City Museum of Prague Diary

praguecitymusmodel15

I had wanted to visit the City Museum of Prague again for some time, but I had just not gotten around to it. I remembered how the intriguing museum took visitors through the joys and disappointments of Czech history. This time, I went to see a temporary exhibition about Prague during the 20-year existence of the democratic First Republic, but, of course, I explored the entire museum as well.

praguecitymuseum16

It was even more impressive than I had remembered. In the main hallway, I saw the calendar dial for Old Town’s Astronomical Clock, painted in 1865 by well-acclaimed Czech artist Josef Mánes. The dial was divided into circular rings. I took notice of the medieval syllable calendar. The folk costume-clad figures represented the 12 months, celebrating Slavic identity. I recognized Troský Castle in the background for September, and I knew that December symbolized the tradition of Czech pig-slaughtering, a custom the European Union did not approve of. A castle addict, I was excited to see Bezděz Castle in the background of the portrayal of March as a young farmer did his ploughing duties in the foreground. I remembered walking 4 kilometers from the train station to the ruins of Bezděz. It had entailed two kilometers of a steep, rocky incline that led to the remnants of what must have been at one time an impressive castle. I liked walking around the ruins, several pages that described each part in my hand, trying to imagine what it had looked like in its heyday. I wasn’t a big fan of ruins, but this one had charmed me.

praguecitymuseum12

Mánes had also painted figures as zodiac signs. I saw dolphins with a plump cherub for Pisces. Sagittarius featured an Old Bohemian warrior while the depiction of Capricorn did not include any human figures but rather a cherub guiding a goat.

praguecitymuseum18

I also noticed that Romanesque elements had greatly influenced the adornment on the dial. I recalled the Romanesque church in Regensburg, Germany, the façade an architectural delight. I had also seen many churches with Romanesque features in Czech villages. At the ruins of Vyšehrad Castle in Prague, St. Martin’s rotunda fit the Romanesque style.

praguecitymuseum3

I walked into the prehistory section, not knowing if I would find it interesting as prehistory was not my cup of tea. I discovered that the first archeological find in Prague was unearthed near St. Matthew’s Church in Prague’s sixth district, a nice walk from where I had lived for many years. The small church had an intimate flair, and if I had been religious, I would have gone there for services. I would also like to be buried there. It is a relatively small and beautiful cemetery in my favorite section of Prague, but I do not think that would be possible. The cemetery is home to some famous Czech artists – architect Pavel Janák and actor Jiří Kemr.

praguecitymuseum8

I also learned that the first farmers in Central Bohemia came in 6 BC. Another interesting fact was that the Celts, in the second half of 1 BC, were the first people to wear trousers in Central Europe.

praguecitymuseum6

The medieval displays were eye-catching. Frescoes and wall paintings from Prague houses were highlighted. I read that Prague’s boroughs were created in the 13th and 14th centuries when a medieval fortress had been built. I already knew the Old Town was founded by King Wenceslas I during the 1230s. I read about the origins of the various districts of Prague. A statue that got my attention showed Christ in agony, hailing from 1413 and made of linden wood. Ceramic stove tiles showed pictures of Hussite soldiers from the 15th century, when the Hussite wars ravaged the Czech lands.

praguecitymus39

Rudolf II’s Prague was also featured in the museum section that documented Prague from 1434 to 1620. Artists had flocked to Prague, which had made a name for itself as a center of European Mannerism. Rudolf II’s collection of art and curiosities was certainly impressive. An art gallery at Prague Castle displayed much art that had been attained during his reign. I had also seen many of Rudolf II’s curiosities in the Kunsthammer in Vienna.

praguecitymus18

praguecitymus20

 

Of course, the Thirty Years’ War was given much attention, as the Catholic victory over the Protestants would greatly influence Prague and Czech history for hundreds of years. Before the war, there were many Ultraquists in Prague society. The defining battle for the Czech lands was at White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The townspeople of Prague were not happy with the then current legal, economic and political roles of towns and took part in this battle. During the war, the Saxons occupied Prague, and the Swedes pillaged and bombed the New Town in Prague.

