Legend has it that the city of Prague was founded in the eighth century by Czech princess Libuse, who had a gift of seeing the future. She apparently went out on a rocky cliff one day and foresaw a city whose glory would touch the stars. On that spot, she ordered a castle to be built and Prague was born.
But that is not the most interesting thing about the princess. Some male members of the tribe, unhappy about being ruled by a woman, insisted that Libuse marry. So the wise woman told them that she would set her horse free in the field and marry the first man it stopped in front of. The horse came to a halt by a lowly ploughman named Premysl because it was familiar with him – Libuse’s secret lover.
The princess married her ploughman and together, they started the Premyslid dynasty, which would eventually expand and conquer Bohemia. Europe is full of such legends and shared histories. A quick pre-trip history lesson makes for a much deeper appreciation of them.
Unlike other European cities such as Budapest, Prague was not heavily bombed during World War II and, hence, is more picturesque. While the city’s night-time charms are not as spectacular as Budapest’s, it more than makes up for it with a more compact layout.
It’s easy to walk between Prague’s lovely attractions, which include the Old Town Square (with the world’s oldest still-functioning Astronomical Clock, installed in 1410), Charles Bridge (above) and Prague Castle. The castle that once housed Roman emperors and the kings of Bohemia, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic’s President.
Prague, the historical capital of Bohemia, was also the home of great artists like writer Franz Kafka (above), painter Alphonse Mucha and composer Antonin Dvorak.
It is no wonder then that the extensive historic centre of Prague was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 1992. This has helped make it the fifth-most-visited European destination – after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.
For a more contemporary experience than the city centre, wander off to the Dancing House (above), a compact structure on the riverfront that has been nicknamed the Ginger and Fred building. Designed in the 1990s by Czech architect Vlado Milunic and Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it resembles a dancing couple.
The plot it sits on was vacant for some time, until a neighbour, Vaclav Havel (who later became Czech President), decided to greenlight a building project, which would eventually be financed by the Dutch banking corporation now called ING. The building’s standout design, with its static and dynamic parts, is meant to symbolise the transition of the former Czechoslovakia from a Communist regime to a parliamentary democracy.
After admiring the structure, head to the top floor to enjoy an elegant meal at Ginger & Fred restaurant (above), which boasts a French-influenced international menu and a view of Hradcany, the Castle District.
– TEXT BY ONG SOH CHIN
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.