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Amidst the pulsing Old Town Square of the city, the Old Town Hall is the vortex of tourist activity. The several chambers inside the Gothic Old Town Hall serve as venues for exhibitions and events. While the tower of the hall offers terrific views of the historic neighborhood, the underground section is the keeper of Prague's best-kept secrets. The real attraction, however, is the Astronomical Clock on the facade of the hall. Built in the 15th Century and known as Orloj, the clock is a complex set of dials with astronomical details and also positioning of the Sun and Moon. A legend goes that the clockmaker of this unique structure was blinded after its completion and also that the city will face great peril if the clock is neglected and becomes dysfunctional. The figures of twelve apostles were added in 1940 and are designed to move in a particular motion at every hour, just above the clock face. An intriguing and rare monument, the clock is a popular tourist attraction in Old Town.
The restored Maisel Synagogue is a 16th-century temple, part of the multi-site Jewish Museum - and it's also Prague's most popular museum. The exhibits were collected during World War II as the occupying Nazis pillaged each and every Czech Jewish community and stockpiled the booty in Prague, where a small Jewish Museum had existed since 1906. The synagogue now houses the first part of an exhibition called "History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia" covering the period from the 10th Century to the 18th Century. Displays include silver Torah shields, pointers, fine tapestry, Torah curtains, documents, books and items from the ordinary everyday life of the city's Jews. Many of the finest objects date back to the relatively prosperous 16th Century, when several of the richest synagogues in the Jewish quarter were built. For a more contemporary view of Jewish history, be sure to visit the Spanish Synagogue.
This is the site where the Jewish Museum's historical displays continue the story up to the modern day. The exhibits mostly contain books, photographs and documents covering the 18th-century beginnings of Jewish emancipation and enlightenment, the period of assimilation in the 19th Century, the catastrophe brought about by Hitler and his willing executioners, and post-war efforts to revitalize the community. The synagogue itself dates back to 1868. It is a dazzling, Moorish-style structure and its two-level, domed hall can be said to be one of the city's most stunning interior spaces.
The Jewish Museum in Prague allows Central European Jews to celebrate their heritage, and serves as an important institution in Prague's history for any visitor to the city. The museum has survived Nazi occupation and the Communist regime since its establishment in 1906. The museum has been sustained by its commitment to Jewish heritage and community. It houses an extraordinary collection of Judaic art and artifacts from Central Europe, and operates public exhibitions in historical sites around the city of Prague, such as the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Maisel Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue (The), the Klausen Synagogue, the Jewish Ceremonial Hall, and the Spanish Synagogue.
In the center of Prague's old Jewish Quarter lies a cemetery dating to the first half of the 15th Century. The cemetery contains about 12,000 tombstones, including those of poet Avigdor Karo, astronomer David Gans, and Rabbi Loew, who is important in Jewish mythology because of his association with the legend of Golem. A pleasant day-trip, the cemetery also serves as a poignant reminder of the historical importance of Jews in Prague. The cemetery is operated by the Jewish Museum in Prague.
In the heart of the Old Town, around 100 meters from Old Town Square, stands the Havel's Street Market. Here, traders sell art, fruit, vegetables, jewelry, toys and anything else small enough to pack on to their open-air wooden stands. On either side of the street are shops that sell virtually everything else, including a herbal store that sells herbs and teas. If you wish to buy souvenirs for your loved ones back home, you will be presented with a plethora of options at the Havel's Street Market.
The Mirror Chapel, dating back to around 1724, was possibly designed by Frantisek Maximillian Kanka. The Baroque opulence is outstanding with mirrors placed on the ceiling. The purple and red ombre decor in marble and stucco finish is embellished with rich gold carvings. Gilded figurines of harp and trumpet playing cherubs sail over one of the two 18th-century organs. An exhibition and a chamber concert hall, the experience of listening to classical masterpieces is unparalleled because of the impeccable acoustics. An architectural marvel, the Mirror Chapel is one of the most breathtaking venues in the city.
Located in the heart of Prague, this art gallery has a huge collection by leading artists from Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine, and specializes in East European Art. Expect tons of watercolor, encaustic, charcoal and oil paintings as well as other works from names such as Mikora, Kavshbaya and Gepp. The gallery also hosts exhibitions, events and auctions from time to time, which include the works of upcoming artists.
At the Museum of Communism, visitors will be completely immersed into the history of the Soviet Union's notorious system. Videos, a historical schoolroom, an interrogation room, real artifacts and life-like factories will teach you about the daily life, politics, economics, education and censorship policies of the Soviets. The Museum of Communism is the first museum in Prague to focus on a totalitarian regime since the Velvet Revolution.
A legend in his own lifetime, Alphonse Mucha precipitated his rise to world fame in 1894 with his poster of actress Sarah Bernhardt in Gismonda, which introduced the art nouveau style. Mucha was born in 1860 in Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. His family opened this museum, Muchovo Muzeum Praha (Mucha Museum), in 1998. It contains the artist's famously ornate posters, cookie and champagne labels, bicycle ads and much more. Each item shows off his use and mastery of intricate detail and pastel colors. There are also other images, painted depictions of age, poverty and war, the the artist's sketchbooks showing how he worked out his decorative patterns, and photographs both by and of Mucha. Prague is full of Mucha souvenirs, and the gift shop here is a good place to find some of the more tasteful ones. Call ahead for more information.
Centre de Culrura Contemporania in Barcelona (CCCB) brought this creative exhibit to life. Having penned The Trial, Metamorphosis, and The Castle, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is the apostle of the literature of paranoia. While Kafka never specifies exact settings within his stories, Prague's presence is powerful within many. The city has also made a lasting impression on the author himself. These ideas are highlighted in the museum's two sections, "Existential Space" and "Imaginary Topography." Featuring first editions of Kafka's works, letters, drawings, manuscripts, and audio-visual pieces, this museum allows you to explore Prague through Kafka.
One of the city's most familiar sights, this massive Neo-Renaissance construction overlooks the town from the top end of Wenceslas Square. Soviet troops fired on the museum as they occupied Prague in August 1968. The interior is fairly dramatic: a grand staircase sweeps up to the Pantheon, a hall filled with busts of Czech cultural heroes. The exhibits are old-fashioned, focusing on fossils, stuffed animals, minerals and archaeological finds. The visiting hours vary seasonally; for specific timings check the website or call ahead.