A unique combination of artistic styles is probably the main reason why Prague is so impressive. We walk through the city, perceiving its picturesque streets – the golden city, with hundred spires, magical, the heart of Europe and Rome of the North – all these names have been given to Prague. The city seems like a chaos made of sandstone, granite and bricks, however, this chaos is intangibly perfectly organized; the interconnected walls suggest a bunch of crystals or wisps of nests, Gothic profiles are in perfect harmony with Baroque curves, stone saints guard the pilgrim’s every step; genius loci has been here for ages almost undisturbed by the vibrant and busy nature of modern times…
The city’s magic lies not only in its landscape setting – extraordinarily beautiful in Prague’s case and unique in Europe – but particularly in the hundreds of years development of streets and public spaces, fortifications, church compounds, aristocratic residences and townsmen’s houses as well as dwellings of craftsmen and peasants. For long periods Prague used to be a quiet provincial town – or rather a small town according to modern criteria – in the mid-18th century there had been only 60,000 people in 3,100 houses living in the Prague quarters and even then Prague was the largest town in the Czech lands and the fifth most populated town in the Habsburg monarchy. Quiet periods were followed by periods of feverish building activity; particularly when Prague temporarily became the Emperor’s residential town. Place of residence of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire must have been representative enough to reflect the importance and splendour of the monarch’s power, the residence should have been a picture of heavenly Jerusalem, a symbol of ideal harmony and perfection to which all people’s efforts was directed. The whole Emperor’s court and ambassadors from neighbouring countries followed the Emperor and came to live in Prague, excellent architects and builders followed as well as outstanding artists and craftsmen all came to Prague to win commissions from the state, nobility or townsmen. Life in Prague became a prestigious matter for many and the town’s significance flourished.
However, the breathtaking image of the Prague centre had ironically been also formed by several catastrophic fires which erased whole quarters - their ruins became the new building sites for more opulent and modern buildings, both sacral and secular– and the town had risen again as the legendary Phoenix from the ashes of burnt places; tragic nights illuminated with flames had been eventually forgotten, replaced with new events, good or bad. Perhaps it was a sort of a self-cleansing process for the city, forcing the older epochs to make space for newer and better quarters, palaces and monasteries.
Over the centuries the oldest Prague has left something very important for us – the basic layout of the streets, public areas, housing quarters and religious places. How many pedestrians hurrying in the streets of the Old Town, Lesser Town or Prague Castle realize that their steps follow the old paths leading to Vltava’s fords and the first Prague bridges, to marketplaces and residences of the rich and powerful, to the townsmen’s quarters and settlements of craftsmen and peasants? If we, for some strange reason, find ourselves in the Gothic or Renaissance Prague, we would probably get confused a little at first, but shortly afterwards we would recognize Celetná Street and the Old Town and Lesser Town Squares, Nerudova Street and Úvoz, Pohořelec and Hradčanské Square, not to mention the Prague Castle. Prague map would be the same, only filled in with different buildings…
Even the last major change, the Baroque reconstruction of Prague after the battle at the White Mountain, had been partially fuelled by political events – reformation was finally defeated and the winning side of the Habsburg dynasty, resting on the shoulders of the Catholic Church, rebuilt the town to reflect its power and wealth. Spacious buildings and compounds built in Prague, always during the times of a happy constellation and prosperity, have always been and are admired despite all the progress in technology and architecture over the years.
It is one of the greatest ironies of life that Prague’s beauty, as we know it, is the result of an overall decline following the Baroque surge – the town fell into sleepiness and calmness of a provincial centre, far away from hustle and bustle of Vienna and the imperial court of the Habsburg family. A new impulse, however, was brought by the Czech nation’s emancipation struggles in the second half of 19th century, unfortunately culminating in a plan to redevelop the old quarters. Fortunately enough the plan had been implemented only partially – even so certain parts of the Old Town disappeared. The unfortunate redevelopment affair also had some positive impact – the necessity to preserve the monuments of the past for present and future generations had been urgently demanded. The new concept therefore had preserved Prague in a shape admired by thousands of visitors from the Czech Republic and abroad every year. The waves of rises and falls transformed Prague into a unique mosaic of arts with various epochs complementing each other in harmony. Therefore it would be a shame not to try to unveil a little the mysteries of the old capital lying on the banks of the Vltava River.


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