8 Historical Sites to See in Prague
I recently announced my move to Germany and as a result, I am naturally planning on seeing every and any corner of Europe while I am there. I can't wait to bury my head in the proverbial sand of European history! Is it September yet?!
Prague, Czechia is high on my list for so many reasons. I am really interested in all of the Slavic countries. Prague is a beautiful city, and has a powerful & painful history from World War II. I am excited to see the beautiful architecture, hear the language, and get a feeling of what Prague is really like. I plan on going in the winter (I know, call me brave.)
So, even though I am months away from even setting foot in Germany, much less Czechia, I am far too excited to NOT start planning. Here are some sights I plan to see (and you should too) while I'm in Prague.
1. Prague Castle & Vyšehrad
The Prague Castle is an iconic piece of Prague and it's beautiful skyline.Construction started in the year 870 and it was the seat of power for the kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, presidents of Czechoslovakia and even for the current president of Czechia. It is the largest ancient castle in the world.
It had humble beginnings; the first walled building was the Church of the Virgin Mary in 870. It was continuously added on and fortified through different reigns throughout the centuries.Because of its near continuous additions and reconstructions, it represents nearly every architectural style of the last millennium. Much of the castle is open to the public, including many of the churches, halls, and museums.
The castle is actually a large complex of several other historical and beautiful buildings.
2. Church of Our Lady before Týn
This gothic church is a dominant feature in Prague's old town and gives it the familiar skyline. It was built in the 14th century and has the oldest pipe organ inside. It is an active church to this day.
3. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert
Typically referred to only as Saint Vitus, this cathedral was built around 930 though a majority of it was added on or renovated later. The cathedral is located inside of the Prague Castle complex.
4. National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror
At the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral
I am a huge history nerd with special interest in World War II and World War I and this museum and cathedral shows a part of history that for whatever reason is often not covered (at least in the US).
In World War II, Reinhard Heydrich was a high ranking Nazi official. He was the Senior Group Leader and Chief of Police as well as the Chief of the Reich Security Office, encompassing the Kripo, SD, and Gestapo. He was often called "the man with the iron heart" or "the hangman" but his tactics and brutality would later give him the nickname of the "Butcher of Prague". He is one of the darkest figures in the Nazi regime, helping organize Kristallnacht, organized the Einsatzgruppen, mobilized the SD who deported, abused, and murdered millions, and worked to destroy the Czech resistance once he was appointed to Prague.
Many people are familiar with the French Resistance, the Polish Resistance, Dutch Resistance, and other factions that worked against the Nazis but the Czechoslovakian Resistance is rarely covered or given the credit it deserves. The resistance helped maintain contact between the Czechoslovakian government in exile in London and those on the ground.The Czechoslovakian resistance is remembered on International Students Day in memorial to 1200 students that were deported to concentration camps and 9 murdered student leaders for protesting the Nazi regime.
The Czechoslovakian Resistance was nearing its end by the time the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich was planned. Many in the group fought against the so called Operation Anthropoid in fear. However, it was still carried out and after several mishaps, Heydrich died in hospital.
The conspirators were betrayed by one of their resistance members who gave the Nazis the information for the reward money and the safety of his family. He was brought to justice after the war by the Czechoslovakian government. The rest of the members of the resistance killed themselves to avoid capture and torture in effort to save those that supported them.
The men directly involved in the murder of Heydrich hid out in the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, awaiting papers that would guarantee their safe transport from the country. The priest hid them in the basement of the church. After the torture of a son of one of the deceased members, he gave up the name of the church and the Germans stormed their hideout.
Three of the resistance fighters moved inside the church to guard the crypt from above while those below remained unseen for some time. They were eventually discovered and the Nazis tried to flood them out of the crypt.
The resistance fighters held the church against 750 Gestapo for about 2 hours using only side arms and other small or personal ammunition against the German machine guns. All members were either killed by the Germans or committed suicide to avoid capture and inevitable torture.
The extent of their heroism hasn't been given the attention it deserved, perhaps because of the vicious reprisals by the Nazis or their own propaganda. The men of the Czech and Slovak resistance are rightfully considered national heroes and patriots.
5. Old Jewish Cemetery
Prague's historic Jewish cemetery dates back to the middle of the 14th century and was an active burial place until the late 1780s. There are thousands of graves and memorials in the cemetery, the oldest of which was installed 1439. There are many prominent members of the Jewish community buried here.
The Clementinum is a historic complex of buildings that hosted the National, University and Technical libraries, and the City Library until 2009 when the Technical library and the Municipal library moved to the Prague National Technical library in Prague. The onsite chapel dates back to the 11th century
St. Nicholas Church
The St. Nicholas Church is a Baroque church that dates back to the 17th century. There was a gothic style church in the same position prior to this that was built in the 13th century. During the communist era, it was used by the State Security to supervise the nearby embassies. The church holds weekly mass every Sunday.
Previous to the 1980s, this wall was just like any other wall in Prague until locals began spray painting lyrics of Beatles songs and their grievances on the surface. It was a point of contention for the Soviet government at the time. The portrait of Lennon has long since been covered by layers of paint but it is still an active site. Enjoy the inspirational phrases and slice of life in Prague and Czechia through this wall.
Much to the dismay of the locals, Wenceslas Square is currently lined with fast food joints and is a popular place for prostitutes to...find some friends for the night. However, this square has a lot of historical significance.
In 1384, the Bohemian King Charles IV founded and separated the New Town of Prague. He laid out plans for markets and public areas and a wall was constructed separating the old and new town. The Wenceslas Monument was built during the Czech National Revival during the 19th century and was later the site where the independence of Czechoslovakia was declared in 1918. During the Velvet Revolution, large demonstrations were held in the square.
The National Museum stands at one end and the Wenceslas Monument at the other.