The castle and the Carlo bridgethe legends of Golem and the dramas of Jewish persecution, the suggestions of writers such as Kafka and those of musicians like Dvořák and Mozart. Pragueyou know, it is one magical city. And whoever arrives stumbles upon a thousand beauties and a thousand magic. But perhaps it is a city less known for its exhibitions: and Prague’s museums end up taking a back seat. A pity: because it is true that here there is no Louvre or a Prado. M.there are many spaces to see.
The peculiarity is that these are exhibition spaces often scattered in the many, wonderful, buildings in the center, in famous buildings but in some cases small galleries can also be found in pubs, restaurants and cafes. Here are some suggestions. Remembering that the secret to discovering the secrets of Prague is only to turn it slowly, following the thread of curiosity. And diving into the heart of the City of a hundred spiers.
Prague museums: let’s start from the national museum
At the southeast corner of Wenceslas squarein a neo-Renaissance building built at the end of 1880, is the National Museum. The museum preserves a permanent collection of artefacts related to history, paleontology and natural sciences as well as a collection of medals. The building itself, which is most likely the best part of the museum itself, was designed byPrague architect Josef Schulz and was opened to the public in 1893. In addition to the exhibition aspect, this museum occupies an important place in the history of the city due to the role it played as a meeting place for demonstrators during the Prague spring in 1968, the short period of time in which the country’s leader, Alexander Dubčektried to introduce democratic reforms.
As is well known, it all ended with the invasion with the tanks from the Soviet Union. Recently the museum has undergone interventions that have lasted a long time and which could continue further.
The national gallery: the art palace
One of the most important museums in Prague and the Czech Republic it is certainly the National Gallery which brings together the la largest art collection in the country and that in addition to permanent exhibitions also organizes temporary exhibitions. Established in 1796, is one of the oldest public art galleries in the world and the collections are not housed in a single building, but are scattered across several palaces: the largest is the Palace of Fairs which houses the collection of modern art. Other important exhibition spaces are located in the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemiain the Kinský Palace, in the Salm Palace, in Schwarzenberg Palacein the Sternberg Palace and in Wallenstein riding school.
Its foundation, as mentioned, dates back to the end of the eighteenth century when a group of Bohemian aristocrats decided to found an institution that raised the artistic taste of the population. Offering them the opportunity to admire masterpieces. Then in 1995 they were opened new spaces dedicated to 19th and 20th century art century in the renovated Veletržní Palác (Palazzo della Fiera), also a national monument like the largest functionalist building in Prague.
The Jewish heritage: the synagogues
A tour of Prague’s museums cannot fail to include a visit to the Jewish Museum. This exhibition space which is actually widespread and groups many buildings consists of several synagogues and other palaces and is one of the most visited in Prague as well as being one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world since it was born in 1906. The idea for which it was born was to collect the testimonies and grasp the culture of the Jewish population which has always inhabited Prague and Bohemia in general. The result is that it collects over 100 thousand books and thousands of precious and non-precious objects. As we said it does not occupy a single building but well six synagogues and other spaces such as the hall of ceremonies.
When visiting this museum, dedicate some time to Spanish synagogue, one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Spanish synagogue, built in 1868on the site of the oldest Jewish house in the city, was designed by theCzech architect Vojtech Ullmann. It had splendid stained glass windows but obviously fell into disrepair after the Nazi occupation and the situation did not improve with the arrival of the Communists. It was reopened only on its 130th anniversary, in the 90’s. It looks like a square building, with a large dome and on three sides there are large galleries while very beautiful are the decorations with stucco and geometric motifs which is influenced by Spanish and Oriental influences. A curiosity: it is called Spanish but has never seen the presence of Jews from the Spain; rather the name derives from the style chosen for the decorations.
The great Jewish cemetery
But not just ancient history. In Pinkas synagogue there is a poignant display of the drawings of the Jewish children killed by the Nazis. After the synagogues you have to stroll through the small streets of the Jewish quarter to get to the Cemetery which, for many, is the most exciting point of the visit.
In this cemetery, the third oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, each stone seems to tell a story. And you can breathe in the silent air the memory of battles and persecutions, distant lives and pages of history. On the other hand this cemetery was therethe only burial place for Jews in Prague from 1439 to 1787. Prague Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto, and the Jewish faith did not allow the dead to be moved. Hence, overlapping layers have also been created here thanks to the transfer of enormous loads of earth. Now it is estimated that they were buried around here 100 thousand Jews and that their burials form twelve layers.
The first plaque, that of Rabbi Avignor Karadates back to 1439 and the first documented existence of the cemetery dates back to 1438. The tombstones, often marked by time, appear crooked, as if they were about to fall but tell the extraordinary stratification and the events of those who are buried: in addition to David stars there are indeed family symbols and work done by the deceased or auspicious images. Some tombs are also famous such as that of Rabbi Jehuda Loewwho lived in the sixteenth century and is said to have been the creator of the Golemthe mythological clay giant or that of David Gans, who wrote the first modern work on Jews. The only tombstone for a woman is that of Hendl Basevithe wife of a wealthy businessman who was also one of the former mayors of the city.
The museum on Kampa Island
Of a very different style and setting, among the museums of Prague, is the Kampa museum on the homonymous island, a Malá Strana. The permanent collection, built by Jan and Meda Mládekfocuses on the work of František Kupka, a 20th century artist who made a contribution to the development of abstract painting. They are then found throughout the museum works by Czech and Slovak non-figurative artists and an attempt is made to give a picture of the controversial story of art for a long time persecuted by the communist government. After a visit to the museum, unfairly not very frequented, do not miss the opportunity to take a walk on the island which offers views and spaces for relaxation in front of the current of the Vltava.
Fans of science, technology and communication will appreciate the exhibits of the National Technical Museum in Prague, in Letná. If you are looking for curiosities about transport and machinery this is the museum for you. If, on the other hand, you love literature, go directly to Mala Strana where is the museum dedicated to Kafka.
A tribute to Kafka
But first pay homage to the great writer in one of the most evocative streets of Prague, namely in Golden Lane (the name comes from the fact that goldsmiths once worked here). Among the colored houses, at number 22in 1917, Kafka also lived for a year who was actually born in another area, in what is now called Kafka square at the corner with the via Maiselova.
Today there is only one carved plaque that remembers him while the only original part of the building is the door. The Kafka museum real however is located within the Herget brick factory in Prague. The exhibition that takes up what has been done in other cities for other literary geniuses (such as James Joyce to Dublin) collects raw editions of his works, letters, photos and manuscripts but also multimedia and audiovisual installations as well as a well-stocked bookshop.
We close the short journey through the museums of Prague arriving at Communism Museum which tells the story of the city after the war and in the period of Iron Curtain. Documents and photos are on display, materials of the time placed in a context that tries to make people understand the difficult life of those years, also showing reconstructions of school classrooms and shops with empty shelves. When the magical city he had lost most of his magic.