Meditations on Prague

There are very few moments in your life or places that you visit that actually change you. I had one of these moments in a very special place that I have and will continue to hold dear for my entire life when I visited Paris 10 years ago. There was something about that city that made me feel like I was coming home. I absolutely fell in love with it and it continues to be my favourite place on earth. Granted I haven’t seen the whole world yet, so my list of comparisons is quite short. However, so far, in the past 10 years, nothing else has come close to its beauty or has been able to rival it in any way. No other city has touched me so deeply and moved me: nothing has changed me.

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That is…until now! Prague has existed in all its glory for 1,100 years. It is a place of exceedingly great history and has been walked by some of the most impressive historical icons. It is the birthplace of Franz Kafka, the ground of Bohemia, and the declared resting place of the mythical Golem who protected the city’s Jews from violence. The architecture and the history tell such complex and interwoven stories that are simply not found in North America. It gives one the feeling of being immersed in a story, of walking the streets and being a part of something that is eternal: it existed long before you got there and will continue to exist long after you are gone. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite accurately explain, but it mirrors the sentiment that Shakespeare expressed in his sonnet 18:

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Although Shakespeare was writing about immortalizing a person he loved by giving this person life within the lines of his poetry, I feel the same can be said about a city. Particularly when that city has not only been written about and immortalized in verse, but is also the birthplace of the creative works within which it has been immortalized. The city has a life and history or story all of its own, to which we can become observers, but it exists without us and despite our being there to experience it. And yet, because we experience it, we add to its life…we ‘eternalize’ the story and history by being witness to it.

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There is something that amazes me about inhabiting the same space that some of my literary heroes not only inhabited before me, but that is the very space in which the works that I have studied and loved were created. As I toured through the Jewish Quarters I remembered stories of Golem and the myth came to life: for a brief moment I could believe in the mythical creature and the stories surrounding him that I learned so much about. When I walked past the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, I could retrace Franz Kafka’s steps as he walked the streets of Prague contemplating his frenzy of thoughts that became The Metamorphosis and The Trial.

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Perhaps Golem and Kafka aren’t as alluring to everyone as they are for me, so I assure you that simply being able to appreciate the architecture and culture that was the foundation of so many works of art is beauty enough to attract you to this city. Some of the “main attractions” that I was most impressed by were Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and St. Vitus Cathedral, but I have to say (and this is perhaps again the literary scholar in me) I was extremely impressed by the Strahov Monestery and its immense libraries. Although it is an exhausting and long walk up the mountain side to get there, it is incredibly worth it. There are two vast libraries, one theological that house nearly every translation and version of the bible, and the other is philosophical, housing works from some of the most important pilosophy scholars as well as works of natural science and history. The libraries hold around 280 000 titles and house some of the oldest manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back to 860. It also displays incredible and significant artwork, including beautiful painted ceilings by Viennese painter Anton Maulbertsch (1794).

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Ultimately the city is breathtaking and very easy and pleasant to walk (as long as you don’t wear high heels that get stuck in the cobble stone streets and walkways). There are so many things to see and do; we even took in an Opera on our last night there. If you love architecture and impressive historical and artistic history, then Prague is definitely a city that you should visit.

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All photos (except for Strahov Monastery) taken by Sloveigh Treis