on June 24, 2009
Narodni trida and na prikope form the boundary between the Old and New Town. At the spot fomerly occupied by one of the 13 town gates stands the splendid, late-Gothic Powder Tower. Built during the late 15th century, its hipped roof and gallery were added at the end of the 19th century. For a fine view over the city's 100 towers, a climb to the top is well worth the effort. The tower was used as a gunpowder store from time to time, hence its name. In the 15th century, the palace of the Bohemian Kings stood next door but at the beginning of the 20th century, the fine art nouveau Municipal House was erected in its place and what a fine building it is. Above the entrance is a very impressive, semi-circular mosaic called Homage to Prague. The cafe and restaurant is faithful to the style of art nouveau and if you are a fan you won't be disappointed because this is a real gem. The Celetna Ulice is a very busy pedestrianised thoroughfare and restaurants occupy many of the vaulted cellars beneath the originally Romanesque houses. Opposite the former Mint (1755) stands the The House of the Black Madonna, which dates from 1912. The dark skinned Virgin Mary in a gilded cage is just one example of the signs which adorned practically every house in Prague, before the introduction of numbers, almost every house had its own name. Other such examples in the Celetna are the House of the Three Kings (No 3) and the House of the Golden Vulture (No 22). The focal point for the Old Town is the Old Town Square and one of the finest market places in Europe. Having seen many market squares on my travels and throughout my life this never ceases to excite me. To appreciate its huge dimensions, arrive early morning or late evening when it is usually almost empty. The square is dominated by the 14th century Tyn Church whose 80 metre twin towers have come to symbolise Prague's Old Town. These towers dominate the sky line of Prague and can be seen from outside of the city. On the hour crowds gather at the foot of the Old Town Square's Town Hall tower. They are waiting for the Astronomical Clock to chime, but the Sphere created in 1490 by an academic at Charles 1V University doess not attract quite so much interest. Yet the disc underneath the puppet show displays the position of both the moon and sun and not only does it give Central European time but also Old Bohemian Time which counted from sunset to sunset. Beneath that is a painted calendar. The signs of the zodiac and rural scenes on the copper disc are by Josef Manes, a famous 19th century Czech painter. The Old Town Hall consists of a whole line of buildings which ends on the corner with U Minuty, a house that is covered with Renaissance sgraffito ( Italian technique of painting where a design is scratched into two layers of plaster with a special tool very much like a comb). You won't miss this house as the beautifully scratched designs on the plaster stands out from the other end of the street. Off St. Mary's Square is the back entrance to the Clementium. Up until the 16th century, 25 houses, three churches and a monastery occupied the 2 hectare site, but in 1620 a huge Jesuit centre was built. Summoned to Prague by the Emperor Ferdinand 1, the order established a number of educational institutions in the city. Their purpose was to re-educate the Protestants and return them to Catholicism. In one of the inner courtyards, a priest burnt 2,600 Hussite books. The Clementinum now houses the Czech Republic's Natioanl Library and well worth a visit. Every year, sometimes twice a year I visit Prague's Old Town and I am never disappointed. I love the ambiance of people milling around and the buildings are just adorable. Commercial, it may be but its beauty outshines most other cities.
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