The Czech Republic’s strong cultural balance between the abundance of urban life and calm rural communities features a wide variety of tourism options, from breweries to castles to Jewish ghettos. Major cities like Prague and Trebic are ripe with history at nearly every corner, and Jewish tours offer everything from the construction of the second-largest synagogue in Europe to the creation of the mythical Golem.
Our visit started with the Tour of the monastery Zeliv (Premonstratensian Monastery). The monastery was established in 1139 and lies in the midst of nature in the scenic Vysočina region which can be reached via a variety of hiking and cycling trails. Part of the monastery complex is the Želiv Monastery Brewery which produces six kinds of beer using traditional methods.
We discovered the mysticism of Zelená hora – St. John of Nepomuk: 5 gates, 5 chapels, 5 altars and 5 stars. The Church of St. John of Nepomuk on Zelená hora is one of the most original buildings in all of of Europe and still amazes people from all over the world to this very day. This UNESCO monument and work of the talented architect Jan Blažej Santini Aichel is a place which deserves to be visited by all those who appreciate its mysticism and unique architecture, interwoven with the powerful story of St. John of Nepomuk, the Czech saint.
Most visitors start their tour with the fairytake town of Telč as it is one of the most romantic places in the Czech Republic. It would be hard to imagine a more fairytale-like little town than Telč and Zacharias of Hradec Square which is a part of the UNESCO world heritage. A lovely historic center with the cobbled road, beautiful architecture and facades of some of old buildings, a water well were you can pump fresh water and the Plague Column and fountain is also found in this square. This place reminded me of the “Painted Ladies” in San Francisco, beautifully colorful houses that are all of the same period. The town square is very impressive, picturesque and alluring.
The Tour of the Chateau in Telc is amazing and breathtaking. Telc château deserves its place on the UNESCO list. It has so many original interior objects, more than four hundred years old. These include beautifully carved stone and wooden ceilings, marble and wood floors and many more. While the exterior of this castle was rather ordinary and hidden off the town center, the interior was truly extraordinary. Much of the beautiful interior is original and very well preserved, including incredible wall etchings and murals, carvings, marble and wood floors, ironwork, tapestry, old graffiti, and paintings. Additionally, there is a memorable hunting trophy room and a ghost story. A chateau which could have come straight from a movie as it ranks among one of the Moravian gems of Renaissance architecture.
Jihlava Underground. Jihlava is in the modern center of the Vysočina Region and bears the title of the silver treasury of the Czech Kingdom. Jihlava catacombs are second biggest underground in Czech republic and its really large. Great place is the Shining corridor. There are also rumors about mysterious shadows. A great place to have a drink is a dalesice brewery which is located in the south east corner of the Vysocina highland region. They make excellent beer and have a quite engaging history to tell. Dalešice is one of the better lagers you can drink in the South Moravia and Vysočina regions of the Czech Republic and their brewery is very much worth the trip. The brewery conducts two main tours which are of about half an hour each which features aspects of the brewery from the Austro-Hungarian Empire era and the other showcases the modern brewing operation. There is a third tour which includes a beer tasting.
“UNESCO site of narrow lanes, synagogues, a cemetery and a basilica”
You will appreciate its magnificent semicircular Romanesque portal and nave, beside which is the Abbot’s Chapel with the original Gothic paintings. They are the second oldest frescoes in Moravia. The chapel is completely covered with paintings and ornamentation. The best preserved part of the church is the crypt – the burial place of monks and the founders of the monastery.
The Jewish Quarter of Trebic, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is made up of 120 homes along the bank of the Jihlava River. While no longer home to an organized Jewish community, Trebic maintains its Jewish cemetery, a renovated synagogue-turned-museum and a recently discovered mikvah
Trebic is a magical place. In a few steps you can stroll in one of the best preserved ghettos of the world or in a wonderful XII sec church. This peaceful quarter makes for a nice uphill walk through the lovely Jewish Quarter up towards the old cemetery. It is nice and quiet and the cemetery takes your breath away and makes you stop and think about many losses during the Second World War.
