The break of a new day brought us back to the castle district, this time into Prague Castle. Rubbing elbows with hordes of tour groups, we made our way through the courtyard. Prague Castle is one of the largest ancient castles in the world, but more resembles a palace. The castle is built around various churches and basilicas, the most impressive of which being St. Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic church towering atop the hill and surveying the city.
Prague Castle plays a key role in Prague’s tumultuous history. A large fire destroyed swathes of the ancient castle in the 16th century, leading to an architectural redevelopment of many areas in the mold of a renaissance palace. The second defenestration of Prague took place at Prague Castle, whereby the Catholic hierarchy were thrown from the castle windows. This event catapulted the Bohemian Revolt and subsequent tumult of the Thirty Years’ War. During the Second World War, Prague Castle even served as the headquarters of the Reich governor of Bohemia. Since the split of Czechoslovakia, however, Prague Castle has become the seat of the Head of State of the Czech Republic, today housing the President and the Bohemian crown jewels.
A queue snaked around the castle grounds, waiting to enter St. Vitus Cathedral. The colour of the cathedral was a sooty brown-black, as though it were in dire need of a power wash. As the echoes of Sunday Mass faded, the heavy iron doors were pried open. The faithful poured out and were replaced by multinational tourists, all too keen to soak up the glow through magenta stained glass, and to photograph the impressively gilded St. Wenceslas Chapel. The upper half of the nave and sanctuary were painted golden by the early afternoon sun. Making our way through the crowds into the Cathedral, we were immediately struck by the scent of sandalwood drifting through the high-ceilinged and hallowed interior. Around the cathedral, everybody seemed to speak only in hushed whispers, struck by the stained glass, giving each chapel its very own hue.
We ventured towards the Golden Lane, consisting of the old living quarters of the castle’s servants, today converted into boutique shops touting souvenirs and artisan goods, as well as exhibitions about life in the Lane. The servants would live in one-room houses between the castle walls and specialise in various crafts to serve those who lived in the castle.
A vineyard lunch was followed by our winding descent back into the city centre. On the shores of the Vltava, through a stanchion of harrowing photos documenting the 2002 floods, we made our way to Museum Kampa. Museum Kampa is housed in a former mill, with most pieces exhibiting originating from the collection of the Mládek family.
While our visit coincided with Manolo Blahník’s exhibition on high-heel design (which we unfortunately did not have the time to visit), we opted instead for the exhibition of the work of Jaroslav Paur and Adolf Born. A word on Paur: perhaps not well known at all outside of the Czech Republic, Jaroslav Paur’s work embodied the oppression and looming doom which accompanied the reconstruction of Europe following the Second World War. From a rebuilding Warsaw to idyllic depictions of Paris, his strongly three-dimensional paintings transitioned abruptly into jagged representations of abstract urban landscapes during the Cold War, depicting rounded bodies which reflect celestial bodies, atomic nuclei perhaps. He married these two ideas in the two oppressive “There Are People Living Here” and “There Are No People Living Here”, where the rounded bodies loom over Paur’s unique urban ruins, a deeply rousing expression of the nuclear threat.
Doom and gloom aside, Museum Kampa offers a brief respite from the swarming crowds on its second floor, with a private balcony offering not only chrome mirrors, reflecting the blue skies and marshmallow skies of a summer day, but also a rare unblocked view of the Vltava and the Old Town.