Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 7/8: Sights Around Prague

There is plenty to see around Prague, not the least because the city was largely spared destruction during Europe's many wars. Right is my favorite vista, from the heights of the castle looking down to Malá Strana, the Vltava River, and the rest of the city in the distance.

The show we saw at Ta Fantastica, "Aspects of Alice," combined the Lewis Carroll story with Czech popular culture and the famous Prague skyline. I heard about Ta Fantastica from the website of the local guide whom Rick Steves interviewed the weekend before we left.

There are about half a dozen black-light theaters in the city, and the others I researched seemed to present something more on the order of neon "cirque d'soleil"-style acrobatics, but Ta Fantastica does more literary performances. This was a fantasy about the adult Alice that included flying, clowns, a handsome priest, and full female nudity. Because the action happens in mime and to music, words are not necessary, so the performances are open to tourists from all over, no knowledge of Czech necessary. However, we didn't catch all the cultural references because it was our first night in town and we hadn't been taken on a city tour yet. But other references--like those to a 1988 Czech film version of "Alice in Wonderland" (Neko z Alenky)--probably would have gone over our heads anyway. I've just discovered my university library owns a copy of this film, so we'll add it to our list for the summer.

Photo credit: MAH
The special effects depend on the fact that the human eye cannot see black on black. So some of the actors wore black robes over their costumes and manipulated props in the dark. For instance, in one scene, as Alice interacted with a menorah, the flames left the candles and floated around her. At one point five of them circled her head--like the halo of St. John of Nepomuk, patron saint of bridges with his halo of five stars. (We saw him in St. Vitus Cathedral and on the Charles Bridge the next day.) The next scene paid homage to Prague's Jewish history, as Alice danced with two larger-than-life puppets dressed like Orthodox men. Later scenes portrayed Alice's marriage and first child. (In that respect, the show was fairly conventional.) It was an interesting show, but we wondered whether the theater is sustainable, considering the fact that most of the seats were empty at our performance, and they give 14 performances a week. 

Two more famous sights in Prague are the Charles Bridge (Karlův most) and the astronomical clock (Pražský orloj) in the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). King Charles IV began the bridge in 1357, and for 250 years, the only decoration was a crucifix. In the Baroque Period from 1660 to 1800, 30 statues were added. There are now 75, but most are replicas. The oldest is the aforementioned statue of John of Nepomuk, who supposedly heard the queen's confession but refused to divulge what she said to the king, who had him thrown off the bridge in 1383. (Actually, he had sided with the local archbishop and the pope in Rome against King Wenceslas IV and the illegitimate pope in Avignon and so ended up in the drink.) The statue was erected in 1683.

The clock was installed in 1410 and is the oldest one still functioning. It was severely damaged in May 1945 and laboriously restored to working order in 1948. Every hour, the skeleton rings his bell, the twelve apostles parade in front of two windows, and the cock crows. According to legend, the king put out the clock-maker's eyes out of jealously, so he couldn't make a similar clock for another municipality. Out of revenge, Hanuš  supposedly threw himself into the gears, to stop the clock from working for many years. We gathered with the crowd twice to see the clock strike, once on our way to dinner (the subject of a future post), and once on our way to an evening organ concert (subject of the post after that). Next up: the churches of Saints Vitus and Nicholas.


  1. Did you cover the eyes of DH during the female nudity?

  2. Ha! I trust him to look at what is appropriate.

    No really, she was easy on the eyes. The wild thing about it is, I can't remember whether the male character appeared in the nude as well...

  3. There's an old song about that:
    "I only have eyes for you..." (DH)


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