Prague

In the valley of the Moldau, a beautiful tributary of the Elbe, in a
setting of hills clothed with pines, lies the old capital of Bohemia.
Great mountain barriers enclose an undulating and wild tract, with
Prague in its centre. In the valleys there is verdure, and the fields
are well tilled. The river flows through the heart of the city, broad
and powerful, yet navigable. Very delightful and inviting are the banks
of the Moldau on a summer’s evening when Prague gives itself to music
and idling. Handsome bridges span the stream, and through their arches
glide the great rafts of timber and the fishermen’s boats.

Viewed from one of the hills of the environs, the city is a scene of
colour, with spires and mediæval gables, green open spaces, and narrow
lanes. Prague is one of the most historically interesting cities in
Europe, and its aspect to-day still suggests the Middle Ages, though in
spirit its natives are progressive. The atmosphere of olden days
remains. There are many buildings here with romantic histories, and
instructive works of art are stored within them, though Prague is not
rich in pictures.

Let me compress some of the history of the town into a few lines before
we inspect the monuments.

One of the first rulers of Bohemia was a woman, Libussa, who probably
built a city on the Hradcany Hill in the eighth century. Under the pious
King Wenceslas the city became a stronghold of the Christian faith, and
in his time the first cathedral was built. When Charles IV. was made
ruler of Bohemia, the city of Prague was enlarged and strongly
fortified. The university was then instituted, and there were many
guilds of craftsmen within the walls.

The prosperity of Prague at this period seems to have brought about
those conditions which aroused the reforming zeal of Huss, who found the
people addicted to pleasure and demoralised by luxury. Attacks had been
made upon the Roman Catholic creed by Mathew of Cracow, and other
reformers before Huss and Jerome of Prague, who were followers of
Wicliff.

 

Huss was an ardent nationalist, and a hater of Germany; and there is
no doubt that his martyrdom was the result of his political sympathies,
as well as of his indictment of the corruption of religion. This great
preacher lived in Prague, and thundered his monitions from the pulpit of
a chapel. His teaching was a defence of Wicliff, and the reform of the
Church, and for this he was excommunicated.

Wicliff’s works were thrown into the flames. Huss was forced to fly from
Prague, taking shelter in the house of one of his followers in the
country.

Through a treacherous invitation to Constance, the reformer fell into a
snare prepared for him. He was cast into prison, and before long he was
taken to the stake, and burnt to death for his heresies.

The execution of the reformer of Prague aroused the deepest resentment
among the citizens. This indignation was the first spark of the great
flame that spread through the land, causing a religious war, and the
siege of Prague by Sigismund. This king favoured the papal authority,
and so rendered himself unpopular among the citizens during his brief
reign.

One of the monarchs of Bohemia who aided in the extension and the
adornment of Prague was Rudolph. He was an encourager of learning and
the arts, and a dabbler in science. Rudolph was succeeded by Matthias,
whose reign was greatly disturbed by religious strife in the city.

During the Thirty Years’ War, Prague was besieged by a Swedish force,
and a part of the city fell into the hands of the invaders. The history
of the city is largely a chronicle of combats, for it was constantly
assailed by armies and disturbed within. Protestantism received its
deathblow in Prague, in 1621, after the great battle of the White
Mountain.

The Austrian War of Succession was scarcely at an end before the
outbreak of the Seven Years’ War of Frederick the Great, when the famous
“Battle of Prague” was fought. We now enter upon a more tranquil period
of Bohemian history.

Writing of the architects of Prague, in “Cities,” Mr Arthur Symons
asserts that “there is something in their way of building, fierce,
violent, unrestrained, like the savagery of their fighting, of their
fighting songs, of their fighting music.” One of the most interesting of
the sacred buildings is the Gothic Cathedral of St Vitus, designed by
Petrlik. The decoration is still unfinished, but the edifice has
beautiful slender spires, and an ornate tower. The chapels of the
Cathedral contain several memorials of note, but there are no paintings
of great artistic value. Several sovereigns and their consorts are
buried here.

The Tyn Church has a very fine front. Within is the grave of Tycho
Brahe. A church of a later period is St Nicholas. The Strahov Monastery
has been reconstructed repeatedly since the days when it was founded in
the twelfth century. A “Madonna” by Albrecht Durer is one of the
treasures of the monastery. There is a very richly painted and carved
ceiling in the library. The Capuchin Monastery, and the Emaus Monastery,
are both of historic importance, and the Church of St George is one of
the handsomest in the city.

Palaces abound in Prague, and one of the most characteristic is that of
Count Clam-Gallas, with a noble gateway, decorated with statuary. On the
Hradcany is the Castle, which was the residence of many of Bohemia’s
kings and queens. It is approached by two fine courts and an ancient
doorway; the older part of the building dating from the period of
Vladislav, whose magnificent hall is of great architectural interest.
There are several more old palaces in Prague, such as the Kinsky and the
Morzin, which all invite a lengthy inspection.

All the bridges spanning the river are beautifully planned. One of the
finest is the Karl Bridge, dating from the fourteenth century, and
adorned by many images of saints and heroes.