Monday, March 20, 2017


These two little replicas of houses in the Old Town (Stare Mesto) square now sit in our living room.  The one of the left was bought when we were in Prague 15 years ago in 2002, the one on the right was bought on this trip in 2017.

Here is a picture of them "in real life":

The one on the leftt is called "The Storch House,"  The building itself is from the 15th century but was reconstructed in neo-Renaissance and neo-Gothic style in 1896-1897 for the bookseller and publisher Alexander Storch.  The facade is adorned with a mural of St Wenceslas (the patron saint of Bohemia) and the three Magi.  The mural was designed by the famous Czech painter Mikol Ales.  Here are some details.

The one on the right is the House of the Stone Ram, which is named after the relief of a young girl with a ram (or unicorn). It was here that Albert Einstein played his violin for musical friends, such as Kafka. It also has a beautiful door.

Now their "children" live in Louisville on our bookcase, next to a plate I bought in a little village outside of Budapest.

PS  Though I am actually in Louisville, my blog is still wandering round Eastern Europe, as I have several more posts about Budapest and Prague, all of which are more interesting than anything happening here at home.

#Storch \House

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Prague. Baroque "Signage"

One of the more charming detail of the buildings in Prague is the way they announce their purpose or heritage.  This is usually done by some ornamental sign at the top.  In Secession houses, the sign (if there) might include the date of the building or the architect.  In the Baroque houses, especially those that line Neruda Street, coming down from the castle to the river in Mala Strana, or in the Old Town (Stare Mesto) Square, the signs are visual icons.  In some cases their meaning is clear.  The  above sign, for example, marks the House of the the Three Fiddles, which was once owned by a master violin maker.  In others, the meaning is sometimes less clear.  Also present in this premiere spot on the facade, just above the door, are religious paintings or icons, sculpted animals, or images whose meaning is hard to decode.  It is just one more detail in the very detailed landscape of the city--one more ornament, one more spot for darting eyes to land.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Prague. From Baroque to Secession in the Blink of an Eye

Yesterday, we walked from our hotel on top of the hill near the castle, down through the Little Town, Mala Strana (basically Baroque), over the Charles Bridge, though the Old Town (Stare Mesto) to the edge of the New Town (Nove Mesto).  In the morning, we passed by one of the largest churches in Prague, the monumental St Nicholas Church, that sits very near the Charles Bridge.  It is a huge and incredibly imposing church.  It is just about the most over-the-top High Baroque Church I have ever seen.  Pictures don't really show its magnitude.  It is overwhelmingly large and highly ornate.

It was built for the Jesuits by the Dietzenhofer family, father and son, between 1703 and 1761.  The upper cupola is so high, the congregants were afraid it would fall on them.  The church borrows Baroque principles from Borromini and Bernini but extends them into ever more complicated spatial programs.  Every square inch seems to be decorated.

After seeing the church we crossed the Charles Bridge, walked through the Old Town (Stare Mesto), one Baroque house after another, interspersed with the occasional Renaissance and Gothic.  (No Historicism here; this is pure Historic.)  We found ourselves near the National Theater on the embankment.  And all of a sudden, we realized we were at the beginning of a row of the most amazing Art Nouveau, Secessionist houses.  We had read that there was Secession in Prague, but all the guide books mentioned the same buildings   I had no idea there would be so much, and that it would be so concentrated.  Apparently there was a move to "clean up" Prague at the turn of the century in the urban renewal that many European cities went through around that time.  In Prague, over 600 buildings were razed.  (This was, as you might expect, a controversial action, because what got torn down was more historic architecture.)  So we kept coming on areas where Secession buildings were clustered.  But the ones on the Masyrak Embankment were something special, all lined up one after another.

There they were: one amazing building after another.

And filled with the most beautiful and unexpected details.

I probably could--if I spent several years of intense study--learn to "read" the Baroque St. Nicholas, but for whatever reason, it doesn't call me.  I first saw Art Nouveau or Secession architecture when I was in Timisoara Romania.  Before I saw it there, I really didn't know it existed.  And so for me, there has always been this powerful sense of discovery, which is intensified by the fact that, except for the most famous buildings, one tends to stumble onto Art Nouveau architecture.  It surprised me that there was so much in such an old city like Prague.  But I kept seeing it, and everytime I did, it was like "Hello!"  

Walking around Prague is the most intense "architecture experience" I have ever had.  More so even than beautiful cities like Paris or Rome, because here there is virtually nothing except stone.  No green spaces or wide boulevards.  Just lots of buildings crowded side by side, separated by narrow cobblestone streets, plus of course the bridges (which are also sculpted like buildings).  (And the fact that it's jammed with tourists only adds to the almost claustrophobic sense of abundance.)  I have taken about 2000 pictures since I got here, and I know there are too many.  How does one every make sense of so many pictures?  How does one make sense of a city like this?  It seems a life-long project, but not, alas, for me.

#Art Nouveau
# MasyrakEmbankment

Friday, March 3, 2017

Prague. Architecture Overload.

We left Budapest two days ago (though there are still several Budapest posts in draft for later) and arrived in Prague for a week.  Prague is like all of the buildings in Budapest smushed together into one district, then there are at least three districts more.  That is, EVERYWHERE you look there is something astonishing to see.  Plus the historical diversity is extraordinary.  What is clearly historicist (recreating historical styles) in Budapest is historic (the real thing) in Prague.  And it's all there side by side.  It's hard to know where to look, because everywhere you look you see something new and unusual and beautiful.  It almost makes me dizzy.  I am going to try to sort out what I am seeing eventually, but here are just a few of the many amazing architectural details I saw just in the first morning!