Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prague - saved from the devastation

Prague has stood for almost 800 years as one of the great capitols of Europe. At one time it was third only to Rome and Paris in size and it clearly had vast opportunity as one of the Hapsburg dynasty's most wealthy territories. It was spared major damage during the World and other wars because somehow it managed to avoid violent take-overs, even when various other armies, rulers, and dictators took it over from time to time.

We had a fascinating tour guide who considered himself Palestine, even though born and living in Prague. His parents were political refugees from Palestine from the 1940s and 1950s. He wasn't bitter about this but his status as a person whose identity is Palestinian definitely influenced comments that he made. One particular point that he made that startled me was that he said that the Czechs have always been willing to give in to others, thus saving their art and architecture, but perhaps sacrificing their principles and self-determination. This was a fascinating point that I will continue to explore.

The most prominent point in all of Prague is the Palace on the hill above the city, one that includes St. Vitus' Cathedral. The majority of the architecture in the city is either Baroque or Art Neuvo (in the case of St. Wenceslas' square). By contrast, St. Vitus Cathedral is Gothic (interior view to left) and contains many beautiful windows and historical elements. Included in the historical elements are the burial sarcophigi of all the former rulers of the area presently occupied by the Czech Republic and a special chapel where "Good King Wenceslas" is buried.

The last thing of the day included finding the music - again. There is lots of music offered in Prague but much of it is light classical music that tourists can attend and think they are actually listening to a substantive classical concert. It's a pretty sad statement that there are so many of these mini-concerts that allow people to go through the motions of attending more challenging concerts. We were lucky that we found a concert of a medium-size orchestra performing works of Smetana and Dvorak (busts pictured to right are of these two composers) that offered a little more creative substance.

Prague is now attracting seven million tourists a year and May is at the height of the season. The crowds were massive but manageable. It was great to discover another fascinating and historic European city. Thank goodness it was saved from destruction, no matter the means. I was able to go to the site of one of the Czech people's greatest moments in coping with and challenging the occupation of other governments. Wenceslas Square was the place where 300,000 people gathered day after day, rallying around Vaclav Havel who lead them in chants of "it's time to go." The result of this "velvet revolution" was the withdrawal of Soviet forces without one military encounter or lost life. This is an amazing story of courage and of positive change without violence.

No comments: