Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Hidden Prague #6 - Troja Palace

Strictly speaking, this is another post that crosses my arbitrary categories. The Troja Palace isn't hidden in the same way that some of the other parks and gardens I've written about are. But you're unlikely to come across it by accident as it's a good couple of miles from the old town, to the north of the city.

Its location doesn't make it inaccessible - jump on a number 17 tram from Staroměstské to Trojský and then either walk to the palace or hop on the 112 bus - and you'll be there in 30-45 minutes. If you find yourself at Prague Zoo, you've slightly overshot!


There are several times in the year when the municipal authorities in Prague join forces with the custodians of certain landmarks to allow free entry to those attractions. Last weekend was one such occasion, and on Saturday night, a lot of museums waived their entry fee. On Sunday it was the turn of a number of public and privately owned gardens to do the same thing, and one of the places on the list was the Troja palace.


The Troja palace was built between 1679 and 1691 for the Count of Sternberg, although it is now owned by the city of Prague. It was primarily designed by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Mathey, who also designed the building which now houses the French embassy in Prague (opposite the Lennon Wall).

But the purpose of my trip was to see the gardens and in particular the stunning staircase at the back of the building.  Designed and sculpted by two artists from Dresden, Johann Georg and Paul Heermann, the staircase is adorned with statues representing the fight between Olympian Gods and the Titans.

Heading up the sweeping oval staircase (1685-1703)
From the top of the staircase, looking out between the sons of Mother Earth
What lies beneath?

Although I didn't venture into the palace itself, it houses a collection of 19th century art and boasts some very impressive interiors by all accounts. 

I have also discovered that the gardens have been used to host the occasional Pétanque competition. As a player myself, I can honestly say it's a bit more up-market than some of the venues we're used to in the East Midlands - although it's a long walk to the bar!







Friday, 9 June 2017

Hidden Prague #5 - A Fly On The Wall and other Oddities

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may remember my post in February this year about the Hanging Man (strictly Man Hanging Out). In that post, I urged people to not only look around them at the wonders of the city but also to look upwards.

Here are some more strange things you can get a glimpse of if you're looking in the right places. 

First up are the human figures which are part of Michal Trpàk's "Slight Uncertainty" installation. These were originally part of a much larger group of figures displayed in the EBC office building in Prague, but some have made their way to other parts of town.


These two can be found at the intersection of Na Zbořenci and Odborů. Although they look like cement, they are actually made of polyester and are meant to represent "the people belonging to the working middle-class society who have taken the biggest hit in the recession. The airborne figures portray an expression of sadness, despair and an apparent instability". Each figure took about six months to create from initial drawing and is about 160cm tall.

While you're there, check out the giant fly on the building behind the man with the umbrella. Most people miss it, and quite honestly, it is pretty gross. Interestingly I can't find any information about the creator or intent behind this monster, but then this is Prague!


Next are the mysterious figures sitting atop the building (Deymův Palace) on Voršilská which runs between Národní and Ostrovní (where I'm currently staying and writing this post!). Once again, I can't find any provenance associated with the three figures, but my research indicates they were installed sometime after 2005.


Finally, in this group, it would seem appropriate to mention the figure of King Wenceslas riding on an upside down horse which is hanging from the atrium roof in the Lucerna Palace. It's another David Černý sculpture...



The figure is either called "Horse", "Dead Horse" or "Saint Wenceslas" depending on which source you use and was created in 1999, but, as usual, Černý makes little comment about his work. However, I'm sure that the location of the statue, just a few hundred metres away from the more conventional monument to King Wenceslas in Václavské náměstí is no coincidence! I leave you to speculate on the meaning.

Remember - in Prague, it's often 'onwards and upwards'! If you know of any other upwardly mobile oddities, please leave a comment or drop me a note.








Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Hidden Prague #4 - Palace Gardens (Under Prague Castle)

Despite having lived in Prague, on and off, for nearly three years and done all the classic tourist sights, I'm constantly finding new and wonderful things to do and see. Yesterday I was on a mission to find one specific place (a task that I completed successfully) and ended up somewhere that I knew about but had never really managed to put particularly high up on my priority list.

There are numerous gardens all around the castle complex. Some of them are directly associated with the castle, others belong to some of the ‘palaces’ which lie underneath the castle hill.

Yesterday, I stumbled on 'Zahrady Pod Pražskym Hradem' (which translates to 'Palace Gardens under Prague Castle'). These started out as a set of individual gardens but have now been merged into a single attraction. The original gardens, the Ledeburg, Small and Large Pálffy, Kolovrat and Small Fürstenburg gardens, and are situated on the southern slopes of the castle. Originally the site was covered in vineyards. For a full description of each of the component gardens, let me refer you to this site.

These are Prague's very own ‘hanging gardens’ which literally hang off the slopes underneath Prague Castle. They are a series of terraces, which climb up from Valdštejnská in Malá Strana to a level where you can just about bang your head on the castle wall.


Each terrace is reached by a set of steep stone stairways, and it appears that, at every level, the span of the terrace gets wider. The viewpoints over the city get more and more stunning as you climb above the rooftops.


You could argue that these are the same views that you get from the top of Nerudova from the castle parapets but you'd be wrong. For one thing, despite this being the start of the busy summer tourist season, I was almost alone in the gardens. From my vantage point, I could see the throngs above me clambering over each other to take photos and get a fleeting glimpse of the panorama. I was able to take my time, compose my shots (and myself) and quite literally, smell the roses.


Coming down from the terraces (you used to be able to get into the castle from the top, but this is no longer possible with the most recent security crackdown), you should find your way down to the Ledeburg Garden, near street level, with its grand staircase, statue of Hercules fighting the hydra, a fountain and a fresco covered 'sala terrena' or gallery. This whole area is used for concerts and theatrical performances.


Adult entrance to the gardens is 100 CZK and it's worth every penny to escape the madness and marvel at the views of the city and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

I mentioned the hydra, the mythical creature, which grew additional heads every time one got chopped off. My Prague bucket list is a bit like that. For every sight on my list I get to tick off, two or three more take its place!