Wenceslas Square in Prague, Saints and Statues

The city of Prague in the Czech Republic shot to the top of our travel list when friends casually mentioned that an old coworker of theirs had offered them his family’s apartment in the city and said we were welcome to join them for the month of May.  The words, “free accommodations” had us checking flights from Lisbon to Prague and the welcome mat was barely unrolled before we arrived with our suitcases and a long list of things to see and do.

 

 

Wenceslas Square was our starting point, a long boulevard which connects the Old Town of Prague (history first mentions Prague in 1091) with the New Town.  We guess in Europe “new” might be a bit of a misnomer as this area was founded in 1348, ancient by anyone’s standards. During the Middle Ages the rectangular area was called “Horse Market” since that was the business conducted there but, during the 19th century Czech national revival movement, citizens decided the name needed to be upgraded to something a bit more dignified.

 

 

Enter the patron saint of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslas, whose mouthful of a name was bestowed upon the square and in whose honor a noble statue was erected. On the south end of the boulevard is the Czech National Museum (a neo-Renaissance structure undergoing renovation and closed until 2020) and the statue of Saint Wenceslas astride his mighty steed and flanked by four Czech patron saints.  The Mustek metro station is on the north end with a cable car intersection nearby which has cars hurtling by every few minutes (look both ways!) and the streets become narrower and kind of funnel you past a street market right into Old Town Square.

 

 

And in between?  Doubtless there’s shopping elsewhere in Prague but it looked to us like this might be a good place to load up on everything from souvenir magnets to cashmere scarves to Czech crystal, fine jewelry and designer fashions. There are banks, hotels, bookstores, casinos and apartments as well as plenty of restaurants with outdoor tables to people watch and enjoy traditional Czech food or find other favorite international dishes from Thai to Lebanese to McDonalds.  There’s lots to catch your eye as you look around but bend your neck back a little bit because the best views are overhead.  Here is the realm of architectural eye candy!

 

 

 

 

We had a hazy recollection of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas, but the history of the Saint himself, Duke Vaclav I of Bohemia (Wenceslas is a Latinized version) is but a few sketchy details and a whole lotta legend and myth.  Born around 907, he was the son of a Christian father and a pagan mother.  When his father was killed during a pagan backlash against Christianity in 921, the young ruler became the pawn in a power struggle between his Christian grandmother, Ludmilla, and his pagan mother, Drahomira.  Ludmilla won initially and raised the boy for a few years but was eventually strangled by supporters of his mother.  Once Duke Vaclav, by all accounts a devout and pious Christian, assumed full power he had his heathen mother exiled.  He fostered the spread of the Christian faith, was generous to widows, orphans and the poor, founded several Christian churches and kept the Bohemian people independent.  However, in 935, while on his way to Mass one day and, as the story has it, right at the church door, he was brutally hacked to death by minions of his younger brother Boleslaus.  The pagan brother assumed power and was thereafter known as Boleslaus the Cruel. (His biography is undoubtedly a lot more interesting than that of pious brother.) Soon after Vaclav’s death, he was being hailed as a saint and martyr for the faith and miracles were reported at the site of his murder and at his tomb. The cult of Wenceslas spread throughout Bohemia all the way to England.  Several years after the murder his remains were dug up and reinterred at the St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle complex.

 

 

Taking a break from piety and patron saints, we explored the area just a block off Wenceslas Square and saw a very different statue of Vaclav/St. Wenceslas in the art-nouveau shopping arcade, Lucerna Palace.  Created in 1999 by Czech sculptor David Černý, “The dead horse” hangs upside down from the ceiling of the marble atrium with its tongue lolling out and Saint Wenceslas astride.

Wenceslas Square was a great introduction to Prague and the site for many dramatic events throughout the centuries.  Recent history includes the October 28, 1918, proclamation of Czechoslovakian independence. Following by only a few decades, the square was the scene for Nazi rallies and parades of Nazi tanks in 1939 and during the German occupation. The Prague Uprising by the Czech Resistance in May of 1945 at the end of WWII, marked the end of one era and the beginning of the Soviet Union’s imposition of a puppet regime upon the Czech people.  The brief Spring Uprising was suppressed by Soviet tanks massed in Wenceslas Square in 1968.  Finally, during the Velvet Revolution (November-December of 1989) massive demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in Wenceslas Square led to the peaceful end of the Communist Era in the country.

