Saturday, June 18, 2016

Comments on Pražský hrad, or the Prague Castle, by Bernard Granville Baker

2016.06.18-DSC06916Some quotes on the Prague Castle from  From a Terrace in Prague (1923) by Bernard Granville Baker

The usual travelling Westerner prefers the shortest and most convenient route to Prague, namely, via Paris. You may get right through from London to Prague in thirty-six hours if you just skirt round Paris by the ceinture, but a right-minded wayfarer, who should never hurry, will not miss an opportunity of taking the tonic of a few days in the "Ville Lumière."

You should travel to Prague when the days are long, so you will be rewarded by a very fair view as the train crosses the placid River Vltava. Out of a shadowy mass of grey houses with tiled roofs, divided by the glittering, winding river, rises the Castle of Prague, a massive building crowned by a church of which the soaring spires, pinnacles, and flying buttresses s'accusent against the western sky. The train then plunges you into a tunnel, a long tunnel taken slowly, where you may reflect on the vision you have seen, the vision of another city "that is at unity in itself."

These people are slaves to the guide-book; they leave it not, day or night, and the more methodical they are in conforming to the cramped spirit of the book, the less do they discover things by themselves. No guide-book ever can initiate you into the atmosphere of a city like Prague. The sight of the guide-book slave "doing" an ancient and glorious city always fills me with sorrow, sometimes, indeed, with annoyance. These slaves frequently hunt in couples, male and female, sometimes with progeny at heel, and it is generally the male who discovers things—in the guide-book—and then drags the rest of his outfit in search of his discovery. As this is usually done at a reckless pace, the performance is apt to upset the repose of the inhabitants whose perambulations of their native place are in marked contrast to the silent, ruthless hurry in the streets of our large towns.

2016.06.18-DSC06920 The first and most obvious duty was to set about the restoration of the Royal Castle, the Hradšany, with its venerable cathedral. Both castle and cathedral were inadequate to the high mission of Prague as a royal and imperial residence. The castle had been repaired fitfully by one king or another as we have seen, and had been provided with strong towers chiefly used as dungeons, and had been allowed to fall into disrepair by the impecunious and extravagant John. The cathedral was probably in not much better case. We have seen glimpses of that sacred fane with its memories of royal saints and martyrs, how St. Wenceslaus built the first church on the site of the present one, as a casket to hold that precious relic the arm of St. Vitus, given him by Henry the Fowler.

... and Charles wished to build a temple worthy of the high dignity to which in matters spiritual, as temporal, his country had arisen; and so under the hand of skilled craftsmen, from out the ruins of earlier shrines, rose that crowning glory of Golden Prague, the Cathedral of St. Vitus. This great temple was many years a-building, and is not completed yet.

Looking out over my terrace to where the Cathedral of St. Vitus points its tapering spires towards high heaven, a misty pageant seems to pass beneath it. Following rapidly on the golden peace of Charles come the troublous days of religious strife, for with his son began the Hussite wars which left Bohemia desolate and a prey to the eagles of Habsburg. Angry flames rising up out the township below the Hradšany cast clouds of smoke over the cathedral what time the Hussites failed to capture the Royal Castle and in their zeal for reform set fire to various quarters of the Mala Strana.

2016.06.18-DSC06910 Right away in the hazy background of hills against which stand up the towers and spires of Prague you may see an incline sloping down towards the river and to northward. This incline is now all built over, and this quarter of the town is called Žiškov in memory of the great Hussite who held this hill against repeated attacks until he was in a position to go over to the offensive.

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