The Prague Castle, an ancient symbol of the Czech lands, is the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic.
This was one of the most enchanting pieces of history I have ever experienced. When first encountering this immense Cathedral, it captivates you with its size and splendor. Photos can hardly do it justice either outside or in. The beautiful stained glass cathedral, original gothic architecture, medieval prison cell, village street residences are all amazing. Very impressive inside and out. “St. Vitus Cathedral”Amazing Gothic architecture is decorated with frescoes and semi-precious stones. You can climb the tower- 287 steps, but the views are worth the effort. Fascinating history and architecture- The St. Vitus Cathedral is a must-see when in Prague.
Malá Strana is one of the oldest and the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city. Nestled underneath Prague Castle, it was once a part of the Kings route taken by future kings on their way to coronation originating in the Old Town, crossing Charles Bridge and leading to Saint Vitus Cathedral. Cobblestone streets are lined with picturesque medieval houses, remarkable palaces, churches, kitsch shops and restaurants. Do not hesitate to turn a corner into any narrow street. You will suddenly find yourself in a calm and charming neighborhood full of hidden gardens, parks with peacocks, fruit trees and ponds.
The Charles Bridge is a famous historic Bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century.
This is a lovely old historic bridge and it is open only to pedestrians. Musicians will entertain you, artists will offer to draw your likeness or do a caricature of you or your kids. Vendors will sell you crafts of all sorts. It is a wonderful place. But it is crowed , so walk down along the river instead and you will have a wonderful time. We discovered a market and all sorts of delightful places to sit in the sun, watch the boats or swans, listen to music or have a beer. Don’t forget to take a bit of luck away with you!
From the 30 statues on the Charles Bridge, it is above all the statue of St. John of Nepomuk which stands out. Don’t forget to stroke its bronze relief work at the base. By doing so, you can be certain that you will take a little bit of this Prague luck away with you! This statue is not here by chance. It was precisely from the Charles Bridge that this saint was thrown into the Vltava. Legend says that he did not want to divulge the queen’s secret to the king and was martyred for it. The other end of the bridge ends with the twin Gothic bridge towers of the Lesser Quarter, which have framed a million wonderful photographs taken home by visitors to Prague every year. Try to experience the Bridge both during the day and at night. The city is amazing when all lit up.
Old Town Hall in Prague. This place is amazing! A very fun area, lots of shops and cafes, and you must get there when the clock strikes time.
Tour of the historic interiors of the Old Town Hall.
The core of the town hall was a Gothic corner house, to which the Prague burghers added an extra floor with a council hall and a 70 m high tower with viewing-gallery. The town hall achieved its current form over centuries. In the cellars, visitors can view the foundations of Romanesque houses, while the dominant style of the interiors is Gothic. The building’s original Gothic vaulting, original hall with painted wooden ceiling beams and rare Gothic chapel and oriel window, the work of architect Petr Parléř, the builder of the Cathedral of St. Vitus at Prague Castle, all form part of the tour. Old Town Hall has been a dominating feature of Old Town Square for centuries. Thanks to the remarkable Astronomical Clock and the tower, with its view of the historic center of Prague, Old Town Hall is amongst the most-visited sites in the city. The construction of this Gothic building was started in 1338.
The clock is a wondrous contraption that chimes on the hour with a skeleton that pulls on a chain and turns an hourglass upside down to remind you of the passage of time. The apostle parade by an open window and the entire show ends with the crowing of the clock. This country is a perfect blend of old world beauty, architectural charm and rich history. You do not want to miss visiting this treasure of the Czech Republic.
To plan a trip to Prague and the Vysocina region:
Call the Czech National Tourist Office or for more information: www.czechtourism.com
Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Guide & New York Jewish Travel Guide
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Czech National Tourist Office