praguecitymus27

praguecitymus28

I remembered living near the Vltava embankment in the pleasant New Town. I tried to imagine the damage and destruction that those bombs had brought to the quarter. It must have been a devastating sight. Prague became part of a province after the war, and Baroque art and architecture became the fashion. In 1624 Catholicism became the only religion allowed in the Czech lands. During the Baroque period, Czech artists including the Dientzenhofer family of architects, sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun as well as painters Karel Škréta, Petr Brandl and Norbert Grund made their way to Prague in 1710 and had a great influence on the art in the city.

praguecitymuseum2

praguecitymuseum15

praguecitymus25

The reign of the Habsburgs brought with it a long period of Germanization and a centralized monarchy that dominated the 18th century. Some of the exhibits on display from this century were intriguing, to say the least. A table clock took on a macabre character, featuring a skeleton wielding a scythe. There was also a wooden throne from St. Vitus Cathedral, made in the second half of the 17th century. A glass garden with musicians and nobles was another impressive creation.

praguecitymus36

praguecitymuseum4

Then Prague experienced peace for 100 years. The exhibition ended with the Baroque section, but there was more to the museum, specifically Antonín Langweil’s model of Prague, constructed from 1826 to 1837. He had worked in the University Library at the Clementinum when he was not creating this amazing three-dimensional model of the city. The precision and detail left me in awe. He did not finish the project, but what he did create is astoundingly beautiful and innovative. I saw many sights I had first become acquainted with when I was a tourist in the city during the summer of 1991 – Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Lesser Quarter’s main square as well as the Old Town, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

praguecitymusmodel14

praguecitymusmodel13

praguecitymusmodel12

I recalled walking to Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge early each morning when I first moved to Prague and lived in the Old Town. I would never forget standing below the balcony of Prague Castle on a frigid February evening in 1994 while Václav Havel gave a speech as the first President of the newly created Czech Republic, his wife Olga by his side. I recalled the moment I had set my eyes on Old Town Square for the first time, back in 1991, feeling at once that I had found my true home.

praguecitymusmodel7

praguecitymusmodel5

praguecitymusmodel4

What I found just as impressive as the exhibits were the richly adorned coffered ceilings in the museum. The painting is incredible. One used to be in a house in Prague and hails from the 17th century. On walls of the upper floor is a magnificent painting of the city.

praguecitymusmodel3

praguecitymusmodel1

While I already had a solid foundation in Czech and Prague history before this visit, I realized how important this museum would be as a learning experience for tourists who really wanted to become acquainted with the historical events that had shaped the city’s identity through the Baroque era.

praguecitymuseum19

praguecitymus42

praguecitymus40

It was such a shame that the displays ended with the Baroque era, but there was no more space in the museum. I thought that a museum of more recent history should be created with a special room celebrating Václav Havel as a dissident, playwright and president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

praguecitymus34

praguecitymus33

Walking through this museum, I was moved by the lands’ often tumultuous history and reminded how the history of the city seeps into my soul every day, no matter where I am. Just looking around me, I feel the history, which is one of the traits I like most about Prague. It is one reason I feel at home here and don’t want to leave.

Tracy Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

praguecitymus13

praguecitymus10

praguecitymuseum17

praguecitymuseum11

 

Advertisements

Broumov Monastery Diary

Broumov2Getting to Hradec Králové from Prague was the easy leg of the trip, only taking one hour and 15 minutes courtesy of the comfortable Student Agency buses with plush seating. I had an hour before my connection, which would take me to Broumov on a journey lasting two and a half hours.

I had wanted to visit Broumov for about 10 years, but I was always put off by the four-hour or longer bus ride to get there. I do not like traveling by bus. A four-hour trip seemed too much to bear.

This time, though, I was determined finally to see the monastery that many of my friends had praised. Unfortunately, I would not have time to explore any of the rock formations near my destination, a town at the Polish border of northeast Bohemia.

My connecting bus pulled up on time. I spent about an hour reading about the monastery’s history. The town, I found out, had been established as far back as the 13th century. The first mentioning of the monastery that I could find came from 1306, when the Benedictines began to run a grammar school there. Several of the students would make names for themselves in Czech history: Arnošt of Pardubice, who served as the first Archbishop of Prague during the middle of the 14th century; writer Alois Jirásek; and the first Czechoslovak Minister of Finance, Alois Rašín. The history of the school was fraught with trials and tribulations, though. The Hussites destroyed it during 1420, and the uprising of the Bohemian Estates from 1618 to 1620 during the Thirty Years’ War also forced the school to shut its doors. The history of the uprising was intriguing, to say the least. Holy Roman Emperor Matthias had appointed Ferdinand as his heir, which caused a major fuss among the Protestants because Ferdinand abhorred Protestantism.

