My introduction to Prague was through Professor Cilek’s guided walk tour. We first stopped at a monastery with a spectacular view: to the left, not very far, was Prague Castle with its beautiful gothic spires, across the Vltava river, was the city in its splendour. As we walked towards Prague castle the cobbled streets enchanted me. I took a picture and wondered how how old the streets were. My foremost thought was the landscape. How has it changed or has it changed at all? What was its shape and form before the 20th century?
The next stop of the tour wasn’t Prague castle but its extensive garden/grounds. We didn’t see the inside of the castle nor walked along its perimeter but even from afar the confluence of romanesque, gothic and renaissance influences were apparent. The castle looked magnificent from where we were situated. In the park is a “singing fountain” with bronze sculptures of hermaphrodite demons. They made me laugh and sitting below its wide bowl, Professor Cilek demonstrated why it was called thus: when struck, the fountain sings. It reminded me of Asian singing bowls used during buddhist ceremonies to induce peace and meditation.
As we walked out of the castle grounds towards the city centre, we stopped on top of a hill overlooking the main bridges connecting lesser town Prague and old town Prague. Standing on top of that hill, looking down at the Vltava river, I was reminded of majesty. Prague carries its beauty like a queen. I bet each building tells a story, some sad and cruel, others whimsical and ordinary. Prague’s urban landscape rarely includes new architectural structures or features. It’s the first time I’ve encountered a city that hasn’t undergone a major architectural change. I don’t know if Czechs are hesitant to change the city since Prague’s charm relies heavily on its historical past.
The walk ended at Charles University. It didn’t hit me that I was really taking classes in Prague until I saw the view outside the classroom window: Prague castle on my horizon and the National theatre across from the university. What I’ve realized just being in Prague for a day is how the past is a persistent feature of the present. It is preserved for consumption and commodification. Thousands of tourist arrive each year to take part in its medieval pageantry. I’m part of that line of tourist. I don’t know what I will find out about Prague, so far, I’ve been charmed by its bridges and cobble stone streets, but a city isn’t without its secrets and I’d like to uncover some of them. Investigate if it has a truant side, know the path it took (both sordid and reputable) to become the metropolis that it is today.