Betlem – Christmas Tradition in Prague

“Human size” nativity scene at Prague Castle bellow the Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral (entrance to the tower at the background)

As Christmas are getting closer, I want to write about one  beautiful tradition in Bohemia, connected to them. It’s called Creches or Betlehem or Crib, in Czech it is Betlem. During Advent time we display nativity scenes in our homes, shops, but also on the streets. They can be made from any possible material and most of them are really beautiful. At some places you can also find living nativity scene with real people and real animals.

Corn leave Creche

Extended corn scene

Standard composition of Creches consists of: new born baby Jesus at the creche with cow and donkey, Joseph and Mary standing by, Angel above with the sign: Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Exhibition in the crypt

Origami on patchwork

We can’t forget about shepherds and sheeps welcoming our Saviour and as the Christmas are getting closer and the holiday of Three Kings is behind the door, three kings are put closer and closer to the creche. During the time we add more and more figures with gifts, children playing in the snow, small animals around.

Poppy heads and lace

In the crypt of Betlehem chappel in Prague there is always an exhibition of creches during Advent time, which worth visiting. For us it is already a part of our family tradition, to visit exhibition, take a short walk through the Old Town and then stop by for drink at Choco Cafe or Tearoom by the Golden Cock.

Scenes from creches exhibition

Pottery version

The tradition of Betlem displaying was founded in 1223 at the court of Italian noble Giovanni di Velita, when he invited Francisco of Assisi to spend Christmas with his family. Francisco wanted to visualise new born baby Jesus in his creches and therefore he prepared the installation for others.

Betlehem Clocks

He changed the cave on the rocky hill to small chappel with nativity scene and invited people from neigborhoud villages for visit it at Christmas Eve. At the midnight the bells rang and the hill glittered with lights how coming people brought their torches for the Christmas Mass.

Wooden Holy family

At the end of the 18th century during the rule of Joseph II a lot of monasteries and churches were closed. Therefore,  craftsmen as painters, woodcarvers snd goldplaters lost their work connected with church decoration.

Wire Betlehem

On the other hand, the nativity scenes displayed in the churches had to go out.
Craftsmen started to make family creches for people and that´s how the creches spread around. Don’t you have one Betlem at home yet? Come to Prague and choose one, you can get one or get the inspiration for a home made one.

Beads

String can be also used

Glass nativity scene

Crochetted one

Glass beads

Colored stone or stove lenghts

Wooden carved case for sale at Christmas Market in Prague

Blueprint, another Czech tradition of fabric coloring

Gingerbread Scene

We have this one at home, I cut it from the paper and then arranged the scene bellow our TV

My Post about Christmas:
PragueChristmasSKOI

Betlémy – nativity scenes
Christmas Market in Prague Old Town
Christmas Crafts Markets in Prague
Czech Christmas Ornaments (Rautis)
Traditional Gingerbreads
Christmas Wish 2012
Family Tradition – Fire-crackers

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Vyšehrad cemetery – glory of Czech past

Vyšehrad is beautiful place on the border of old Prague, deeply connected with our history, important place but a bit out of the beaten track, so tourists don’t visit it that often. I like the peaceful atmosphere there and I am sure, there is “something in the air”, that makes the place so magic. Czech kings lived there, our oldest legends happen there … but at this my post I will focus on Vyšehrad cemetery, which is not just a cemetary of famous Czech people, but also a big art collection.

Tábor gate from 17 century, the main entrance to fortified Vyšehrad area

Porticos

During Czech national revival in about 1880 the idea came to collect remains of important people of the nation to one honourable place and Vyšehrad was the first and last choice, as the place has a long history and importancy. There were built new porticos in neo-renaisance style around the original cemetary, with beautiful decorations, reliefs and statues as gravestones. The area of the cemetary is 80 hectares. Vyšehrad cemetery became a pilgrim place not only for Prague inhabitants, and it is not surprise that the Velvet revolution in 1989 started there as well, as students were at Vyšehrad to dignify the memory of student Jan Opletal and then they went to city center and … but we are not here to talk about revolution :-).

Details of the porticos

Slavín crypt

Most important tombstone is a monumental crypt called Slavín (Sláva = Fame). This crypt was built during 1889-1893, by the fellowship called Svatobor, as a burial place for the most important Czechs in terms of culture life with emphasis to the nation. The architect was Antonín Wiehl. Crypt is done from granit, on the top of it is an Angel called Prodigy Of The Country, statue on the left side is Mourning Country, on the right Country Victorious. First 15 people burried at the place are on the sign in the middle, but in fact at this moment I don’t know 7 names out of the 15, so it gives me a question, would the today fame mean that my name would be honoured forever?

Thombstones with woman statue from reputable Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek

At the cemetery you can also find graves, that are symbolical, as for example my very favorite painter Josef Čapek (brother of excellent Czech writer Karel Čapek), who died at the end of WWII at concentration camp and his body is lost somewhere in mass grave, so on his symbolic grave is written “there would be resting Josef Čapek, painter and poet”.

