Charles Bridge at Night
If you haven't already done so here in this famously historic city, the Charles Bridge is a good place to go and let down those pesky mental blinders that keep you focused only on the present moment. Imagine the lives that have come and gone on this short span of stone. Run in the footsteps of the Czech townspeople as they battled the Swedish right here on this very bridge, in 1648.
Watch at the summer solstice and notice that, when standing at the eastern bridge tower, the sun drops right down over the tomb of kings in the Prague Castle. In the photo the eastern tower is the one that's farther away, with clouds behind it. The western one shows you two towers, one is the last remnant of the Judith bridge which predated the Charles.
This is not an accident -- astronomy and alignment of buildings was absolutely essential in manifesting God's plans on earth, back in the 14th century. Call it harmony of the stones, call it the divine right of kings, call it building better than you know. Call it whatever you want, it still won't come running. It's only a bridge.
If you're sensitive to the religious world, take a moment at St. John of Nepomuk's statue and re-live his fatal leap from the bridge, assisted by the drunken fury of a certain King Wenceslas. Rub the brass doggie for good luck, it will protect your secrets. This statue will be on your left, heading across towards the eastern end. Look for the seven brass stars embedded in the railing, which appeared in the skies overhead on the night he was martyred.
Have you been served the slice of hard boiled egg on the side of your plate yet, with a traditional czech meal? Legend has it that those eggs are a reminder of the collective effort in building the bridge. The masons needed thousands of eggs to strengthen the mortar mix used to hold these massive stones together. Apparently adding eggs gives it the consistency it needs to stick in place while hardening, I'm not making this up, and you can still find traces of egg proteins if you chemically analyze the stuff. It's been done, this is for real. People brought them by the bucketload from miles around.
For all my numerologists out there, the birthdate of this bridge, which happens to be the oldest one in the city, makes a nice little triangle of odd numbers reading 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1. The year was 1357, the date was 9th of July, at 5:31am when they laid the first stone. Talk about urban planning! Odd numbers were thought to have greater stability than even ones, maybe because they resist being divided in half? Does this make architectural harmony? Well, the bridge did just celebrate its 650th anniversary in the summer of 2007AD (it was bangin'!)
...and consider what they did with those numbers! 5:31am on that exact date and year is the ONLY POSSIBLE 60 SECOND PERIOD IN ALL OF THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR when that alignment of numbers can show up. Who says slot machines are a new invention?
The Stare Mesto side of the bridge is really pandemonium compared to the Mala Strana side. Spend an afternoon in > and relax among giant pear trees and velvet lawns. Find the hidden garden, feed some goldfish and take pictures of meandering peacocks. It all awaits you.
And don't let me forget, the bridge is a number one spot for pickpockets, so just stay real aware of who's nearby.
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Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has long attracted artists and wandering spirits, although it was originally inhabited by prehistoric fish. Their inland sea filled the basin contained by the Tatras and Carpathian mountains, but when it eventually dried up they were forced to yield the terrain to dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and Neanderthals.
In human times the Celtic tribes came to reside here, leaving remains dating back to the 4th Century B.C. Their tribal name, Boii, gives the root of the word "Bohemia". The three separate territories of Bohemia, Silesia and Moravia now make up the modern Czech Republic, which split from Slovakia in the 1993 "Velvet Divorce."
Thanks to its enigmatic founder, the city of Prague derives a magnetic appeal for visionaries, scientists and astronomers. The historical figure credited with the launch of Prague is Princess Libuse, a visionary prophet and warrior who once stood atop the hill at Vysehrad and made the prophecy as follows,
"I see a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars!"
This indeed came to pass after she took Otokar Premysl to be her husband and King, launching the Premyslid dynasty, and leaving it to rule for the first four hundred years of Czech history. When the last Premyslid king, Wenceslas III, died without producing a male heir, the fourteen year-old John of Luxembourg came to take the throne of the Czech lands.
Hot-headed John died in battle, but his diplomatic son Charles IV inherited the throne and, through keen multi-lingual savvy, managed to both keep it and earn the title "Father of the Czech Nation."
Charles IV was the first of the Holy Roman Emperors here; he ruled during the height of Prague's elegance and splendour. This is the man to know if you want to understand Prague's layout. He sponsored the construction of such landmarks as the Charles Bridge, the Hunger Wall and St. Vitus' Cathedral, as well as personally designing the neighborhood called New Town (Nove Mesto) which has for its center Karlovo Namesti or Charles Square.
The city displays every branch of architecture across the last thousand years, including Cubism, a style which you will be hard-pressed to find applied to buildings anywhere else in the world. Beyond the stunning visual makeup of the city, there is a wealth of nightlife and entertainment, beginning with the legendary concert halls including the Rudolfinum, National Theater, Estates Theater and the Municipal House.
After investigating the Castle and Bridge, which are the most heavily-trafficked tourist areas, take a look around Zizkov and Letna, two of the cooler neighborhoods for bars and restaurants.
However quiet it may seem after ten PM, Prague is alive and throbbing in an endless array of basement bars, pubs, clubs, discos and pool halls waiting to be discovered by the intrepid subterranean adventurer. To get an idea of what lies in store, check out the panoramas for Chateau and Palac Akropolis and when you're out and about, make sure you look for the stairs down to the cellar.
Apart from shopping, eating, drinking and wearing out your digital camera, delve into the rich green carpet of Prague's parks, many of which lie only walking-minutes from the city center.
Text by Steve Smith.