Broumov3I also read that in the early 17th century, Protestants constructed their own church near the Lower Gate of the monastery, causing much friction. Even though Emperor Ferdinand II ordered it to be shut down and put some rebels in prison, the church remained open. This Catholic-Protestant conflict in Broumov helped instigate the Prague defenestration of vice-governors on May 23, 1618, when the two representatives Ferdinand had sent to oversee the Czech government at Prague Castle were pushed out a window along with the secretary. (They survived because they fell on a pile of horse manure.) This marked the Second Defenestration of Prague and triggered the Bohemian Revolt.

That is when the directors of the Bohemian Estates confiscated the monastery, which was purchased by the citizens of the town. The complex was returned to the Benedictines after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, when the Catholics, led by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II’s army, defeated the Protestant Bohemians. The monastery was in ruins but was restored. The school was not closed again until 1939, when the Nazis controlled the complex. Benedictines from the USA oversaw the monastery from 1945 to 1948, but then the Communists took over, and the American monks went home. During 1950 the monastery became an internment camp for monks. It was not returned to the Benedictines until 1990.

To get to the monastery, I had to walk through the main square. Renaissance house number 105 boasted of a portal from 1595. I noticed two buildings in Neo-Renaissance style as well. The monastery was practically on the square. I purchased my ticket and gazed at the Baroque statues of saints on the balustrade of the monastery’s terrace before the tour began. Saint Prokop, in almost fluttering drapery, proudly gripped a cross. The Baroque masterpieces seemed to twist and turn on their own and gave the exterior a dramatic and dynamic atmosphere.

First, we entered the Church of Saint Vojtěch (Adalbert) – a Baroque wonderland thanks to Italian builder Martin Allio and the Dientzenhofer team of father Kryštof and son Kilián Ignáz during the 18th century. (The Dientzenhofers remodeled the other monastery buildings in Baroque style as well.) I was overwhelmed by the pink fresco-filled ceiling with white stucco décor. I felt dizzy with awe as I peered at the fresco showing the death of Saint Vojtěch. In the Saint Benedict Chapel, white angels fluttered amidst spiraling pink columns. In the choir I admired the carved wooden benches with gold decoration as well as the frescoes above them.  The 20-something guide with long blond hair pointed out a rendering of “The Last Supper”. The main altar, dating from 1706, was not disappointing, either. Flanked by Saint Václav (Wenceslas) and Saint John of Nepomuk, Saint Vojtěch stands proudly in the middle.

Broumov4Next, we went upstairs to the library – one of my favorite rooms on any tour. Originally, there were three libraries with a total of 67,000 books, but now only one remained, and the number of books has dwindled to 17,000. The guide explained that during the totalitarian regime, Communists threw books out the window. Other books went to Prague, and still others were stolen.  I tried to imagine someone hurling these exquisite volumes outside, but it was too painful. It was just one of the many ways that the Communists tried to suffocate Czech culture. Once again, I was reminded of how horrific the totalitarian era was. The reading material that remained was written in Latin, Spanish, French and Czech, among other languages. The books dealt with subjects such as law and history, the guide remarked, showing us a seven-volume set of The Old Testament, which made up the heaviest books. Each weighed 20 kilograms. I was moved by the portraits decorating the balustrade and the frescoes that adorned the ceiling. The illustrated manuscripts featured in display cases were a treat, too.

Downstairs to the first floor, we entered the refectory. The treasure in the room was one of 40 copies of the Shroud of Turin, discovered in the Saint Cross chapel during 1999. What a day that must have been! Imagine discovering a 17th century relic three centuries later!

Supposedly, Jesus Christ was wrapped in the original shroud after his body was taken down from the cross. Those who believe in its authenticity argue that an impression of a coin circulated at the time of Jesus of Nazareth’s death was shown on one of the eyes. Originally kept in Constantinople, it has been stored in Turin since the 16th century.