Gravestone of Karel Čapek on the left, in the shape of border stone, symbolic grave of Josef Čapek on the right

And now let’s take a short walk between the graves in the peaceful atmosphere, remembering big names from our history.

Mikoláš Aleš, painter from the end of 19 century; when visiting Prague you will find 3 buildings in Prague decorated with his paintings

Josef Rösler Ořovský, sportsman, who brought ski to our country in 1887, first they ski with his brother in Wenceslass square in the center of Prague (yes, we have snow there during winter)

Hands of Vlasta Burian, brilliant Czech actor, comic, entertainer, but also goal-keeper, from the first half of 20 century

Josef “Pepi” Bican, the best Czech football (soccer) player, active career from 1937 to 1955

One of the newest, Czech singer Waldemar Matuška, emigrated from Czech republic in 1980, lived in US

Final gravestone belong to the member of Svatobor fellowship, recognizable by three hands holding the circle at the top of the memorial.

Svatobor gravestone

Mariánské Lázně

Let’s visit one of our spa in Western Bohemia called Marianske Lazne (Marie’s spa). Western Bohemia has more spa towns, but I like this place more than the most famous Karlovy Vary.

Mariánské Lázně, main square, more like park

The area of the city was originally deserted and full of swamps. In 1197 Czech noble Hroznata founded monastery of Teplá (=warm), which took care about the surrounding area and future spa as well. They also found the salty spring in the woods and they started to produce salt from it.

Teplá monastery today

The first healthy mineral spring was named Smelly (guess why), but then it was changed to Mary spring thanks to the St. Mary picture that was put there by a greatful soldier who was recovered by drinking spring water. Now there is known about 100 mineral springs and 53 of them are used for cure. The main drinking springs are: Cross’s, Rudolph´s, Karolina’s, Forrest’s and Ambroz’s springs.

Drinking fountains of spring water

Lot of famous people visited spa during the history, so when you come, you can be in a company of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who visited the city several times, had his biggest romance there and supported monastery that owned the land there to built spa hotels and accept new therapeutic methods. Goethe’s presence was like a magnet to other noble and famouse people, so Mariánské Lázně were haunted by them.

Art nouveau hotel at main square of the city

In 1897 british king Edward VII visited the city for the first time, he fall in love with it and came 8 more times then, his presence brought the attention of the world to spa and Mariánské Lázně changed season to season to be able to accommodate more and more people, beautiful hotels and spa buildings were built.

Spa colonnade

When you visit the city today, I recommend you not to miss park Boheminium, where models of famous Czech castles and buildings are in measure 1:25. The park is changing from visit to visit, as more and more buildings are added.

Boheminium

Boheminium is placed on the hill above the city, and from there you can walk around deer-field, through the wood with watchtower and down to the city center. It is nice and healthy walk.

Mariánské Lázně, panorama from the hill

Playground in the park

Other famouse visitors of the city: Richard Wagner (German composer), Fryderyk Chopin (Polish composer), Friedrich Nietzsche (Pfilosopher and writer), Johann Strauss (Austrian composer), Antonín Dvořák (Czech composer), Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Alva Edison and many more. You can join them, to enjoy the city, at least on my pictures:

Colonnade

Colonnade roof

Colonnade cafe

Drinking cruses for hot spring water

Singing fountain

Smichov – vivid Prague Quarter

Let’s talk about Prague quarter called Smíchov. It’s seated on the left bank of Vltava river, former suburb, independent city in 1903 – 1921, part of Prague from 1922. From the end of 20 century commercial and office center, residential area, living place of today’s Prague.

Park at Art Nouveau style at Square of 14th October

Let’s have a short look at Smíchov’s history, but in this post I will focus on Smíchov in 20th century in pictures.

Friday farmers market, face of today’s Smíchov

Pears and apples at Farmers Market

Cheese collection at Farmers Market

Due to Smíchov’s proximity to Lesser Town there were monasteries and their premises, vinyards, hop gardens, but also big cemetary for Lesser Town citizens. Further from the river on the hill there used to be summer boweries and gardens of Prague elite.

Small Portheimka manor

Neorenaissance basilica of St. Vaclav from 1885

The name Smíchov gives you two different hints about its origin. First: Czech word “smích” means “laugh”, other Czech word “smíchat” means “to mix”. In our case name Smíchov was first used during 14th century, when big properties were parcelled to smaller, and inhabitants from miscellaneous places were mixed to live here together.

Art Nouveau details

In 17th century rich burglars and nobels were building their summer residences, gardens and vinyards, but in 18th century Smíchov changed to be a workshop place with manufactures, factories.

Former factory, shop today

Shopping and entertaining center New Smichov

Old synagogue on the left side, new offices on right

Due to the high number of smokestacks the quarter was called Manchester. Industrial factories, brewery, that’s to be found at Smíchov in 19th-20th century, with some exceptions, like the Art Nouveau square of 14th October, with important buildings of Culture House and Market Hall, both in art nouveau style, surrounded by appartment buildings in the same style.

Covered Market Hall

Different portals in Art Nouveau

At the end of 20th century city changed together with construction of the Prague subway, former industrial buildings changed to new shopping galleries, entertainment centres and offices.

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