Pamela MacNaughtan

Architecture and history is my version of travel porn. I could walk around staring at buildings all day and never get bored – which is probably why I am loving Europe so much. This continent is full of incredible – and sometimes salacious – history, not to mention head-turning architecture.  So, when I had a chance to hook up with Urban Adventures for their Prague Explorer Tour, which focuses on the city’s architecture and history, I was in!

Our tour began near the Astronomical clock (circa 1410) in Old Town Square – thankfully just before the onslaught of tourists. I stood opposite the clock, eating gelato – for my sore throat – and listening to our guide, Theresa, as she explained the history of the clock, how it works, and the history of the square I was eager for more. Several years ago I had bought Europe, A History by Norman Davies. It’s a massive book, and interesting, but I never quite finished it. Now, I want to buy another copy and read it all the way through – give a new dimension to my time in Europe.

Church of St Nicholas

Church of St. Nicholas

Behind the Astronomical Clock was our first stop, Church of St. Nicholas. On the edge of the Jewish Quarter, the main entrance to the Church of St. Nicholas is somewhat plain, and looks more like a side entrance – in respect for the Jewish culture – and as you may have guessed, the side entrance looked a lot more like the main entrance. Confused? I wouldn’t blame you!

The inside of the church is small but ornate. As we walked into the side entrance I was smitten by the chandelier hanging in the centre. The sparkle made my heart leap and as soon as Theresa was finished explaining the history of the church, I walked quietly to the centre of the church to look at the paintings on the ceiling. There were breathtaking.

I could have stayed inside the Church of St. Nicholas for hours, but alas, the Jewish Quarter was awaiting. I admit it wasn’t what I was expecting – please do not crucify me for my naive notions. For some reason I expected the Jewish Quarter to be full of old buildings, shops, delis, and life in general. Instead, the Jewish Quarter was relatively quiet, with newer buildings – made to look old. As we walked through the streets Theresa explained that most of the Jewish Quarter was leveled after WWII and that there were only a few original buildings remaining.

Exploring the Jewish Quarter was educational, but brief. The synagogues are open to tourists, as is the cemetery, but for a price – 400 Kc for a ticket which covers everything.

From the oldest Synagogue (Old New Synagogue – yes, that is the name!) in the Jewish Quarter to the most expensive street in Prague, we walked back to Old Town Square to glance inside Church of Our Lady before Tyn before heading towards New Prague, and a glance at a Cubism house, The Black Madonna House by Josef Gocar.

Cubism. Gothic. Baroque. Art Nouveau. Renaissance. Neo-Classical. It’s all here, in Prague! Prague + Amazing architecture = something I would never have guessed in a thousand years.

The walking tour looped through the Old Town Square several times before we left it – for the last time – and headed towards Wenceslas Square, and possibly the weirdest statue I have ever seen in my life, St. Wenceslas riding an upside down horse by David Cerny inside the Lucerna Palace – which oddly enough is made of foam!

Cool. Right?

The sun was hot and high in the sky as we walked from Wenceslas Square towards a tram station, and then onto Ss Cyril and Methodius Cathedral for a sit on the steps (it was closed), and a history lesson about the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei Reinhard Heydrich. Interesting, and somber. It was one hell of a way to wrap up a tour, well, technically we stopped at the Dancing House, but my mind was still on the steps of the Ss Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. I cannot begin to comprehend what life was like in Europe during WWII. When I think of the things the Jewish people had to endure, my heart sinks and tears well up in my eyes. It’s simply unfathomable.

Four hours seemed to be just right. When I woke up on the morning of the tour I was feeling a little under the weather, but I decided to ignore it and go out. I’m glad I did, the tour was fabulous, but after 3.5 hours my body was definitely feeling it. When we stopped in a pub after viewing The Dancing House, I immediately ordered bacon and onion mashed potatoes. I needed something that would feel good in my throat, and fill my stomach a little.

We sat as a group, all four of us, and chatted about the tour, Prague, and the city’s history. It was a great way to wrap up the tour.

Do you like to explore the history of a new city, or are you more into hitting the hotspots?


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  • Rodrigo

    July 26, 2012

    Formally the entrance of the synagogue is allowed to all, yet in fact it is very difficult to enter, especially during religious ceremonies. Officially explained as a safety measure, as precaution to the ever impending anti-Jewish terrorism, it is more effectively – despite denials – the result of the Roman Jews’ convincement to have to defend their Jewish identity (“Zehut”), and thus their cultural diversity, which makes them discreetly and meticulously keep non-Jews at a distance. To a lesser extent, it is also a reaction to the interfering pressure of the modern estate market, which causes the decrease of the Jewish population in the quarter. Last but not least, some of the custodians of the temple (“Shammash”) are rude and whimsical, and they might turn away even Jews with very flimsy excuses. Practically, only the guided tour of both the synagogue and the museum is possible, after ceremony hours (entrance 7.5 Euro).

  • August 24, 2012

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve always loved the ancient buildings in Prague and their rich architectural history. The period of time that Prague rose to dominance is truly expressed in their extremely baroque buildings.

    I now you wrote briefly on the astronomical clock, but I was wondering if you could expand on how it actually does work, and what it is tracking.

    Thanks again!

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