Today, the square keeps drawing us back, to wander and gawk at the architecture, enjoy a meal and take endless pictures while we join the other sightseers and locals and enjoy the sights and sounds of this beautiful city.  Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is rapidly becoming one of our favorite cities.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

The Tram Cafe

57 comments

  • I love your photos, going to Prague in 2 months and this gave me some great ideas

    Liked by 1 person

  • I have spent a couple of hours reading your Blog and love your writing style. You make reading about history fun and I look forward to your future adventures. Your pictures are nice also. Phone or Camera? Edited or straight out of the lens?

    We spent three days in Prague in August of 2015 and found the city enchanting. The Charles Bridge at sunrise is a must – better than going to church 🙂 if you get my drift. A climb to the top of the tower at the Old Town end of the bridge has the best vantage point in the city. I could very easily spend a month or more there and echo your enthusiasm for all things Czech.

    P.S. Budapest is beautiful, and lively, and I highly recommend a visit. You may however, notice some remnants of communism, or underground economy (most prevalent among taxi drivers) so be sure to call for a taxi in advance or have your hotel call for you. We took a long walk, in the rain, with suitcases and my 87 year old MIL to avoid some unsavory characters that were hawking our business at the train station. Oh well, travel and learn!

    P.S.S. We were in Lisbon in April and fell in love in under 6 hours. The warmth of the people struck us and we have vowed to return. Maybe next year when the ships re-position. You have piqued my interest in Lagos as well. You have a new fan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Suzanne for your very kind comments and thoughtful recommendations. It’s always fun to “meet” an enthusiastic traveler who shares our interest in history as well as the things that make each place we visit unique. And a fan is just the icing on the cake! To answer your question about cameras, we both have point-and-shoot Cannon cameras that easily fit in a pocket or handbag. However, now that we’re no longer nomadic travelers who have to be mindful of every thing we carry, we’d love to upgrade to a bigger camera with a few lenses. As photo enthusiasts, but definitely in the amateur ranks, we end up editing most of our photos that we post and use the online site, picmonkey, to add a watermark. As for Budapest, so many people have recommended it that it’s on our list of places to visit in the next few months. Thanks for the tips too! Each place has a whole new set of things to avoid or see and do and trading tips is one of the best things about the blogging community. And, when you visit Portugal next, give a shout out and we’ll try to arrange for a way for our paths to cross!

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  • I was briefly in Prague many years ago when it was just emerging from communism. It looks as if it is much more cosmopolitan now!

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    • I imagine that there was a great difference in the Prague you saw in the nineties after years of austerity and neglect and the Prague we saw which has received an infusion of money with increased tourism after its old historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is indeed more cosmopolitan with its variety of fine restaurants, stores and museums but it also manages to remind you of it’s rich history. The best of both worlds!

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  • Your phrase “architectural eye candy” is perfect: Prague has so many wonderful buildings, and such a variety!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rachel. You’re right that Prague has some amazing architecture and a wide variety of styles that span several centuries. Each walk was an adventure to discover new buildings to admire and our heads and necks were in constant swivel mode! Even the more modern, working class neighborhood where we stayed was interesting to walk around as the occasional old building or church would pop up here and there. Plus, arriving in May meant a huge profusion of lovely flowers and gardens in bloom everywhere.

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  • Wenceslas Square is one of my favorite places to just walk around in Prague. I absolutely love the upside down statue of Saint Wenceslas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you enjoy Prague also, Patti and Wenceslas Square is definitely a great introduction to the city as well as a good study in contrasts between the old, the very old and the new. There’s no shortage of amazing statues but, we have to admit, the statue of King Wenceslas on the dead horse is one of our favorites!

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  • Prague is definitely one of those places that is on our “bucket list” but somewhat like your plans for Italy, keeps evading us. Of course, your being based in Portugal is a wonderful platform for easy travel in nearby regions. Thanks for this tour and you have only served to whet our appetites even more for the day we finally get there!!

    When we were in Europe two years ago in winter, we basically went from one free accomodation to another.. it was how we chose where we went… how you might ask? by using home exchange. You might want to consider this, given that you are in such a desirable location yourselves am sure you would have much interest and this opens the door to much more travel at low rates. Because of course, the lodging is the most important part of any trip, (other than the ticket, which in your case would not be an issue, being in Europe already…

    Beautiful photos. Loved the post.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Peta and we loved your suggestion about using home exchanges as a way to see more of Europe and save on accommodations. We will definitely have to pursue that in the future and I have no problems with letting the lodgings decide where we visit. There are so many countries to explore that tossing the dice and letting fate and serendipity select the destination sounds like fun.
      On a more somber note, I saw the news of the severe flooding in Sri Lanka today and hope that your area wasn’t affected and that you are safe. Here’s hoping for the weather gods favor and safety for the people of you adopted country.

