Prague: Day 3

A rainy day

This day dawned gray and miserable. I paid a visit to the swans guarding the Vltava and then made my way across Charles Bridge into The Old Town. I'd noticed the night before that the statues and the gates on either side of the bridge were covered in spiders sitting in their webs. If you are a fan of the author Steven Erickson, you might get a sense of what he described when he wrote about the spiders of Kartool in The Bone Hunters. Or if you are a Tolkien fan, perhaps its the equivalent of an urban Mirkwood.

St. John of Nepomuk, who was martyred by being thrown off Charles Bridge for allegedly refusing to break the seal of confession.

Looking through the Old Town Gate from the end of Charles Bridge.

Spider encrusted detail on the Old Town Gate. Not sure what's happening to this poor rabbit.

I wandered through Old Town Square, past the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and then through the Ungelt. The Ungelt is where Tyn gets her name. Tyn means "enclosure" and, in the 14th century, this walled courtyard was where merchants from all over Europe and Asia set up shop. Legend has it that a ghost of a young Turkish merchant haunts the courtyard in the night. He murdered the woman he loved on her wedding day when she married another man. Now he finds no rest.

The Church of St. James

By accident, I arrived at the Church of St. James in the middle of morning mass (it being Sunday). This is a really good way to get a free organ concert. The music was amazing. This church was originally a Gothic Minorite monastary founded by Wenceslas I in 1232. After a fire, it was rebuilt in 1689 in the Baroque style.

Yes, that is a real human hand.
St. James is also known as The Church of the Black Hand. As you walk into the church look up to your right. A dessicated human hand hangs off a change. Yes, its a real human hand. It has hung there for more than 400 years. Allegedly, a thief broke into the church and tried to steal jewels adorning the Madonna on the high alter. The statue purportedly grabbed the thief and wouldn't let go. He was found the next morning still held prisoner by the statue. Monks cut off his arm to free him. There is an element of truth to this story as the punishment for thievery during this time was to have one's right hand cut off.

There is also another legend associated with this church. Count Vratislav of Mitrovice (1700s) was allegedly buried alive in his own tomb, which is an amazing example of baroque design. When the tomb was opened to bury other family members his body was found sitting outside of his coffin.

After this I headed over to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. This Gothic cathedral was begun in 1365. It also was a main Hussite church in the 15th and 16th centuries. It had several architects. If you look closely at the towers you'll notice they are not symmetrical. One is bigger than the other. Mistake? Perhaps. The left tower is now known as Eve and the larger, right-hand tower is now called Adam. Tycho Brahe is also buried here. It is interesting that the entry to the church is through an alley between two palaces.Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside.

At this point it started raining so I fled to The Museum of Decorative Arts. Like the Museum of Decorative Arts in Budapest, this too has these great cabinets you can pull out drawers from and poke around at amazing examples of textiles, jewelry, watchmaking, and printmaking.

The next place I went is one of my favorite places I've visited in Prague: Speculum Alchemie. This is the alchemy museum of Prague. It gives you access to an underground alchemy laboratory that was discovered after the floods in the early 2000s. Underground tunnels leading to Prague Castle, The Old Town Hall, and outside the Powder Gate were also discovered. This house is one of the oldest in Prague and it is known that this is where Rudolph II established his alchemists' laboratory. You can also buy tinctures based on four extant recipes from the time.

This sinister looking lamp is actually a ring used by alchemists to focus energy. While the figures on it look devilish, it is believed that this is Noah, who was an important figure in alchemy.

Going down to the laboratory.

Part of the alchemists laboratory. The passage in the back leads to Prague Castle.

Part of the alchemists laboratory.

Part of the alchemists laboratory.

Supplies were dropped from the surface through the opening on the right.

An understanding of herb lore was essential to the process.

Since the Church frowned on alchemical practices alchemists had to be self-sufficient. Here in this space they create glass masks to protect their faces. Modern chemists can understand such a need!

Elixer of Drinkable Gold, a symbol of perfection and immortality. Contains 77 herbs. The herbs are now grown by monks outside Prague.

Then I got lost in the Jewish Quarter, or Josef, whose history is better read here. I won't be able to the story of this quarter justice.  I managed to make it into the Old Jewish Cemetery, only to have it really downpour. Thus I fled and dove into the first restaurant I found. There I ate lunch and drank tea and tried to dry out.

Outside the Old Jewish Cemetery.

There are more than 12000 tombstones.

Banded snail on headstone.

Banded snail in Old Jewish Cemetery.

Franz Kafka statue.

Then I went across the street and wandered Vajanovy Garden. This is where on the first day I found peacocks wandering under fruit trees and near where I saw a drunk man walk into a moving car and walk away laughing.

Fruit trees in the city.



Jackdaw, member of the crow family

Other Places: Kampa Island locks. The locks are attached to the bridge by couples to signal their undying love for each other.