Let’s start with a little honesty first. We thoroughly research our travels before we leave home and in all modesty, there are quite a few times when we’ve baffled locals with our research on opening different doors in their city. But lately, we’ve found it immensely rewarding to join a walk led by a docent who has both professional and academic knowledge on a specific subject we’re interested in. We did this while in Rome, where we joined a walk led by a historian and a student of Roman history, and when Context Travel Prague invited us on a walk that would take us through a specific part of Prague’s history, we jumped at it.
We were to meet Lenka Philippova, a docent with Context Travel Prague, at Cafe Ebel and we were glad she arrived there a few minutes before, because this was an unusually cold day (we were later told). I was glad to hear that Lenka was a Theologian, who better to take us on a walk through history that captured the story of the Habsburgs and Jesuits, and the interesting history of conflict that prevailed during those times.
The Walk with Context Travel Prague
Our walk began at Bethlehem Chapel. We’d walked past the Chapel a few times already and we were surprised to hear that the current structure was actually a rebuilt version of the original. This was an important spot in history because this was where Jan Hus, a name you will often hear in Prague and an important precursor to Martin Luther and John Calvin, had preached before being excommunicated and burnt at a stake for heresy. Lenka began our ‘lesson’ here, where we heard more about the anti-Papal sentiments of Prague and stories of Bohemia from the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, we also heard about the arrival of the Habsburgs and their patronage of the Jesuits, who changed lots of what was Prague then. For instance, the Bethlehem Chapel itself was converted into apartments. Their arrival sparked quite a few changes in Prague, eventually leading to the Bohemian Revolt and the 30 Years War, something, Lenka told us, every child learned about in school.
From here, we began walking into Old Town Square where leaders of the revolt where executed in 1621. Lenka began recounting more of the history, talking and walking us through the Jesuit Movement and the Papal counter-reformation. We discovered how the Habsburgs, under Rudolf II, moved their court from Vienna to Prague, and let art and science flourish. It did seem a little contradictory, considering the Jesuits were so closely linked to the Papacy and the Church, but having grown up studying in Jesuit-run institutions I wasn’t surprised that the Jesuits were great promoters of education and science. It was such a dichotomy – war and conflict raged on while a wonderful golden age of art, learning and science flourished alongside.
This golden age is perhaps best represented by a visit to the Klementinum, where we found ourselves next. There’s quite a few steep climbs and spiralling staircases but it’s completely worth the time you spend here. We headed to the absolutely stunning Baroque Library and immediately understood why it was voted the best library in the world. For obvious reasons, entry into the library is not permitted but I wished I could just stand there at the doors and peer inside for hours. All of the books are slowly being digitised and soon, everyone will have access to the treasure-trove of information and reading that resides within these walls.
Our next stop took us across the Charles Bridge towards St. Nicholas Church. It was a bitingly cold, windy day with thick black clouds looming, but it didn’t seem to deter the hordes of tourists. The Bridge was flooded with people! While we did walk across the Charles Bridge numerous times during our visit, it was interesting to have Lenka tell us about a few stories we hadn’t heard of before. We did manage to weave our way through and found ourselves on the other side walking towards St. Nicholas Church. We’d been into the Church many times so we decided to skip it this time around but took a little detour, while Lenka gave us the history of the Church as we walked along.
We’d opted to visit a park that was close by that we normally wouldn’t have spotted and we were so glad Lenka led us there. Amidst the bustle of the crowds in the streets, it was a perfect oasis to end our walk.
What to expect
Lenka was a perfect docent to have on this walk. Her deep immersion in the history and the religious significance and conflicts of that period really brought alive the entire walk. What was also interesting were the little stories she peppered this walk with, often humorous and sometimes serious quips that had nothing to do with the particular time in history we were tracing. That was why we found this walk so rewarding. And to find out what those stories were, take the walk and discover them for yourselves.
We had been to some of the stops earlier and were going to spend a considerable time in Prague, so we had the luxury of spending more time at the sights we walked through. But make no mistake, this walk with Context Travel Prague isn’t one that let’s you thoroughly experience all the sights and I believe that isn’t the intent. The intent is to walk you through a pivotal point in history that shaped what Prague is today. What you can take away is historical wealth of knowledge about Habsburgs and the Jesuits and the role they played in this city’s rich culture and history. And along the way, like us, you will definitely appreciate the fact that it isn’t just an audio guide that talks you through a one-way recollection of this time. It’s two-way conversation with a person filled with a deep understanding and appreciation of how time, people and events have shaped the city that you walk through on your travels. And what, if not that, is opening different doors when you travel all about?
This post was made possible by Context Travel but opinions, as always, are our own.