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  • Love the upside down statue of King Wenceslas. And then, of course, the bloody history of these rulers is always fun. 😉

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  • Carolina Colborn

    Your stay in Portugal has opened up so many ready-made European tours for you. I am so envious. Prague is indeed a keeper with so much architectural eye candy!

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  • You are so fortunate to be living in Europe and able to fly to another country so easily (and in a short period of time…no jet lag!). I keep hearing about Prague and that it is THE place to visit. From your photos, it definitely looks majestic. Love the statue of Vaclav/St. Wenceslas!

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  • Architectural eye candy for sure! Prague is another city on our bucket list! Isn’t it wonderful to have the flexibility to travel on short notice? Can’t wait for your next historical post.

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    • Aw Debbie – those ever growing bucket lists of travel temptations. 🙂 For sure, Prague should be a keeper and move it up if you can! We love having the flexibility to change our plans and travel at will and really appreciate how affordable the flights in Europe can be. This was one of the many reasons we moved to Portugal and it’s terrific to see how easy travel throughout Europe can be when you’re based here. And yes, we’re having lots of fun digging into the Czech history so you can count on it being scattered about in more of our posts about the Czech Republic!

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  • Pingback: Wenceslas Square in Prague, Saints and Statues; Anita & Richard; No Particular Place To Go – All About World Heritage Sites

  • It isn’t hard to see why you are enjoying Prague so much. The architecture and history are fascinating and you must have been swiveling your head the whole time. Looking forward to seeing and hearing more. A free apartment in May – what a bonus!

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    • Our necks should be aching with the looking up and head-swiveling, Tim and Anne! (Lucky for us, the only thing that aches are our feet at the end of each day.) 😁 But Prague is the place to swivel and tilt and having the gift of extra time to sight-see, wander around, live locally and explore at our leisure has been terrific. And don’t think we haven’t thanked our Canadian hosts over and over. Looking forward to introducing you guys to each other in the near future!

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  • Wenceslas Square looks heavenly! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for the trip down memory lane. What surprised me at first glance of your photos was seeing all of the spring blossoms and blue sky. When we were in Prague in 2015 we were there in early March and I’m remembering we wore our jackets, hats and scarves most every day. Even so, we had a great time in Prague and you’re right, it’s a city where one really needs to look up! 🙂

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    • It’s spring here Patti and, although the beginning of May was colder than we expected (scarves and jackets) it’s been great walking weather. The flowers have been such a lovely surprise – lilacs, tulips, daffodils and many others we can’t name and the countryside is filled with big canola fields of fragrant yellow flowers. Gorgeous! And yes, we’re looking up and all around so that we don’t miss any of the sights!

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  • You travel under a shining and lucky star. This post was fascinating. I had a book published this month on Amazon.com. (5.99) MOVING seven stories of women moving from fear and despair to hope and courage. Maybe one of your US guests to bring it to you.
    Keep well.
    Maida

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  • Becky and Larry St.Clair

    Lucky you! Prague is on our “must see” list as well. It really is an incredibly beautiful city with a fascinating past. Thank you for the history lesson. We look forward to meeting you upon your return. We are now in Tavira.

    Becky and Larry

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’d definitely recommend moving Prague up on your “must see” list as it’s become one of our favorite cities and a great introduction to Eastern Europe. In fact, exploring more of Eastern Europe has moved up on our priority “to-do” list! Hope you’re enjoying your time in Tavira as well as exploring Portugal and some of the Algarve Region. We’re looking forward to meeting you in June also!

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  • This was one of my boyfriend and I’s favorite place to sit and people watch in Prague! Thank you so much for such an entertaining and informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Oh lucky you! A month in Prague! It’s been on our list for so long. It was interesting to read a little of the history – the squabbles always seem to be about religion (ostensibly) or land don’t they?
    Alison

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    • We were singing the “Lucky Us” song too and it didn’t take long for us to grab the opportunity before our friends could change their minds. Alison, you and Don would love it here (the longer the better) and I hope that you have a chance to see it on your next trip to Europe. Prague has been such a delightful surprise and we’ve had an amazing time exploring many other cities around the country as well. And you’re right, sadly religion and greed do seem to be at the heart of most wars …

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  • ME BE in Panama

    You two have the best time! Great pix, and great writing, as usual. Gotta love the upside down horse, that tells me the folks there are not without a sense of humor. At least I hope that’s what it tells me. Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Anita, it is awsome to have friends in the right places😄 Prague is top of my list, the history and intrigue is fascinating, also love the architecture. I guess being shoulder season, now is a good time to visit Prague? Thanks for a very interesting post😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is indeed awesome to have good friends in interesting places! We’ve often said that we’ve made more friends since we started traveling than in all our years of work and city living. Perhaps having friends with a common interest in travel is a lot of it but we’ve also enjoyed the online blogging community and trading tips and ideas with like minded friends (like you Gilda) that you know you could carry on a conversation without any problem. To answer your question about now being a good time to visit Prague – YES! Despite it being chill when we arrived at the end of April, I might even recommend an April visit because certain places are really getting crowded now, even at the end of May, with huge tour groups.

