July 21, 2013
Travel Journal (Day 4)
We took our two tours of Prague. We focused on Old Town–the town center, Wenceslaus Square, and the Jewish Quarter–in one and then the Prague Castle in the other. They were stock full of information.
Our tour guide was native to Prague. He was born and raised here with a brief stint in New York, USA, when he was 9 years old while his dad taught Czech at Cornell University, or at least that is what he told our group. Having been in Prague before and researched its history and whatnot, I was impressed by his knowledge, expertise, and overall presentation of this tour of Prague.
Here are some highlights of the first tour of Old Town as told to us by our Czech guide:
1. The Astronomical Clock
This clock is pretty elaborate. It has the phases of the moon, the seasons, the zodiac, Roman numeral clock, and Czech numeral clock. The clock has eight figures, four at the top and four at the bottom. The four at the bottom symbolize virtue and Good while the four on top represent vice and Evil. Every hour, three of the four on the top move their heads shaking them no while the fourth, a skeleton representing Death, rings a bell and nods yes. Death tells the other four that it is coming. The above them, the twelve apostle show one at a time. The clock is centuries old and stunning, but Prague has more compelling places. By the way, the pic at top is of this clock.
2. Old Town Square
Like most cities worldwide, the Czech settled Bohemia near a waterway, specifically the Danube River. The Old Town Square is the area where the first Czech peoples made their home. It is Prague’s beginnings. It also is home to the Astronomical Clock. It is here where leaders (often conquerors such as Hitler) gave speeches, but it is also the place where the Czech people gather to celebrate their own victories, be they political, historical, athletic, academic, or otherwise. The Old Town Square is home to festivals and parties as well as being the soul of Prague.
3. The Jewish Quarter
Prague’s Jewish Quarter is one with a sordid past, which is no surprise in the region. First of all, the Jewish people were segregated to living in that area. The Jews in Prague were persecuted in many ways including financially. They could not have many jobs or positions in Prague save for being money lenders and other finance based jobs. As this was their only option, they learned to flourish. They even would lend money to the Christians who often would not pay them back because they did not have to according to law. The city leaders required the Jewish people stay in their own area, which often was underdeveloped, malnourished, and forgotten. It was a Ghetto.
Then they were allowed to move out, and move they did. But other poor people moved in and so the area continued. Now it has importance because of the Nazis and then the Communists. It also holds Prague’s richest street with stores like Louis Voutton, Rolex, and other luxury goods.
4. The Old New Synagogue
Though the Jewish Quarter is home for many synagogues, the one that most interests me is the Old New Synagogue. It is the oldest working synagogue in the world.
Beyond the interesting nature of its history and name, there is a legend attached to it. Once there was a rabbi who discovered the recipe that God used to create Adam and Eve. It is said that he learned this from his studies in the Bible and Torah. However, he was not God thus he could only create a golem, a being made from dirt and controlled by the creator. In this rabbi’s case, he put the recipe in the golem’s mouth and the golem “lived” and did whatever the rabbi told him. Once he removed the recipe, the golem was no longer alive. The rabbi used the golem to protect the people of the Jewish Quarter from Evil, but he always took the recipe out on Fridays in prep for the Sabbath. That is, always except once. Somehow he got distracted by his studies and forgot to remove the golem’s life force, and what happened you ask? Well, the golem did what creatures like him do…it went crazy and harmed the very people it was supposed to protect. To stop it they had to kill and basically dismember it. The legend says they put it and its pieces in the attic of the Old New Synagogue where none could enter, and to this day it is still there, and people are still strictly forbidden to enter.
5. St. Wenceslaus Square
This is the main square for tourists. At one end is a museum. The road is lined with shopping and foods and tourists traps. It has been in movies and has historical importance, but really we spent our time elsewhere. Certainly, it is a place that any visitor to Prague should see.
Check back later for the next installment about Prague tours.
Image Credit: Dominik Michalek / Shutterstock