Tag Archives: Prague

Searching for Mucha

I’ve always been a fan of Art Deco, both architecture and art. One of my favourite artists is Alfons Mucha and, until I visited Prague, I had no idea how connected to the city he was. So I decided to discover more about him by seeking out the places where he left his mark on the city.

dscf1756My first encounter is at St Vitus Cathedral in the castle complex. As I enter, my eye is drawn to one of the first stained-glass windows. I recognise the style instantly. Mucha was commissioned in 1931 to design a window for the cathedral. He was already a well-established artist and had become very famous in Prague following his exhibition of the Slav Epic in the Trade Fair building in 1928. The women depicted in the window resemble the many posters of Sarah Bernhardt that Mucha produced for her numerous stage plays between 1894 and 1898.

 

I next find his influence in the beautiful Obecni dum (Municipal Building) which he helped to design in 1911. Although I am unable to see the ornate halls, I can appreciate the dining areas and hallways which boast features representative of Mucha’s art.

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alfons-mucha-photoIn order to learn more about Alfons Mucha, I visit the museum located not far from Obecni dum. It’s a small exhibition of some of his theatre posters, sketches and a few paintings. I find the black and white photos of models posing in costume for his Slav Epic particularly interesting as I hadn’t realised that artists were using this technique a century ago.

 

 

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Alfons Mucha was born in 1860 in Southern Moravia and started his artistic career painting scenery for a theatre. When the theatre burned down, he moved on to house painting where his talents were recognised by Count Karl Khuen, who sent him to study at the Munich Academy of Arts and later to the Academie Julian in Paris. Mucha also spent time on book illustration and designing jewellery for Fouchet. However, his real desire was to create an epic work which told the mythology and history of the Czechs and other Slavic people. He began work on it in 1910 and the 20 canvases, many of which are 8m x 6m, were finally displayed in Prague in 1928.

mucha-banknoteMucha was greatly influenced by the Freemasons and connections to this can be seen in his work. In 1918 he established the first Czech Lodge and later became a Grand Master. Following the Independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, he designed the new banknotes and also stamps, some of which are displayed in the museum.

dscf1978Sadly, at the beginning of WWII, he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken for questioning. He never recovered from his ordeal and died 8 days later on the 14th of July 1939, aged 78. I walk up to the Vysehrad fortress to see the cemetery where he was laid to rest. His name is displayed on a plaque on the Slavin Monument. He is in good company for Kafka is also buried there and not far away is the tomb of Czech composer Dvorak.

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dscf1998After paying my respects I decide to take a peek inside the St Peter and St Paul church which borders the cemetery. What I find inside is the most fitting tribute to Mucha. The colourful interior is decorated in his unique style with saints adorning the pillars, looking just like Mucha’s theatrical posters. Soft organ music is playing in the background and I feel very peaceful.

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Prague on a Budget

Although people still think of Prague as being in Eastern Europe it has well and truly embraced the European Union. Well, except for not adopting the euro, as per the UK. Prices reflect this and it seems as though every Czech is trying to get the most out of visitors to the city. There are fee paying museums everywhere, extra charges are also imposed if you want to take any photos and even the churches have an entry fee. However, I managed to spend 3 days in the city for less than £100 and here are my tips for visiting Prague on a budget.

autocamp-trojskaAccommodation: Even if you are not in a motorhome or carrying a tent, the campsites in Trojska are very good value. Basically, enterprising homeowners have set up camps in their large back gardens and built some wooden bungalows at the far end. It’s a safe, quiet location with easy access to the city centre (13mins by tram). There are half a dozen camps on the same road which leads to Trojska Chateau and the Zoo. One night will cost about 300k / £10.

dscf1866Transport: There are many ways that you can see Prague. Organised tours on buses, boats, segways and even vintage cars. However, the cheapest option is on foot, but wear comfortable shoes as many of the streets are cobbled. In order to see as much as possible in one day, or to get into the centre from the suburbs, you might want to buy a transport ticket – 24k (less than £1) for a 30 min journey or 110k (£3) for the day. It can be used on buses, trams, the metro and even the funicular up to Petrin Hill.

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Safety: All the guidebooks, and even the Foreign Office advice warn of scams and pickpockets in Prague. Personally, I never experienced or even noticed any such activity. However, be careful with your belongings when in busy areas such as Charles Bridge and especially tram 22 which covers the route from the city centre to the castle. Also check your change carefully when you pay for anything.

dscf1878Food: Normally I would never recommend lunch at McDonalds, but in Prague that is possibly the best option if you are on a tight budget. Most of the restaurants offering traditional Czech fare will set you back 300k (£10) for a main course and that’s not including a beer. Equally expensive are the old-fashioned cafes, such as the Imperial, Europa or the Art Deco Café in the Municipal House where a coffee and cake could cost you the equivalent of 1 nights’ accommodation. If the weather is nice take a picnic up to Petrin Hill or buy some street food in one of the main squares.

dscf1814Museums: The price of visiting Prague’s museums varies but there are some good offers to be had. For example, you can buy a half-price ticket for the Mucha Museum at the Kafka Museum and vice-versa. Unfortunately they are some distance apart and on opposite sides of the river. Some museums also have free days or may be free on public holidays. Note: many museums and churches are closed on Mondays.

dscf1722The Castle: It is possible to visit the castle grounds for free, though you will still have to queue and pass through a security check to gain access. It is also possible to enter the St Vitus Cathedral without paying but you will only be allowed just inside the main doors. To see the beautiful side chapels and really appreciate the interior you will need a ticket. Ticket B (250k / £8) will provide you with access to all of the Cathedral, St George’s Basilica (inviting on the outside but rather plain within), the Old Royal Palace (featuring a huge, but empty, 15th century hall accessible to horses via the wide, shallow steps of the Rider’s Staircase and a balcony offering wonderful views of the city, weather permitting), and Golden Lane (a narrow street of cute little  houses, half laid out as museum exhibits and half souvenir shops).

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dscf1808However, the best feature of the castle does not even require access as the midday changing of the guard takes place in the first courtyard and can be viewed from Hradcanske Nam, the main square outside. Escorted by a brass band playing a special tune (a bit like the ‘Thunderbirds’ theme), the guards march in and out dressed in a uniform created by a costume designer for Hollywood films.

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dscf1903Charles Bridge: It’s completely free to wander over this pedestrian bridge spanning the River Vltava, best attempted in the morning before the crowds get too thick. Street musicians provide entertainment and artists offer to sketch your portrait. 30 sculptures line the bridge but be sure to stop at the statue of St John Nepomuk, who was hurled into the river in 1383 for refusing to divulge the confession of the Queen. A bronze cross marks the spot where he was thrown in and if you place your fingers on the five points of the cross and close your eyes, you can make a wish.

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dscf1964Old Town Square: The tower of the Town Hall features an intricate astronomical clock which provides free entertainment every hour to crowds of tourists who gather in the square below. Just before the bell strikes the hour, two windows open and the 12 apostles file past, while below death watches on and above a cock crows to mark the end of the show. It’s also possible to climb the tower for a fee (120k / £4) and look down upon the crowds while also admiring views across the city.