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  • I’d like to visit Prague someday. This post just adds to that wish. Looks like a lovely and interesting city.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Coolness! How wonderful to have a place to stay gratis :-). We would have been all over it as well. Great introduction to the city. By all accounts, I’m going to love it. Budapest rocks for me and if l like Prague only just half as much, it would be fantastic. Wow, there was no loyalty back in those days was there? The city looks beautiful. Can’t wait to read more of your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re with you Kemi about thanking the travel gods for free accommodations and are especially happy to have so much time to explore both Prague and many areas around this very beautiful country. We find those “happy” family tales of intrigue and power plays to be fascinating and so interesting to read. Prague and the Czech Republic are doubtless going to provide hours of learning and entertainment ahead while we delve into its history and legends. What fun and lots of material for more than a few blog posts!

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  • “Once Duke Vaclav, by all accounts a devout and pious Christian, assumed full power he had his heathen mother exiled.”

    Goodness, quite the violent, sordid history! lol, (talk about “separation of church and state”) apparently our illustrious (nay, slap-happy “Travel Ban” Executive Order) POTUS has nothing on the historical Czechs. 😉

    That said (sorry, I couldn’t resist) – I once again bow to your historical details fervor. And love the pics – especially nice collages there. I too, often resort to such in order to fit my many pics into a single blog post.

    Oh and… #EasyPeasyEuropeWhizEnvy

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    • You know we love our history Dyanne and, while its lovely to read about saintly folks, learning about the villains is much more interesting. 😁 (However, watching the sordid details roll out in our present day government is a lot more unsettling than we’d ever thought. Give us some boring days anytime!) As for photos, usually we have so many that it’s difficult to decide between them or how to cram them all in a post. The collages have been a great solution.

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  • One of the most disappointing places that I have ever visited!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another fascinating report. Love all the history information. How are you finding the restaurant and transportation prices?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re so glad you share our fascination with the city of Prague and we’ve only just scratched the surface of learning about its intriguing history. As for prices – we’ve been really astounded because the prices are truly a bargain, even in the capital city of Prague and other popular cities we’ve visited. Ticket prices for tours have averaged less than €10, a month-long pass to ride the tram, metro and bus was about €8, a lovely little pension we stayed at in Cesky Krumlov was €50/night, meals range from mid-day meals averaging from €7-11/pp) and renting a car for part of our stay was only €100/week. Definitely a pleasant surprise and a good reason to explore more of Eastern Europe!

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  • Glad to see you visiting one of our favorite cities! Wenceslas Square not the prettiest place in the city but it is certainly vibrant and some of those shopping malls have beautiful architecture…there is so much beauty everywhere in Prague and a lot of it hidden from the person seeing the city only from street level.
    We spent 3 months in the city when we first started travelling full-time and spent another month there last year. We always come back to Prague and are actually due there in August for long overdue dental/medical checkups (which we always get done in Prague). If ever your friends have an apartment to rent in Aug or Sept please let me know.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    Liked by 1 person

    • We hadn’t thought about checking into the “medical tourism” aspect of Prague so your comment about having dental work done here was rather surprising but makes a lot of sense since we’ve found the costs to be way below what we’d anticipated. Food and restaurant bills are quite a bit less than what we pay in Portugal (fabulous mid-day meals averaging from €7-11/pp) and renting a car for part of our stay was only €100/week. If those winters weren’t so darn cold we’d really have to take a second look at the Czech Republic for a base so I can see why it made a great temporary home for you. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be able to help in the apartment hunt, Frank. This really was a once in a blue moon opportunity!

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  • What a gorgeous city! The buildings are works of art. Opportunities like you had to take advantage of free accommodations don’t come along too often – how nice that you were able to take advantage of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the big changes we’ve made in adopting our new lifestyle over the last few years is to keep reminding ourselves that flexibility is a lot more fun than our default mode of routine and to grab opportunities as they present themselves. We’d originally planned to travel about Italy for May but changed our plans when Prague was offered on a silver platter. A visit to Italy will happen eventually but Prague has been a fabulous surprise!

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