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CHARLES BRIDGE

Charles Bridge

(50m from Domus Balthasar and seen from the windows, 500 m from Domus Henrici)

Charles Bridge throngs with people during the day. Street artists sketch and musicians play; look out for the jazz band, who are particularly entertaining. But for a truly romantic and less crowded stroll, try early morning or any time in the evening.

King Charles IV commissioned the bridge. The foundation stone was laid in 1357. Charles IV's favourite architect and builder, Peter Parler, oversaw the majority of the work. The initial idea was to build a functional construction for knight tournaments, and for many years the only decoration on the bridge was a simple crucifix. Later, the Catholic desire for ornamentation resulted in 30 statues being erected between 1600 and 1800.

There are now 75 statues on Charles Bridge, but most are copies, as floods and catastrophes over the centuries damaged the originals. Perhaps the most interesting, as well as the oldest, is that of John of Nepomuk (8th from the right as you cross towards Prague Castle).

OLD TOWN HALL AND THE ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK

Astronomical Clock

(500m from Domus Balthasar, 1000m from Domus Henrici)

The Astronomical Clock on the side of the Old Town Hall Tower dates back to the 15th century. To appreciate this intricate construction to its fullest, join the crowd in front of the tower to observe the procession of the Twelve Apostles: on the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk.

Below the Astronomical Clock are 12 medallions with the signs of the zodiac, added by Josef Manes in 1865.

The Old Town Hall Tower is one of the most striking buildings in Prague, built in 1338. Inside is a staircase and an elevator. For a minimal fee, visitors can climb to the top to enjoy wonderful views over the Old Town Square and all of the Old Town.

Extensive renovation in 1470 refurbished the Old Town Hall in the Gothic style. Today the Old Town Hall houses the Prague Tourist Information Centre.

VRTBOVSKA GARDEN

Vrtba Garden

(150m from Domus Balthasar, 400 m from Domus Henrici)

The Vrtba Garden, a uniquely designed architectural jewel, is accessible from Karmelitská street, Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter), Prague.

The Vrtba Garden is a Class 1 cultural monument registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is the property of the City of Prague.

This Italian-style Baroque terrace-garden of was built for Jan Josef, Count of Vrtba, the Highest Burgrave of Prague Castle, near Vrtba Palace in 1715 - 1720.

The ingenious layout, which is proof of convincing style interpretation was designed by František Maxmilián Kaňka, a Prague native, who cooperated in the creation of this masterpiece with sculptor Matyáš Bernard Braun, whose workshop supplied statue and sculpture decorations, and painter Václav Vavřinec Reiner, the author of the frescoes. The surprising effect of the garden's composition is based on the gradation of the terrace plateaus interconnected by stairways and borne by supporting walls shaped in curves typical of the Baroque style.

After reconstruction, the Vrtba garden reopened on 3 June 1998 and visitors are now offered the attractive opportunity to see this unique Baroque Vrtba Garden, which is said to be the most charming garden of its type north of the Alps.

ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH AT MALOSTRANSKE NAMESTI

St. Nicholas churches

There are three St. Nicholas churches in Prague. Construction of St. Nicholas Church at Malostranske Namesti began in 1703. This is the largest of Prague's churches founded by the Jesuits.

St. Nicholas is the masterpiece of Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, a father and son duo who constructed many buildings during the Baroque period. Unfortunately, neither lived to see its completion. The building was finished by Kilian's son-in-law, Anselmo Lurago.

The interior of St. Nicholas is finely decorated with statues, paintings, and frescoes by leading artists of the day. Particularly impressive is the dome fresco from Franz Palko, showing The Celebration of the Holy Trinity, filling the 70m high dome.

The dome was completed in 1751, shortly before Kilian Ignaz died. Over the Baroque organ is a fresco of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music. The organs were played by Mozart in 1787. The belfry was the last part to be built, constructed by Anselmo Lurago in 1751-56. During the summer months, classical concerts are held inside St. Nicholas.

LORETA

Loreta

(600m from Domus Balthasar, 100 m from Domus Henrici, the carillon is heard on Henrici terraces every hour)

The beautiful Loreta is an important pilgrimage site commissioned by Baroness Beligna Katherina von Lobkowicz in 1626.

After completion, Loreta was maintained by the Capuchins, an order connected with the St. Francis of Assisi's Brotherhood.

This historical building was created to promote the legend of Santa Casa, a copy of the house believed to be the Virgin Mary's. This Santa Casa copy, complete with original fresco pieces and the statue of Our Lady of Loreta, sits in a lovely courtyard surrounded by chapel-lined arcades.

Not to be missed is the 'Prague Sun' and its 6000 plus diamonds in the Treasury, and the 27-bell carillon playing on the hour in the entrance.

STRAHOV MONASTERY

Strahov Monastery

(600m from Domus Balthasar, 150 m from Domus Henrici and seen from the window)

Founded in 1140 by Prince Vladislav II, the giant white Strahov Monastery looks down from its Petrin Hill vantage point over the busiest areas ofMala Strana. This tranquil setting was established for the Premonstratensians, followers of the teachings of St. Augustine. Destroyed by fire in 1258, it was rebuilt in Gothic style, with later Baroque additions.

The highlight of a visit to Strahov, despite its attractive location and meditative quality, is its famous library, comprised of one of the oldest monastic collections in the country. Located in the theological and philosophical halls, it is over 800 years old, and despite being ransacked by invading armies, it still holds over 16,000 books.

PETRIN HILL & OBSERVATION TOWER

Petrin Hill

(500m from Domus Balthasar, 300 m from Domus Henrici and seen from all windows)

A small version of Paris's Eiffel Tower, Petrin Observation Tower was built in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition.

The view is magnificent and well worth the 299 step climb to reach the viewing platform. On a clear day it is possible to see the highest peak in the Czech Republic, Snezka, which is 150km from the tower.

The Observation Tower is set in landscaped gardens that dominate the summit of Petrin hill. These make for a very pleasant stroll anytime of the year, as an excursion from the city centre.

Added to this, there is an observatory and a hall of mirrors to explore (a small entrance fee applies).


Read more in The Free Prague Guide.