Prague Part Two

Saturday, September 23 – 

Bishop’s House is an incredible property, fashioned from an actual bishop’s house. In one section, there is a vaulted ceiling, and one of the walls is completely covered with growing plants of many species including pothos and other vining-style growers. That room was where we mostly met up for coordination of activities, etc. Allen referred to it as “The Green Wall.”

A few of us got up early to head over to the Charles Bridge to see if we might catch sunrise over the city. The forecast was for more clouds and rain to begin mid-morning on Saturday, so we hoped to have a clear morning. Alas, it was foggy, which offered its own splendor and we enjoyed the cool wet with very few (relatively speaking) other tourists crowding our photos. Then, after breakfast, we assembled at The Green Wall to get our marching orders for the day.

Unfortunately, at this point in our trip is when began the progress of illness that eventually, to one degree or another, hit half the folks in our group of 21. From the perspective of today, September 30 and the end of our cycle adventure, I can say with some authority that only Craig E., Bruce, Rosemary, Dave, Dennis, Richard, Bill, (possibly Ann?), and I were the lucky ones that did not come down with some degree of cold, flu, or bronchitis. Craig A. and Jack might have been patients zero, as they suffered first, back in Cesky Krumlov, with sinus/cough/headache and overall malaise. Jack took an afternoon “off” back in CK, and Craig took some time off in Prague to recover – but at about this time, Allen, Kathy, and Michael began to have symptoms. Further along in the tour, John, Damarius, Katherine, Pearl, Laura, Larry, and finally, Mary got whacked. Each had varying levels, with John and Michael getting the worst of it (John was able to ride only 2 days, and Michael only the last day), while Mary was taken down pretty hard the night after our final ride. Anyway, back to Sept. 23.

After breakfast, we all trundled up the hill at a punishing pace (trying to keep up with Allen, who had booked our tour and needed to get up to the castle and meet our guide. 

Seen along the walk up to Prague’s Castle.

We enjoyed an excellent guided tour of the Castle’s St. Vitus Cathedral. This guide was truly spectacular, and he made short work of ushering our crowd through the many other guide’s crowds, stopping at the significant points of interest around the structure. Jack and I were reminded of the guided tour we received in St. Petersburg, when we went to the Hermitage. We noticed there (as here) that the guides had a “secret code” they used with each other, to keep all the groups moving along, and to signal when each was ready to move to the next “station,” which indicated the guide standing and talking about that point of interest had to move along. 

Inside the cathedral. For the first time during our trip, the sun came out with some regularity and I was taken by the colors from the stained-glass windows thrown on walls when the sun shone through them.

This is a very detailed relief carving of the city of Prague as it was back in the 1500s. It was so large I wasn’t able to capture the whole thing.

I just loved that the balcony railing where the organ was installed was decorated with a variety of musical instruments.
This window measures 15 meters across and has something like 58,000 pieces of glass in it.

He also took us to see sections of the fortress, St. George Square, and the Basillica of St. George, where we enjoyed a grand view of the cityscape from high above. We were just outside of a room (the Bohemian Chancery) where the uprising of the Bohemian Estates against the Hapsburgs began in 1618, with the Second Prague Defenestration. For you history buffs, there’s more about that event and the players and consequences below.*

Exiting the Bohemian Chancery, where the Second Defenestration of Prague happened.
Views from the Chancery balcony.

A sitting area in the garden of the American Embassy.


This odd sight was not in the castle proper, but rather as we walked along the community up to the Monastery.

Next, we enjoyed a guided tour of the Strahov Monestery’s Library, led by an earnest fellow whose accent was so strong, few of us were able to understand him. He did, however, demonstrate that he loved his job. 

Among the most interesting sights in the library was a small bookcase filled with exactly 38 short but thick volumes (about 8 inches high and about 4 inches wide). Each was crafted to reflect separate species of the 38 trees they have in the Czech Republic/Bohemia. Inside, however, were not pages of illustrations and text. Each volume was a wooden box made from the wood of the tree it described, and inside were twigs, seeds/nuts, leaves, pieces of bark, and samples from the cambium of each type of tree. Finally, the books were “bound” with cambium layers, bark and even the lichens natural to each tree species. I was unable to get a photo but these volumes were truly clever and easily fascinated me. I know the “books” were old but I could not catch when they were made, unfortunately. In this place, however, I can imagine that they were carefully crafted by monks at the beginnings of scientific thinking and research.

I could have used this contraption when I was writing papers back in college. It holds up to 20 books, open to the pages you’re researching, and you can rotate them around to fetch the materials you want to add to your research topic. The scholar or scientist would sit at the front, and use the wheels at right and left to move from shelf to shelf of books for reference.
Throughout this library were ceiling murals painted. but not all of them were in praise of the Christian god. Many, many celebrated science and scientists. There was even a Latin phrase painted on the ceiling that said something like “Faith follows from science.”

The elaborately-decorated ceiling in the largest room of the library. It was two stories, and we noticed that there were no ladders or stairs to get up to the second level.
In every instance of the renderings of the huge number of people and angels and satyrs, etc. in the painting, only one is NOT looking at and/or engrossed with his/her fellows. That one is the self-portrait of the artist, upper right of this photo detail. (Also an owl, that I show below.) Those are the only two sets of eyes that are directed into the room itself.