Made in 1651, this copy – the only one found north of the Alps – was a gift to Broumov Abbot Sobek of Bílenberk from Turin Bishop Bergirius. The shroud featured a brown impression of Christ’s body with a light outline. For some reason I had expected the impression to be more pronounced and the outline more visible, darker. Still, it was exciting to be able to see such a significant piece.

Broumov12In the corridor we stopped at three charts on boards. One denoted events from the 19th century, marking that the cholera epidemic had ravaged the region during 1836. A board from 1812 showed that hop-plant was the most expensive product that year.

Then the tour guide asked who wanted to see the mummies. I did not know anything about any mummies there, but, curious, I tagged along with two others. We walked deep down into the crypt. In two spaces I saw 20 mummies of 17th and 18th century townspeople in open coffins. There were 32 mummies in all, but only 20 were on display, the guide remarked. Then she explained that due to renovation work in Vamberk, the mummies had been kept here since 2000. She did not know when they would return home. I was aghast that the mummies were so small, the size of children rather than most adults. For a moment I was brooding and philosophical. I wondered if that is all there is after life. You wind up in a coffin, there is no God, no Heaven. You are stuck in a dark place for eternity. Moved by the sight of the open caskets, I tried not to dwell on those depressing thoughts and instead marveled at the mummies’ preservation.

The tour ended, and I went to the museum in the monastery, six halls focusing on 700 years of the Broumov region’s rich history. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque objects were just a few of the attractions. Weapons, folk nativity scenes, shooting targets and regional folk costumes rounded out the permanent exhibition. There was also an exhibition of clocks – from ornate Baroque clocks to 20th century alarm clocks. The most intriguing object for me was the poster announcing that this region – the former Sudetenland with a German majority – was being incorporated into The Third Reich. The German citizens had been enthusiastic about it, I remember reading. They had welcomed the Munich Agreement of 1938 that ceded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Hitler. And I thought of the Beneš decrees instigated after World War II when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš expelled all Germans from the Sudetenland. History had certainly made a poignant mark on this seemingly tranquil town. Looking at that poster, I saw the brutality of 20th century events that had seeped throughout the region.

Wooden church in Broumov

Wooden church in Broumov

Next, I made my way toward the hospital. Across the street was a small cemetery with an exquisite wooden church – the Church of the Virgin Mary – that is the oldest preserved all-wood construction in Central Europe. There may have been a church on this site as far back as the 12th century, when this part of town made up a village. Legend has it that the church was built by a pagan princess during 1171. However, the first written documentation of its existence dates from 1383. In 1421 the church was destroyed by the Hussites, though the extent of the destruction is uncertain. The current church was constructed by the Benedictines in 1449. The Gothic structure had a single nave with a trihedral end and a steep gabled roof. A pyramid steeple punctuated the building. The ground floor was surrounded by an open gallery, and the interior was covered with planks.

The main altar

The exquisite interior of the church

The tombstones outside the church

The tombstones outside the church

The art work was incredible. There was a remarkable stencil mural on a wall. I admired the black stencil motifs of geometric shapes and vegetables on the ceiling and walls, too. The main altar depicted the Virgin Mary looking up to Heaven, surrounded by a gold frame supported by two angels. Two columns were situated behind the angels. A huge halo dominated the top of the exquisite structure. 

Another photo of the interior of the church

Another photo of the interior of the church

After spending about a half hour in that modest yet fascinating architectural gem, I had lunch in a hotel restaurant with a garden and terrace. There was a fountain and statuary in the garden that seemed to belong to a palace. The prices were the same as the pizzeria I often visited in downtown Prague, yet the dining atmosphere was much classier. I felt as if I were at a resort.

My stomach filled with delicious chicken and diet Coke, I walked around the corner to the bus stop. It would be a four-hour journey back to Prague on the direct bus. I was surprised to find out that there was no break during the trip, such as a 10-minute interval to use the bathrooms. I did have five minutes in Náchod, though, where I raced around the corner to the train station restroom and made it back with a minute to spare. While the skies had foreshadowed rain during my entire trip, it did not start pouring until I got off the bus at the Černý Most Metro station in Prague. Still, nothing could damper my excitement about a trip that had been well worth the arduous journey.Broumov5

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.