Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gardens and Galleries

We actually don’t spend all of our time exploring the Jewish history of the cities we visit, that just seems to offer more background to write about. On our first full day in Prague we began our day with a walk to the Castle. Aharon had suggested the prior day that we take the funicular in Kinskie Gardens (across from our hotel) to the first stop and get off and wander through the park. As promised we found wonderful views of the city and a lovely park as well. We have noticed that there are quite a few large parks in Prague. They seem to value their greenery as the parks are actively used. Along the way we passed a memorial to the victims of Communism. The sculpture has several male figures, some partially disintegrating as they descend the steps. A metal line is inset into the steps with the numbers of victims shot, exiled, arrested, executed or who died in prison.

Ultimately we came to the Strahov Monastery. From there we walked down the hill to arrive at the castle complex. The castle was founded in the 9th century and has been the home of most Czech rulers since. As we entered the area we discovered a very striking building with interesting sgraffito on its walls. Sgraffito is a decorative technique that we see frequently in Prague. It is a mural technique from the Renaissance that creates a 3D effect. The building was the Schwarzenberg Palace which is part of the National Gallery and has a collection of Baroque work. We continued to the Sternberg Palace across from the Schwarzenberg which contains European art, largely Italian and Dutch. They had an extensive collection of Rubens as well as a Rembrandt, Goya, Titian and El Greco. We especially enjoyed a sculpture garden that was very peaceful and quiet after maneuvering through the throngs of tour groups.

We wandered down from the castle to the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge is a pedestrian bridge built in 1400. It has many religious statues on its sides and stalls selling tourist goods in the middle. Unfortunately it also has many tourists. My husband has perfected the technique of waving his hat when we get separated, a technique that we used several times just crossing the bridge. We walked across the bridge to the Old Town Square where the Astronomical Clock is located. The clock dates to 1490 and on the hour a skeleton representing death rings a bell and figures of the apostles move through the windows.

The following day we visited several gardens and museums. We found the Vrtbovska Garden tucked behind a small entry and then wandered over to the Wallenstein Gardens that are part of the Czech Senate. Filled with statues and frescos and an occasional peacock, the most unusual feature is a wall that creates a limestone grotto with artificial stalactites. We found faces and animals within the seemingly random forms.

We then caught the tram to the Veletrzni Palace, part of the National Gallery and with an amazing collection of both Czech and international art. We could have used a few more hours to do it justice. I discovered a fondness for Kupka abstracts, enjoyed the Muchas (which have their own Prague museum as well) and saw a cross section of cubist furniture in addition to paintings. We found several paintings which Kokoschika had done of Prague and the Charles Bridge and several Schiele paintings which he had done while staying in his mother’s hometown in the region. There were also many artists with whom we had not been familiar. In both Hungary and the Czech Republic we were struck by the many talented artists who are not known outside of the boundaries of their country. After the museum closed we met our friend who is also in Prague for dinner. Tomorrow we regroup with our guide Aharon and go to Terezin.

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