domes of churches. The gardens are tiny, but in this cramped city, they are a gem.
We’re suddenly so tired! It’s barely mid afternoon, and we could do so much more but we’ve the Mozart concert and dinner tonight so we head back to the hotel for a senior citizen nap.
The concert is at the Mozart Cafe. From the first floor where we are sitting we look straight across at the astronomical clock, not even thirty metres away! What an unexpected delight. The windows are open because the evening is so warm. It’s very pleasant. We watch the eight o’clock “performance” and later the ten o’clock. The colours of the clock seem to deepen or brighten according to the time of day. It’s a thing of beauty, as well as a feat of mathematical engineering – built over 600 years ago! It’s amusing to look down from behind and see the lights from all the cameras and videos playing on the clock.
The musicians enter the “salon” a few minutes after eight. They’re dressed in period costume, their wigs perched perilously on heads. Two violins, a viola and a bass. The musicians are having a ball, laughing amongst themselves … You get the impression that they’d be just as happy to play without an audience as with one. Though after every piece at least one of then acknowledges us. There are only eight at dinner. Ourselves, another couple and a group of four.
The music is wonderful. I can’t believe that such talented musicians would play at a dinner concert. Perhaps they are retired, or this is a form of practice, or maybe they just love performing. Eine kleine nichte, Mozart’s symphony number forty. I love the finish – a fabulously plucking of strings. The food is pretty good too. It’s one of the. Best dinner out I’ve ever had.