Friday, November 14, 2014

Wenceslas Square (Prague, Czech Republic)

After spending the morning at the Mucha museum, we walked around Wenceslas Square in New Town (Nové Město). Wenceslas Square was the site of the 1989 Velvet Revolution demonstrations and the announcement of the fall of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia. The square is now a testament to capitalism, with loads of shopping and eateries, but also has some interesting architecture and public art.

Grand Hotel Evropa

The Grand Hotel Evropa is considered one of the most beautiful buildings on the square. It was built in 1889 and then rebuilt in the early 1900s in the art nouveau style. Alas, it was under construction when we were there, so we only saw the outside -- as usual, I'm captivated by the details like these balconies.  (The main building of the National Museum was also under construction, so we were only able to peer inside at the grand stairway.) 

Wiehl House

Here is another beautiful building on Wenceslas Square. Designed by Antonin Wiehl and built in 1896, the facade features neo-Renaissance murals by Czech artist Mikoláš Aleš and others. See what I mean about gorgeously painted buildings being everywhere in Prague?

Kun (Horse) sculpture by David Černý

On our walk around Wenceslas Square, we explored some of the shopping arcades, including the art deco, mirror-lined Pasáž Rokoko, which leads to the Lucerna Palace arcade. This David Černý sculpture hangs in the atrium of the Lucerna Palace. "Horse" could be seen as a reflection of the large sculpture of St. Wenceslas in the square outside, except that here, St. Wenceslas is riding an obviously dead horse. Some have interpreted this as referencing Václav Klaus (Wenceslas is Václav in Czech), who served as prime minister and then president of the Czech Republic. Others see it as a commentary on the role of legendary figures in a modern Czech Republic. Černý himself does not interpret or comment on his works.

I wasn't familiar with David Černý's work before we went to Prague, but his controversial and humorous sculptures are all over the city. He became famous in 1991 for painting a Soviet tank bright pink. The tank was considered a national monument at the time, commemorating the Russian "liberation" of the country in 1945, so Černý was charged with a crime against the state and the tank was painted green again. Some of the parlementarians, outraged at his arrest, repainted the tank pink -- and they were immune from arrest, so they secured his release. The Soviet Union complained about the pink tank, so it was removed to a museum . . . where it is still pink.

Černý's work is often outrageous, and sometimes bizarre, such as Miminka, the giant, slot-faced crawling babies on the Žižkov Television Tower. Tourists are amused by Proudy, animatronic sculptures of two men peeing famous Czech quotes into a Czech Republic-shaped pool. We only saw two of his sculptures (Horse and In Utero) -- if I go back to Prague, I'd like to see more. In the meantime, you can see his work online here and here.

Stained glass window in the Světozor Arcade

Continuing on our tour of the arcades around Wenceslas Square, we went into the Světozor Arcade, where we saw this gorgeous stained glass window from the 1940s, advertising the Czechoslovakian firm TESLA. TESLA (or Tesla Radio) was a state-sponsored electronics firm, producing almost all of the electronics in Czechoslovakia until 1989.

The door to the Franciscan Garden

We stopped for a moment to enjoy a moment of quiet reflection in the Franciscan Garden.  The doors to the garden depict scenes in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. 

Crown Palace (Palác Koruna) (Photo by Q)

This art-nouveau building was the last sight on our tour of Wenceslas Square (after cruising past a cubist lamp-post on our way).  Note the crown of pearls at the top of the building that gives it its name.  We also saw two dancers doing a street performance duet in the square right in front of the Crown Palace, which was fun (until the crowd got too thick and I couldn't see them anymore). 

Next up:  Petřín Hill

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