Czech Republic: Love and Architecture

This is the fifth installment in a series of essays by globe-trotter Kevin Nguyen, who is currently studying at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Meandering the streets at night, he recognizes the grandeur in the city’s thousand-year-old architectural legacy.

I think everyone in Prague is in love.

Walking across picturesque Karlov most (Charles Bridge), hand-holding never disappears from my peripheral vision. I pass several restaurants and notice that most of the tables are set for two. I see couples making out on the escalators to and from the Metro, which, in Prague, affords a five-minute tongue tango each way.

Historic Charles Bridge, situated over the river Vltava; courtesy of Carson Victor

It’s no secret that public affection is more common in Europe than in the States, but even compared to the other cities I’ve visited recently–London, Munich, and Vienna–the spontaneous make-out sessions are rampant in Prague.

It’s not difficult to account for the passion in the streets: simply put, this is a romantic city. At night, Old Town is conservatively lit, bathing the buildings in a warm, idyllic glow. The majestic Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) overlooks downtown from across the river Vltava. (According to Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the largest castle in the world.)

Prague Castle; courtesy of Carson Victor

Much of Prague’s romantic allure, I think, has to do with the endurance of its architectural history. Unlike most major cities of Europe, Prague was, more or less, left untouched by World War II, preserving the city’s four principle eras of architecture. Romanesque and Gothic forms are epitomized by the Basilica of St. George and St. Vitas Cathedral, both of which can be found within Pražský hrad. The castle also features the summer palace of Queen Anne, a stunning example of Renaissance style. Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter), one of Prague’s oldest areas, is dubbed the “Pearl of Baroque architecture.”

St. Vitas Cathedral; courtesy of Carson Victor

Historic revival styles are also common, though unremarkable. Even less romantic are New Town’s modern buildings, comprising inoffensive but boring storefronts. There are also a few eyesores from the functionalist epoch. I don’t know much about architectural principles, but, to me, the term functionalism says, “well, uh, at least it works.” A product of the Communist regime, functionalism was developed as a response to the credo of modern architects like Frank Gehry. Naturally, Gehry’s Tancící dum (Dancing House), constructed just after the fall of the Soviet Union, is situated prevalently along the river.

Wandering the city at night, I conclude that the city’s charm has less to do with its millennium-spanning beauty than with the history this aesthetic represents. In our most quixotic ideals of love, we’d like to imagine that it’s as timeless as Prague’s architectural grandeur.

Orloj, a medieval clock tower in Old Town Square; courtesy of Carson Victor

I’m staring up at Týn Church, perfectly lit. Old Town Square is quiet; the only noise is the sound of light conversation emanating from a nearby restaurant with outdoor seating. A young couple passes by me, hand-in-hand. Like I said earlier, everyone in Prague is in love. And who could blame them?

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Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.