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Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in Europe. Visiting Prague is like travelling back in time. You encounter history at every step you take and around every corner you turn. The whole city thrives in folk stories, historical legends and myths. The houses, the churches, the palaces, the squares, even a road or a pavement, are all related to a fascinating past. In two articles (Part A and Part B) we will try to approach famous attractions and streets of Prague, through the stories and myths that are related to them. According to the book “77 Prague Legends” by Alena Jezkova, there are 77 legends related to locations around the city. We will focus only on 17 locations from those we came across during our visit to Prague and try to present the real magic of this unique city. This is the first article with the first 9 stories.
1. The Old Town Astronomical Clock (location: Old Town Hall) : The construction of the Astronomical Clock, the most famous attraction in Prague, dates back to the beginning of the 15th century and was perfected in 1490 by the clockmaker Hanus of Rouze. When Hanus finished the reconstruction of the clock, the local councillors, in an attempt to ensure that the clock would remain unique forever, hunted down Hanus and blinded him. After a few days the blind master went to the town hall and asked if he could just touch his beloved creation. They allowed him to enter the clock tower and then, without noticing him, he pulled out a gear and the clock stopped working. Therefore the clock remained silent for many years, reminding the city of the dreadful act of the councillors. It was in 1552 that Jan Taborsky managed to repair the clock that has been working since then.
2. The Bell of the Tyn Church (location: Church of Our Lady before Tyn) : One of the bells of this church, whose Gothic steeples are Old Town’s distinctive landmark, is related to the story of a rich noblewoman. The noblewoman was a tyrant with her servants and maids. One evening as she was preparing to attend a social event, the bell of the church rang and the maid that was helping her, stopped for a moment to pray. At the same moment, the woman shouted at the maid, caught her by the throat and killed her. The lady was called to the court but she bribed the judge and avoided punishment. After that every time she heard the bell, it reminded her of the wicked act. In the end, tormented by her guilty conscience, she gave her property to the poor and ordered the construction of a bell for the church in memory of the girl.
3. The Palace of the Kinsky’s (location: Old Town Square) : The Kinsky’ s Palace is a wonderful Rococo building that stands out in the Old Town Square and was built in the 18th century. The Palace looks like it stepped out of the ranks of the others houses. According to the tale, the architect suggested to the owner to build the house in this way so it would stand out. The owner bribed the officials and built a tall fence around the construction. When the building was finished and the fence was removed, everyone could see the way it was built but it was too late for the Palace to be demolished. Nowadays the Palace hosts the National Gallery of Prague.
4. The Turk from the Unglet (location: Tyn Courtyard) : This is probably one of the most famous stories of the city. According to the myth, the beautiful daughter of a merchant in Unglet market, fell in love with a young Turkish merchant. The Turk left but promised to return in order to marry her. Time passed and the girl finally married another man. On the night of the wedding, the Turk finally reappeared and asked the girl to meet him at a cellar in the market, where he murdered her. The girl was considered missing and her body was discovered headless after many days in the cellar and the Turk was never seen again. Today if you visit Tyn Courtyard, a scenic square surrounded by colourful buildings, during the night, it is possible to come across the ghost of the Turk with the head of the girl in his hands.
5. The Three Sisters (location: Small Square) : The House with the Three White Roses stands on the Small Square of the Old Town and it is known as U Rotta after the Rott ironmonger’s shop that used to be here. Three white roses are painted on the decorated facade in memory of the legend of the Three Sisters. As the story goes, the Three Sisters became extremely rich after the death of their parents. One by one the three sisters were seduced, married and robbed by the same smuggler who was presented to them first as a prince, after as a duke and finally as an English nobleman. No one of the Sisters realized the scam and all three died poor and away from their home.
6. The Golden Well (location: Karlova Street) : On the corner of Karlova Street and Seminarska Street, the House at the Golden Well (U Zlate Sudny in Czech) still stands with its magnificent facade. In the cellar of the house, there was a well, in which the people said that they often saw a golden glow and believed it was coming from a hidden treasure. One maid, out of curiosity, leaned, fell into the water and was killed. In the effort to recover her body they finally found the hidden treasure behind a rock at the bottom of the well. Since then, the ghost of the drowned maid comes to the house to claim the treasure.
7. The Builder of Charles Bridge (location: Charles Bridge) : Charles Bridge over Moldava River, the landmark of Prague and probably one of the most famous bridges in Europe, was considered indestructible but according to the legend, when St. John of Nepomuk (the saint of Bohemia) was thrown from the bridge, one of its arches collapsed. After that, no one could repair it, because everything that was built by day fell down during the night. One builder was persistent and had tried several times when one night the Devil appeared to him and offered him help. As a reward, the devil would take the soul of the first one to cross the bridge after the repair. The builder agreed but had in mind a way to trick the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and the bridge was repaired. On the day of the opening ceremony, the builder hid a cock in order to release it first on the bridge so the Devil to take the cock’s soul. But the Devil appeared to the builder’s wife in the form of his servant and told her that her husband had a terrible accident on the bridge. The woman rushed and crossed the bridge and so the Devil took her soul along with the soul of the unborn child she was expecting. Since then, if you cross the bridge at night you could hear the ghost of the builder’s child sneezing.
8. The Severed Arm (location: Church of St James) : If you enter the Baroque church of St James, near the Old Town Square, you will see to the right of the entrance a blackened human arm that hangs from a chain. A plaque beneath tells the story of the thief who entered the church at night in order to steal the jewels from the statue of Our Lady, but when he touched the jewels the statue grabbed him by the hand. The next morning the thief was found and they called the executioner to cut his arm as they could not find any other way to release the arm from the statue. From that day the thief’s arm hangs above the entrance.
9. The Iron Knight (location: Platnerska Street) : If you are walking along Platnerska Street in the Old Town, you will see the statue of the Iron Knight with a dead girl at his feet. The statue has been placed in the location, where according to the tradition was the house of a virgin girl who fell in love with a knight. One day the knight blinded by his pathological jealousy killed the girl, who the moment she was dying cursed him and he was transformed into iron. The only way for the knight to become human again is to be loved by another virgin, but he has that chance only for one night every hundred years.
These are the first 9 of the 17 legends of Prague we will present to you. If you are visiting Prague, have in mind the stories behind these famous attractions and make your visit even more fascinating and exciting.