To love Prague you must love that most over-the-top architectural form - baroque. Prague does contain the gothic but its great churches are of the baroque and our Lady of Loreto, set on Hradcany Hill, is beautiful example. I would rate it with the Karlskirche in Vienna and Durham Cathedral as my favourite church in Europe. And if you are wondering what to do with yourself after visiting the Hrad there is a lot more to see on the hill. This is an area that has been hidden away for forty years, hiding a very sad past, and is only now discovering itself and you need at least a morning to enjoy the delights of Loreto Church and the Strahov monastery.
Once you have seen the Hrad you can follow the legions of tourists back down Nerudova and back to the Charles Bridge or explore the rest of Hradcany. If you cross the square, Hradcanske Nam and walk past the Museum of Military history you will find yourself in a world away from the tourist crush. The area is full of medieval and renaissance houses, long neglected under the communists and now being repainted to their natural bright colours. One building which is as glorious as the day it was constructed is the church of 'Our Lady of Loreto'(see photo). As you approach from the rear from Loretanska, stone steps lead down to the front facade. The steps are flanked by twenty jet black statues of the saints, each touched with gold. This contrasts with the gold and white facade of the Loreto with its clock and bulbous belltower.
To enter costs about 500 korunnas and you will emerge in a green courtyard surrounded by white marble cloisters. In the centre of the courtyard was a marble tomb containing a relic from the Virgin Mary. But the best part of the 'Loreto' was the transept and nave with a whirlwind of cartoon-like cherubs and angels spiralling out from the altar. The Loreto treasury was housed underground and contained gold holy icons behind bullet-proof glass. The most tasteless of these were by the Viennese. If you want a more sobering sight once you leave the Loreto across the square is the epic Cernin Palace. This 150ft long white/yellow roccoco palace was the headquarters for Reichprotektor Heydrich during the Nazi occupation of Prague. He was assassinated by a joint Czech/British commando force near the Vltava and in retaliation the Nazis wiped the village of Lidice from the face of the earth.
If you continue west along Hradcany, things become more rural, which is rather extraordinary when you think that you are in the middle of a capital city. A clue that you are approaching the Strahov monastery will be the number of white-robed monks in the vicinity. The dead giveaway for us was seeing a number of people smoking near the approaches to the monastery, obviously a vice that the abbott does not approve of. But the monastery itself is reached through a poplar grove and is open to the public. When we were there in 1995 it had only just re-opened, most of its monks were thrown into prison during the communist era. But now you can wander its courtyards and cloisters and pay money to see the famous Philosphical hall and library.But I had found another distraction and it looked like a gap in a hedgerow offered another way down to the Charles Bridge so I set off to explore.
Stepping through the hedgerow was like entering another world. The trail descended through a colossal green vale in the middle of Prague. It's western side was the forested green slopes of Petrin hill. And the eastern side were the orchards, vineyards and market gardens of the Strahov Monastery - everything glistened and smelled fresh after the rain, it was completely deserted and very very quiet.....