Saturday, November 8, 2014

Municipal House and the Jewish Quarter (Prague, Czech Republic)

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

Just a few blocks from our hotel is the grand Municipal House, one of the finest examples of Prague Art Nouveau. It was built on the site of the former royal palace in the early 20th century and a number of artists contributed to its design and decoration, including Alfons Mucha. It currently houses civic functions, a ballroom and the Smetana concert hall.

We were only able to look at the public areas of the building, as we couldn't make it to one of the daily tours, so we didn't see the paintings by Mucha in Mayor Hall. But we did spend a solid morning at the Mucha museum a couple of blocks away, poring over his posters, paintings, and sketches, as well as watching a film about his life. He is often best remembered for the work he did in Paris, so I did not know how much he worked for the creation of an independent state and recognition of the history and culture of those in Czechoslovakia. He was pleased to provide his work to a number of buildings in Prague and he spent years finishing his Slav Epic. He was among the first to be arrested by the Nazis after they invaded and it broke his health, as he died shortly after being released. 

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

There was beautiful metal work in the outdoor railings as well as around the elevator in the lobby. I'm sparing you the photos of the elevator grille I took. Seriously, though, would one ever get tired of this beauty?

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

Here you can see the front entrance to the Municipal House, including some beautiful stained glass work and a mosaic above the doorway. We passed by this entrance almost every day while we were in Prague.

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

This photo shows more details of the mosaic by Karel Špillar above the doorway, entitled Homage to Prague.

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

Here you can see the stained glass over the doorway viewed from the door looking out. I don't know what the blue poster is on the building across the street.

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

Even the lamps are beautifully designed in the Art Nouveau style. The Municipal House has a restaurant/cafe, and we had lunch here one day, but in the outdoor section, so I didn't get a chance to see the indoor design features.

Q in the basement of Municipal House (Obecní dům)

The tile work in the stairway to the basement was designed by E. Hlavin and the tiles were made by the Rakovník factory RAKO, which also made the tile work in the Art Deco Imperial Hotel. I love the colors and metallic sheen of the tile, so I made Q pose while I took a picture.

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

This is the photo everyone takes of the ornamentation in the foyer (it's just up the main stairs on the first floor). But who can resist? I am captivated by the flowing lines of the design and the modern take on a caryatid.

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

More details -- the metal work on the doors, the tile work on the floor, just everything was beautiful in Municipal House. Can you tell I love the Art Nouveau style?

Building detail across the street from the Old-New Synagogue

After seeing Municipal House, we trekked to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), which is just north of the Old Town Square.  Everywhere we walked in Prague we saw gorgeous architecture, just on everyday buildings, not even those featured in the guidebooks.  I love the painted details above the window and the carving above the door on this building in the Jewish Quarter. 

The back of the Old-New Synagogue (Altneuschul)

The Old-New Synagogue is Europe's oldest working synagogue (it is more than 700 years old) and is built in a Gothic style. Q noticed this intriguing ladder on the back of the synagogue, leading up to the attic door. I wondered if it had to do with the legendary Golem, who according to some versions of the tale, was stored in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue after its magic talisman was removed. But it turns out the ladder was required for fire safety at some point in the history of the city (according to the docent).

We saw several synagogues, including the Old-New Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Klaus Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall (the former mortuary). Photos weren't permitted inside the buildings. Several of the synagogues had been transformed into museums with excellent exhibits about Jewish life and culture.

The Old Jewish Cemetery

The Old Jewish Cemetery is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery (founded in the 15th century), and is apparently one of the most popular tourist sites in Prague. One enters the cemetery through the Pinkas Synagogue, which has a memorial to the Jewish victims of the holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia (each person's name is inscribed on the walls) and an exhibit of children's artwork from the Terezin concentration camp. Both were deeply moving and helped set an appropriately somber tone for entering the cemetery.

The cemetery itself is beautiful but incredibly crowded. There are more than 12,000 tombstones, but possibly as many as 100,000 graves, in a very small area. Given the space limitations of the Jewish ghetto in Prague, graves were buried on top of other graves, so the tombstones crowd together on top of a large mound of layered graves. It seemed a fitting reminder of the crowding that would have been experienced in the ghetto.

The Old Jewish Cemetery

These are fragments of Gothic tombstones from another cemetery. I was moved by the stones and notes left here (Jewish tradition is to leave small stones at the grave in remembrance) -- even with the age of these tombstones, people are still remembering and connecting with the lives represented by the tombstone fragments.

The Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 and is so named because of the Moorish influence on its design. Just look at the rich, intricate painted designs that covered the walls; these reminded me of Moroccan designs, with interlocking repeated motifs. It was amazingly beautiful.

(Note: I didn't see that photos weren't permitted in the Spanish Synagogue, and many people were taking photos, so I did take some pictures before a guard told me about the no-photos rule.)

The Spanish Synagogue

Many of the painted designs evoked an Art Nouveau feel. I would love to translate these into clothing surface design.

Franz Kafka sculpture by Jaroslav Róna

Just outside of the Spanish Synagogue, one finds this sculptural tribute to Franz Kafka. (I told you, that guy is all over Prague.) Apparently, Kafka lived right across the street and would have walked these streets regularly. I'm not sure what to make of the symbolism of the sculpture, which the artist based on an early story of Kafka's involving one man riding on another man's shoulders. But why is the larger person merely an empty suit, headless and handless? Which figure is meant to represent Kafka -- or are they both Kafka? We never made it to the Kafka museum in Prague, but I am intrigued enough that I may read more of his writing.

Next up:  The Sex Machine Museum 

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