Prague, Day 2

Trip Start Aug 28, 2011
Trip End Sep 19, 2011

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Where I stayed
Aparthotel Sibelius Prague
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, September 2, 2011

Our second day in Prague took us to Old Town (Staré Mĕsto) and Josefov, the old Jewish quarter.

One of the highlights of Old Town is the Astronomical Clock on the side of the old town hall.  The clock was built in 1410.  There's a legend that the municipal council, upon seeing the end result and being very impressed, wanted to be sure the masterpiece they'd commissioned would be totally unique.  To ensure that the artist who created it would never create a rival piece elsewhere the council had him blinded.  In retribution Master Hanuš, the clock artist, threw himself into the clock mechanism, killing himself and putting the clock out of commission.  The clock remained out of commission for about a century.

The clock performs it's own mechanical parade every hour and a lone constumed trumpeter plays from the top of the tower on the hour.

Not far from Old Town is the old Powder Tower.  Part of Old Town's fortification system.  The tower was built in 1475 as a gateway to the city.  This tower marks the beginning of the Royal Route; the end of which we saw yesterday.

Next to the Powder Tower is the Municipal House, an elaborate Art Nouveau building where the document granting Czechoslovakia independence was signed in 1918.  Now, of course, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are two separate countries.  Although we didn't go inside the Prague Symphony performs in this building in the Smetana Hall which (I'm told) has an impressive stained glass ceiling.

Old Town's square is, in many ways a typical town square which has seen it's fair share of local commerce and occasional political theater.  Protestant Hussites rioted here in the 1400's and in the 1620's the Catholic Habsburg rulers beheaded 27 Protestants in the square, hanging their heads in baskets over the Charles bridge.

A statue in the middle of the square is of Jan Hus, a 15th century preacher who challenged the Roman Catholic hierarchy who didn't take kindly to his sharing his opinions and expressed their displeasure by burning him at the stake.  Today people with a point to make use the statue's pedestal as a soapbox, maybe hoping to gain points by associating themselves with Hus.  (Though I doubt they want to share his fate.)

Also on the square is the Kinský Palace.  It was from the rococo balcony at the front of this palace that Klement Gottwald declared the proletariat takeover of the Czechoslovak government in 1945.

From here we went to the old Jewish quarter.  About 118,000 Jews lived here in 1939.  Somewhat surprisingly 30,000 actually survived until Hitler was driven out of Prague.  Today the Jewish population of the entire country numbers approximately 3,000.

There are 5 synagogues in Josefov, including the so called Old-New Synagogue.  It used to be called the New Synagogue when it was built in the year 1270 because it replaced an even older synagogue (which no longer exists).  It's old enough now that it can't very well keep the name New Synagogue so it's the Old-New Synagogue.  It's the oldest synagogue in Europe.  Jews have worshiped here continuously since then with the only exception being 1941 - 1945.  The synagogue even continued in use during a pogrom in 1389 that killed over 3,000 Jews.

The Jewish cemetary is one of the world's most crowded cemetaries because the local government in the mid 15th century didn't allow Jews to bury their dead anywhere else.  It's only about one square block in size but holds about 20,000 graves.  The solution was to dig graves deep enough that 12 bodies could be stacked vertically in one grave site with each tombstone placed in front of the last.

This marked the end of our time in Prague.  We returned to our apartment to rest, shower and find a quiet local restaurant for dinner.  Tomorrow morning we leave Prague for Sedlec.

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