This photo shows the “trick” for getting up to the second story. The books that appear set in a rounded arrangement are actually false spines, and this panel opens to reveal a spiral staircase to the upper level (thus the rounded appearance of the facade, to allow for the spiral staircase).
The scholars were big (HUGE) on globes. These things were numerous and beautiful, reflecting the “known world” over many centuries and iterations.

After the library, we were set free to do whatever we wished. A couple of our group had signed up for a “food tour” of Prague, while others set off for shopping. A sub-group had tickets to one of the many multitudes of musical performances in the city, and they headed back to the hotel to prepare for their concert, having an early dinner beforehand.

Lunch was definitely in order, however, so a small gaggle of us stopped at the Kolcavka Brewery for a brew and a light meal. Good beer, and excellent grub sitting on benches around a long table.

While the others made their way downhill, Jack and I stayed on the Castle Hill to stroll along the “Golden Lane” where tiny cottages are set up to resemble a tavern, a goldsmith’s workshop, a cobbler’s shop, and so forth, representing the ways of life among the castle’s commoners during the 16th Century. There was also a prison in the Dalibor Tower (or Daliborka) that we ventured into (with very close quarters—one dungeon had but one narrow stairway in and out so the crowd at the top had to wait for the crowd at the bottom to move up or down, so there was often a wait at the bottom that was not pleasant) to see the tools of torture used in the “olden days.” Pretty scary stuff.

These two pix are of the inside of the taproom and tavern typical of that which had served the castle since the 1500s. The Plaque says: With the benevolence of the sovereign and the spiritual administration, taverns appeared in many places. At one time, the Golden Lane had more than ten. The taverns in Golden Lane were lively. Often wandering jugglers and musicians would meet there. As the merriment grew, paddlers would appear as well as various swindlers luring people with dice or cards.

This is the workshop of a goldsmith along the Golden Lane. The Plaque reads: The original name of this street was “Goldsmith’s” Lane, first called that in the 1560s. The name reflected the fact that many of the inhabitants were small goldsmiths and beaters, who had fled the guild laws strictly applied at that time in all the Prague towns. The goldsmith boom occurred during the late 15th century. Goldsmith’s of the Lane always were the poorest representatives of their craft. They accepted smaller orders (jewelry to adorn clothes, cutlery, stamps, etc.). The characterization as “beaters” arose from those would would pound precious metals with wooden mallets, creating thin sheets of gold foil. These sheets were folded into “books” and sold to painters or guilders. No workshop of a goldsmith would be without a small cage bird, which acted as a natural sensor for the presence of toxic fumes arising from the chemicals that evaporated during their work.

The first and most important prisoner in Daliborka was the knight Dalibor z Kozojed. He was imprisoned in 1496 shortly after the tower was built. He had not only backed the rebels against Adam Ploskovsky z Drahonie, the merciless feudal lord of Litomerice, but also he had illegally confiscated the property for himself. After 2 years of bread and water, he was sentenced to the “forfeiture of his chattels, his honor, and his head,” and was executed on March 13, 1498. Much later, the romantic legend of Dalibor and his fiddle arose. The story has it that, out of boredom, Dalibor learned to play the violin so masterfully that people came from far and wide to listen, enraptured. In the chronicle of Beekovsky (in 1700) that the Czech maxim “necessity taught Dalibor to fiddle.” The reality is quite different, however. The “fiddle” was actually a nickname for the “rack” – a device on which the convicted was stretched until “out of necessity” (under the pressure of physical suffering) he or she would begin to “fiddle” (change his tune, confess). Smetana’s Dalibor opera is based on the life of the imprisoned and executed knight.

After a nice walk back to Bishop’s House along the river, picking our way along through strange streets without a map (where I got more photos of random sightings) we showered and checked email. Then Jack and I went back to Pod Vezi for a quiet dinner for two, which was delicious, and enjoyed more of the wine Allen had introduced us to the night before. We had heard that Prague was a great place for wild game dinners, so Jack had rabbit and I had wild boar. Good stuff. We even got the same waiter and sat in the same area as our group had the night before, although our table was quite a bit smaller <grin>.

Here are some random pics of our journey back to river level.

Another “creepy baby in a window” pic.

*The uprising of the Bohemian Estates against the Habsburg rule began with the Second Prague Defenestration in 1618 and ended wth the defeat of the Estates on White Mountain on November 8, 1620.

Those who had taken part in the event were representatives of the Bohemian aristocratic anti-Habsburg opposition headed by Jindrich Matyas Thurn and Vaclav Budovec. Under their leadership, a group of aristocrats broke into the Bohemian Chancery on May 23, 1618. At that time, the royal governors, Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borita of Martinic, were at work there. Both governors were firm Catholics who pursued an uncompromising pro-Habsburg policy in their dealings with the Bohemian Estates.

The insurgents accused them of disturbing the peace in the Bohemian Kingdom. In the ensuing pandemonium, Slavata, Martinic and the scribe, Fabricius, were thrown out of the window of the Chancery (the definition of “defenestration”). Surprisingly, the men survived the fall [Our guide told us that they all fell into a rubbish {read “offal”} heap which cushioned their impact, although it covered them in poop]. The fact that they only suffered minor injuries was later attributed to a miracle. Fabricius fled, while Martinic and Slavata sought refuge in the nearby Lobkovic Palace.

The consequences of the defenestration were immense: it sparked one of the greatest European conflicts in modern history — The Thirty Years’ War.