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Prague Tourist Shows

Image: Parague scenes 1

Charles Bridge seen from the tower of St Vitus's Cathedral. The bridge has
become one of the most familiar icons of the city abroad. Being in
easy walking distance of the Little Quarter below the Cathedral, itself
in the setting of Prague Castle, and the Old Quarter, it feels like
the urban centre where visitors and locals can stroll. The statues
along its sides, and the gate towers at each end, give it a strong
sense of time and place. Artists and musicians give it further interest
for the eyes and ears. This is an introductory
showcase for Prague.

Image: Prague scenes 2

Churches are frequent, often imposing landmarks in Prague. Left: the Church of
Our Lady Before Tyn, started in 1365, was the main Hussite Church and symbolised
the reform movement in Bohemia. Right: St Vitus's Cathedral within Prague
Castle was begun 21 years earlier but only completed in the twentieth
century. The positioning and architecture of the two buildings make eloquent
statements about the beliefs and stories of their creators.

Image: Prague tourism 6

One of the monuments inside the Cathedral (left). Part of a glorious
stained glass window by Alfons Mucha (right).

Image: Prague scenes 3

Wenceslas Square comes as a surprise to many, being more like a long, broad
street with central spaces than a 'square', in which traffic and pedestrians
vie for available space. A gathering place for many years, it witnessed the
rally which protested against police brutality in 1989 which in turn heralded
the 'velvet revolution and the fall of communism. Now it has absorbed
the retail culture in large measures. The National Museum dominates the
southern end, a treasure house of collections of natural history, mineralogy,
anthropology, and art. Out in the Square examples of modern art make eye-
catching items, such as this frame formed from old cars, and concrete pillars
into which boots have been cast.

Image: Prague tourism 4

"The Iron Men" (right) in Wenceslas Square are a line of grim figures cast
in iron sections which are bolted together, as if the products of some
monstrous machine. The soldiers on the left march in line away from
changing the guard at the Castle.

Image: Prague tourism 5

The Municipal House is the best Art Nouveau structure in Prague. Built
between 1905 and 1911, it houses the Smetana Concert Hall and spaces for
art displays as well as restaurants and bars. The work of Antonin Balsanek
and Osvald Polivka, it has a huge mosaic above the entrance called Homage
to Prague by Karel Spillar. Alfons Mucha and others contributed to the
building. In 1918 the new,independent, state of Czechoslovakia was declared here.

Image: Prague tourism

Tourist guides competing for customers on Old Town Square, using posters
in English. At busy times a dozen separate groups might be standing,
listening to their guide, or being led across the Square to the next landmark.

Image: Prague tourism 8

A couple of tourists in the Square: where to next?

Image: Prague tourism 9a

In one corner of Old Town Square two blacksmiths set up their mobile
forge and anvil and began hammering out a living through tourism, making
and selling small items. Up at the Castle the guard stood impassive, even
when visitors stood alongside for their photos: or is that the hint of a
smile on the face of the good soldier Svejk?

Image: Prague museums

In the National Technical Museum is one of the best galleries devoted to
photography and film anywhere in Europe - an extensive and high-quality
collection. Paillard-Bolex 16mm cameras such as the one in the middle brought
films of faraway places to film audiences and TV screens. Lantern slides did
the same for an earlier generation.

Image: Prague museums

The Technical Museum is mainly devoted to locomotives, aeroplanes and
road vehicles. The older cars and trucks had right-hand drive. A curator
explained that Czechoslovakia did drive on the left like the UK until the
Germans invaded in 1939. Hitler gave the population one week to switch
over to the right to match the system of the Reich. The story brought
home in a very direct, human way an effect of the invasion. What a pity
that this, technical, display did not tell the story prominently through
interpretive panels or film.

On the right is a poster for a new museum. Interestingly it is headlined
in English, the increasingly-international language of tourism.

Image: Prague Exhibition - Industrial Palace and Fontana

One of the most interesting areas of Prague is Stromovka Park, known during
the communist era as Julius Fucik Park. Leisure tourists don't find their way
here very much, but business tourists might well go to trade exhibitions in the
Industrial Palace. This iron and glass building was put up for the 1891 Jubilee
Exhibition. Behind it is a rare kind of theatre, the open-air Krizikova Fontana.
Platforms make up a set of circular stages at the centre of a large pool of
water. Hundreds of water jets can be used to shoot fountains into the air,
varying their height and patterns in time to music performed live in the
arena. Some shows have dancers performing on the stages, with coloured spots
and floodlights adding to the effect. It is still regularly used.

Image: Prague panorama and globe theatre

Among several unusual attractions in the Park is the Maroldovo
Panorama. During the earlier part of the nineteenth century
panoramas were common features in Europe and North America, most
permanently housed
but a few travelling shows. They used huge paintings to recall
great events. Visitors paid a fee, climbed a flight of steps to
a central platform, and then viewed the static painting hung on the
walls of the circular building in which they stood. This panorama
shows the Battle of Lipan on a 360-degree work which is 90 metres in
circumference. At the bottom edge of the painting, all round
the circle, clever modelling and paint has been used to extend the
foreground towards the viewer, giving a 3D effect often found
in similar displays called dioramas. An understandable prohibition
on taking photographs prevents showing any of it here. A rather poorly
printed leaflet given out with the entrance ticket reproduces the
painting in strips, several of which had been flipped to become back
to front. Only a couple of small examples of panoramas exist in the
UK - one in Portsmouth, the other in Bath.

Next to the panorama is a version of Shakespeare's Globe
Theatre in which plays are performed. Though closed at the time, a
friendly attendant nearby, who shared an interest in digital
cameras, showed how to get inside.

Image: Prague planetarium and music hall

Finally, the tourist showcases in Stromovka include a planetarium
and a music hall, shown here, as well as a circus and funfair.

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