Vodnik
Vodnik
1Vodnik the water sprite: Vodník the mischievous character of Czech folk lore has for centuries captured the imaginations of storytellers and artists. A water dweller, his statue sits nonchalantly under Prague’s Charles Bridge amidst the rushing Vltava river, and is distinguished by his traditionally watery apparel: a green-tinged tangled beard, frog-like face and scaly body. But though he is often dubbed ‘grandfather’ locally, do not be deceived! Vodník is told to have a wicked streak and when angry, will wreak havoc: breaking dams, washing away water-mills, drowning local people and their livestock and dragging them to become slaves in his underwater dwelling. The curious creature is famously depicted in Antonin Dvorak’s symphonic poem Vodník (1896), a piece inspired by the water-sprite.

Three violins house sign
Three violins house sign
2Decorative house signs: It’s easy to forget to look up as you walk through a busy city, but in Prague, it’s not just church spires and towers you’ll be missing. Ancient houses across the city show the mark of their original inhabitants above the door, in painted frescos and reliefs that once served a similar purpose as house numbers do now. In many cases, the meanings of the signs’ symbols have been long forgotten, yet others remain clear: the family of instrument makers who once lived in the U tří houslí on Neruda Street is represented by three violins, whilst the golden goblet sign on the same street indicates the former home of a jeweller.

Statue of Hanging Man by David Cerny
Statue of Hanging Man by David Cerny
3The Hanging Man: Look skywards and you'll catch another intriguing sight. The unique sculpture suspended above the streets in the Old Town depicts psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, hanging by a hand and pondering whether or not to let go. It is an unexpected and disturbing tribute to the theorist, born in Freiburg, now part of the Czech Republic.

 

 

Grand Cafe Orient with Black Madonna
Grand Cafe Orient with Black Madonna
4The Grand Cafe Orient: Squeezed between buildings of every imaginable period is this imposing terracotta coloured edifice, as fine an example of cubist architecture as you will see anywhere. The Cafe, housed within the 'House of the Black Madonna' opened in 1912 but was closed a decade later when its unique cubist style fell out of fashion. Try their specialty, a traditional Czech cake called 'Kubistický věneček', best translated as 'cubist wreath'.

Canaletto's 'River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day' © Lobkowicz collections
Canaletto's 'River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day'
© Lobkowicz collections
5Canaletto's views of London: The Lobkowicz Palace’s collection offers a fascinating portal into the family’s remarkable contribution to the arts and culture over the past centuries. Not only do its 22 galleries contain masterpieces by Breughel, Canaletto and Velazquez, but also on display are several original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart, for whom the family acted as patron. Indeed, Beethoven dedicated his Eroica Symphony to Prince Lobkowicz, in addition to his 4th and 5th symphonies. Amongst the family’s collection of artworks, Canaletto’s two fine depictions of London stand out: The Thames on Lord Mayor's Day (1748) and The River Thames looking towards Westminster from Lambeth, (1746-7); the most complete available record of how 18th century London looked.

Spanish Synagogue © Jewish Museum Collections
Spanish Synagogue
© Jewish Museum Collections
6The Spanish Synagogue: Built in Prague in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer ‘the Old Shul’, the Spanish Synagogue is recognised as the most beautiful synagogue in Europe. Its remarkable design by Vojtech Ignaz Ullmann evidences the strong influence of Moorish architecture popular at the time, featuring stylized Islamic motifs around the walls, doors and gallery balustrades. Every internal surface is intricately decorated, and is displayed in magnificent condition thanks to the building’s extensive restoration in the 1990s. Today, the synagogue is integrated into the Jewish Museum, and also functions as a concert hall.

Prague Castle Mosaic
Prague Castle Mosaic
7St. Vitus Cathedral's Mosaic: Located on the south facade of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle, The Last Judgement is considered the most important exterior monumental medieval mosaic north of the Alps. Spread across 84 square meters, the mosaic and depicts the Last Judgement in triptych form. It was completed in 1371 at the request of Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, who, during his reign, made Prague the empire's center of power, religion, and knowledge. In total, thirty-one shades of coloured glass, plus gilded tesserae, can be found in the one million glass pieces that compose the mosaic. When it was first erected, the entire background of the mosaic was gilded, giving the southern entrance to the cathedral its name - The Golden Gate.

Alfons Mucha Window at St. Vitus Cathedral © Alison Karlin
Alfons Mucha Window at St. Vitus Cathedral
© Alison Karlin
8Mucha's stained glass window: Following major reconstruction work at St. Vitus Cathedral in 1929, Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau stained glass depiction of St. Wenceslas was installed, in the north nave in 1931. The window brims with greens and blues, framing the young Wenceslas with this grandmother St. Ludmila in the centre. Around them, Mucha presents episodes from the lives of St Cyril and St Methodius, who spread the Christian faith through Slavic Europe.

 

Estates Theatre © Alison Karlin
Estates Theatre
© Alison Karlin
9Estates Theatre: Opened in 1783, the Estates Theatre is Prague’s oldest theatre and its finest neo-classical building. It proudly maintains its strong affiliation with Mozart, having housed the world premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787 directed by the composer himself. It played to a packed and appreciative house – a tradition which lives on in the theatre’s regular productions of the work. The Estates Theatre has been redeveloped multiple times, and the latest reconstruction project was completed in 1991. Not uncommonly its history is surrounded by tales and rumour: though its original wood interiors remain, as well as a replica of the 1874 chandelier, the 20th century installation of the furnishings is said to have been more politically motivated. Reluctant to furnish the theatre in red (now synonymous with the discredited communist movement), it is reputed that the Czech Prime Minister’s wife suggested the gorgeous white-gold-blue scheme as it exists today: elegant and understated.

Green 'giraffe' piano © Czech Museum of Music
Green 'giraffe' piano
© Czech Museum of Music
10The Czech Museum of Music's 'Giraffe' piano: Space-saving and elegant, the upright and appropriately named ‘giraffe piano’ was a musical invention that failed to sustain its popular status beyond its 19th century origins. Developed in the early 1800s to appeal to the emerging middle class family and their more moderate-sized drawing room, its case folds vertically behind the keyboard. The Czech Museum of Music is home to an excellently preserved example of a green ‘giraffe’ piano.