Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is it about Prague?

Since my return I’ve been pondering just why Prague has so captured my heart and my imagination during my two relatively short visits. It doesn’t have for me the special religious and spiritual attraction of Assisi, though I have found worshipping at Saint Clement’s deeply satisfying.  Neither does it have the profound personal significance of Oxford, where I studied and grew up and fell in love.

Yet Prague shares many of the characteristics which make both Oxford and Assisi so unforgettable. It is ancient and historic and quite extraordinarily beautiful. Its most significant buildings have somehow survived the ravages of time, natural disaster and human conflict and neglect and today, skilfully preserved or restored, they provide a memorable illustration of a thousand years of architectural innovation and genius.

St George's Basilica - C12th Romanesque
Tiny side-street church in the New Town
The Old-New Synagogue - C12th Gothic

Modernist house on the Baba Model Housing Estate 1932
Like Assisi and Oxford, Prague has an importance which stretches far beyond national boundaries, as is shown by the visitors from every part of the world who throng its historic streets.  However, unlike them Prague is a capital city, the seat of government for a nation now making its way in the modern world after the isolation and stagnation of almost half a century of communist rule.

Government building, Prague Castle
Embassy in the Little Quarter

Though its beauty and sense of history are a big part of what fascinates me about Prague, another factor is that it is a city on a human scale. Despite being far larger than Assisi or even Oxford, its historic centre still lends itself to being explored comfortably and pleasurably on foot and alone. It divides very neatly into four main areas – the Old Town, the New Town, the Jewish Quarter and, across the Charles Bridge, the Little Quarter (Mala Strana) and Prague Castle. Each of these has its own distinct personality and a plethora of sites to visit and admire.

Old Town Square

Crowded gravestones in the old Jewish Cemetery

Architecture and trees in the New Town

The ubiquitous tram
In addition, if you want to venture beyond the main tourist haunts, Prague makes it easy by being the proud possessor of an extremely efficient and cheap integrated public transport system. Even a country bumpkin like me had no difficulty whatever in hopping on and off the very regular and frequent trams, buses and metro trains to get to wherever I wanted to go. With their aid and armed with comfortable shoes and a good city guide and map, the whole of Prague is your easily opened oyster.

But Prague is more than simply its historic buildings, however beautiful and numerous they are. It is also a wonderfully green city, full of tree-lined streets and squares, and with a wide variety of lovely parks and public gardens, large and small. This makes it surprisingly easy to move from bustling, crowded streets to find oneself almost or even totally alone in a green space or a tiny, winding lane.

Kampa Park, Little Quarter
The village in the city

C14th Michle Madonna - St Agnes Convent
And when you are tired of discovering the streets and buildings or strolling through the parks, you can explore the superb art-galleries and museums, or go to one of the many concerts which are such a feature of Prague life, or simply sit with a coffee or some great (and cheap) Czech beer and watch the world go by.

Anyone who reads my blog is likely to have spotted that I am a country girl at heart.  I have visited a fair number of cities and lived in a couple for short periods when I was young, but I could never imagine myself actually living happily in a city until I visited Prague. If any city could change this country mouse into a town mouse, it would be Prague. I don’t think it will happen, but it’s interesting to realise that the little nugget of potential is there. 


  1. Oh that really makes me want to see it. Thank you.

  2. Hello :) Quite a few of my friends have visited Prague on a number of occasions and say that I would love it. I have never had the opportunity of going, but I would like to. It looks lovely! I am not really a city fan - so the fact you say you could live there (despite being a country girl) - encourages me!
    Thanks for sharing the pictures and your thoughts.


  3. Hello Perpetua:
    We have absolutely loved your 'tour' of Prague, a city which we still cannot believe we have yet to visit even though it is a near neighbour.

    We can completely identify with your liking the scale of the city, something we find particularly attractive about Budapest. To be able to walk around and see so much or be efficiently transported by tram and bus makes exploring so much more pleasurable than in many other larger and more 'anonymous' cities.

