Tuesday, May 24, 2005

PRAGUE 1: New Town

When I did my research on Prague last week before our trip, I found out there are four main sections of the city around which tours are devised: New Town, Old Town, Jewish Quarter and Prague Castle. So that's how I'm organizing this weekend!

Since we stayed in New Town, "one hundred steps away from Wenceslas Square" (according to our hotel's brochure), that's where I'll start. Come to think of it, our 4-hour "all-in-one" Insider Tour walk also started here at the square and followed the same route I'm taking, so I'm in good company. Wenceslas Square, which used to be the horse market, is New Town. At the top end, the National Museum, built in 1890, spreads its wings across the breadth of the square. That's a bit of a misnomer since it's not a square at all but is 825 yards long and 65 yards wide, lined with hotels, restaurants, clubs, and shops--the consumer side of the city (thus New?!).

In the shadow of the Museum, St. Wenceslas sits astride his steed since 1912, carefully watching over the street below. Too bad they're working on the statue (cleaning it?) because we're missing the Czech patron saints who stand with him on the pedestal below. Sadly, this is the the same "Good King" Wenceslas of our Christmas carol who was murdered by his brother in 935 (just one of many family feuds) and who was later canonized, becoming Bohemia's best-known patron saint. Interestingly, several countries have Christmas carols about Wenceslas but not the Czech Republic. (Is that like a prophet having no honor in his own country?) Well, at least they have a statue.

In my own time, 1969, the year I was married, a student, Jan Palach, burned himself to death here on the square in protest over Soviet occupation. There are at least 3 markers around the city bearing witness to this event, captured in my photos, so he made his mark, even if he didn't change history/politics at the time.

If you like the hustle and bustle of city life, you'll love New Town-slash-Wenceslas Square. You know me, though. I head straight for Old Town...next post!

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