Welcome Centre takes a tour of the Castle District

On Saturday the 6th of April Welcome Centre for International Scholars invited researchers and PhD students to a tour of the Castle District (Hradčany) with the expert guide Jiřina Posledníková. We got together at the stop Pohořelec at 10 am and admired the statues of Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, imperial mathematicians, master and teacher. What is fascinating is that the most significant works of Kepler were published after the death of Brahe due to the fact that they went against the beliefs of his master. After this, we started our tour and made our first stop near the house By Three Lilies (U tří lilií) which appears in the eponymous short story by Jan Neruda in the collection Tales from the Lesser Town (Povídky malostranské) and talks about a seductress with questionable morals.

Then we went on to the Strahov Monastery, one of the oldest in the region. The monastery was founded and is still run by the Norbertines, i.e. the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré. Founded after the invitation of the Premyslid Duke Vladislaus II of Bohemia, the monastery was the centre of the Christian mission in the then Slavic Pagan Bohemia. A monastical beer brewery and the Strahov Library are also part of the monastery premises. Posledníková told us about the beauty of the internal architecture of the library and also the history of the bookcases. After getting seized by the Nazi and Communist regimes, ownership of the library and the monastery were returned to the Norbertines shortly after the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1989. Besides the parts of the library accessible only to academics with prior permission, the library can be visited by tourists as well.

Right next to the Strahov Monastery is the Walkway of Raoul Wallenberg, where we stood to look at the city and the Petřín Lookout Tower. This smaller Czech imitation of the Eiffel Tower in Paris was constructed according to the plans of Gustav Eiffel himself which tourists from Prague received from the French architect after they praised his tower at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 while most of the other participants were not impressed by the modern iron structure. The construction for the tower in Prague started in March of 1890 and finished in 4 months. What helped was the fact that the parts of the tower were made mechanically in ČKD factories and only assembled on the hill.

We then passed the Swedish Embassy in Prague, a building where once lived the world-famous Czech car racer Eliška Junková, the fastest woman in the world during the 1920s. She was admired so much by her husband Čeněk Junek, that Junek became a racer as well. In 1928 Čeněk lost his life in a racing accident during Grand Prix Germany in the Nürburgring circuit and as a result of that, Eliška lost her interest in continuing her racing career and decided to take a trip to Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka. After her return, she moved from her former flat to the attic of this building where she lived until she got too old to take the stairs and was offered by the Swedish Embassy to move to a lower floor, where she eventually lived until her death. Rumours say that Jaroslav Seifert, the only Czech writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, received it owing to Eliška’s good relations with the Swedish Ambassador.

The next stop was the Czernin Palace (Černínský Palác). Built in the baroque style by the chief architect Francesco Caratti and builder Count Humprecht Jan Czernin of Chudenitz, the Czernin Palace serves as the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czechia and earlier Czechoslovakia. Mrs Posledníková was narrating the mysterious circumstances of the death of the democratic minister Jan Masaryk after he refused to step down from the Czech parliament, when she was interrupted by the sound of the play about the life of Jesus for the general public. The play was organised by the Prague Loreta across the street. Loreta, like other Loretan churches around the world, holds an imitation of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, which was, according to the legend, brought to Italy from Nazareth by angels. In the tower above the Prague Loreta one can see old bells which haven’t been changed since their installation.

After we took a small break and ordered some goodies at the Café Nový Svět. We got back together in a children’s hidden playground and enjoyed the spring sun. Mrs Posledníková told us about the history of the New World neighbourhood, how it was a place where once lived the poorest in Prague but at the same time dreamed of the greatest riches and showed these dreams through their golden house signs. We also saw the timbre house U Raka, which is unfortunately just an imitation of the original house. It stands across the road to the castle's outer walls. Mrs Posledníková mentioned the Swedish invasion of Prague during the 17th century with the help of Ernest von Ottowald, a Bavarian soldier and officer of the Imperial Army who was denied his pension after he got injured in a battle. We also looked at a private fire safety box and the House by the Golden Gryphon where the aforementioned Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe lived.

In the end, we walked to the Prague Castle and looked at the Change of Guards at 1 pm. Then we bade our farewells to Mrs Posledníková and went our separate ways to enjoy the beautiful afternoon in different parts of Prague.

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