    We are so pleased to read that you enjoyed your time there and feel certain that a return will be almost inevitable.

  4. Thank you Perpetua, for this virtual visit of a place I've always wanted to see. I have so enjoyed wandering the streets (and riding the tram) with you today and might go back again quite soon!
    Whatever 'it' is, some places just have 'it' in spades, don't they? Prague is clearly one of these places.

  5. Hello Perpetua,

    Your reasons for enjoying being in Prague concur very much with a post I wrote on my own blog at the beginning of this year In particular, whilst the citizens suffered much during the time of the Nazi occupation, the city itself experienced very little physical damage save for the odd stray bomb. And since the Velvet Revolution of nearly 22 years ago, a great deal of effort and money has been put into the restoration of its magnificent architecture.

    As you know, I spent more than 15 years living in the Oxfordshire countryside before coming here just over 3 years ago. And apart from 11 months living in London back in 1979-80, Prague is by far the largest city I've ever lived in. However, like you I enjoy all that the city has to offer which you so clearly describe and illustrate. And not only the green spaces and trees in the city, but also the close proximity to the countryside, make it a joy to live here.

  6. Thanks for that, Rosie. It's what I was aiming for when I wrote it and I'm glad it worked :-)

  7. Hello Jo and thanks for visiting. Like your friends, I'm quite sure you would love Prague. I have yet to meet anyone who has visited it and not wanted to return. I was genuinely surprised by the realisation that I had at last found a city i could live in - most unexpected :-)

  8. Hello Jane and Lance and thank you for your kind comments. You really must get on that train and visit Prague before long. I can promise you the experience will be well worth the journey. This was my second visit and if anything I enjoyed myself even more than last year and that's saying something!

  9. You're very welcome, Annie :-) It's such a pleasure to introduce others to a city I like so much and given the number of photos I took, I may well make a return visit in a future post.

    You're quite right - when 'it' was handed out, Prague certainly got more than its fair share!

  10. Hi Ricky and glad to find that my own experience reinforces what you wrote. Thanks for the reminder that Prague was little affected physically by the last war - I've tweaked my post to reflect that more clearly.

    I don't have personal experience of the ease of access from Prague to the countryside, but know from what you have both said that this is one of the many reasons you enjoy living there.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful Prague experience, Perpetua! It looks beautiful and I would dearly love to visit sometime. I've heard many testimonials to the city's beauty and historic significance, but you really made it come alive in this post!

  12. You're very welcome, Kathy :-) I love the city so much that it's a pleasure to write about it and let others know just how beautiful it is. You would have a wonderful time there if you ever manage to make the trip.

  13. Thank you for all your lovely comments on my recent posts, Perpetua - it's nice to know you've been reading!
    As for Mateo and Harry - I did a post several months ago that might make you smile too.


  14. What a super tour of Prague...I felt most involved in made me sorry I didn't go there while in Europe.
    I didn't think I could take to city living either...until visiting family in Brussels...which took me over completely.
    And now I'm going to try a foot in San Jose... and will try to put up some photographs...given encouragement by your photographs of Prague.

  15. Thanks, Annie. I did promise to catch up once I got home and am gradually doing so.

  16. Very glad it worked for you, Fly. Prague is such a fantastic place and my feelings for it obviously came through. Isn't it interesting when a city somehow gets hold of one out of the blue?

    Please do tells us more about San Jose - with photos of course :-)

  17. My favourite part of Prague was wandering down all those little alleyways that branch off from the main streets. And wandering through Mala Strana on frosty October evenings. We went there last October!

  18. Oh, I agree, Anita. Beautiful as the main streets and squares are, they are usually so crowded that it is bliss to turn off into the quiet side lanes. Mala Strana is my favourite area of central Prague and I think I'll be doing a separate post on it later on.

  19. I have never visited Prague but this makes me want to! It looks a beautiful city with a rich culture. One day....!

  20. Thanks, Sian. That's how I felt for a long time, until I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity to visit. I do hope you get the chance to go one day. You would absolutely love it.


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