The following itinerary lists a range of site visits which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but some require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules, musical performances and confirmation of private visits. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches and dinner, indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=dinner.
Budapest - 5 nights
Day 1: Friday 3 September, Arrive Budapest
- Airport transfer for participants arriving on the ‘ASA designated flight’
- Welcome Meeting & short Orientation Walk
Our tour commences in Budapest. Participants taking the designated flight will arrive in Budapest in the early afternoon. Participants not taking the designated flight will be required to join the tour at the hotel. Today is scheduled as a day ‘at leisure’. If time permits, there will be a brief evening orientation tour within the vicinity of our hotel. (Overnight Budapest)
Day 2: Saturday 4 September, Budapest
- Walking tour of 19th-century Pest: Andrassy Avenue, Inner City (Belvaros), Corso
- Inner City Church
- Parliament House
- Odon Lechner’s Post Office Savings Bank
- Group Welcome Dinner – Callas Café
This morning we explore the development of 19th-century Pest and its Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque, Eclectic and Jügendstil architecture. We begin by looking at the Neo-Renaissance Opera House, then walk along Andrassy Avenue, taking time to investigate the imposing building façades, which date predominantly from the 19th century. Andrassy Avenue leads to the central Erzsebet Square in the Inner City (Belvaros).
Following morning coffee at the renowned Gerbeaud coffee house in Vorosmarty Square, we continue along the main shopping street, Vaci utca, to view the lovely Gothic-Baroque Inner City Church, which still boasts a mihrab dating from the period of Turkish occupation. Next door to the church are the preserved remnants of buildings dating back to the time when Pest was a Roman outpost. Our tour also includes Pariszi Street which possesses many fine examples of 19th and 20th century architecture including the exotic Pariszi Arcade in which Moorish elements are intertwined with Gothic motifs.
We continue our walk along the Corso, which is a boulevard bordering the Danube river. The views of Gellert Hill, the Castle District and Buda on the opposite bank of the river create an unforgettable panorama which has appropriately been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. En route, we shall also admire the Vigado Concert Hall designed by Frigyes Feszl (1860s) to represent a new ‘Hungarian’ style of architecture, as well as the many market stalls displaying fine examples of Hungarian folk art.
After lunch we walk the short distance to Parliament House, an eclectic masterpiece designed by Imre Steindl (1902), where we shall take a guided tour of the magnificent interior (our visit is subject to Parliament not being in session). Following the tour we shall walk back to our hotel past the Soviet Army Memorial (with the US Embassy opposite!) and the nearby former Post Office Savings Bank, which was designed by Odon Lechner in 1901. The captivating façade, a blend of Art Nouveau and Hungarian folk motifs, is considered to be one of the most innovative designs in Budapest. Tonight we dine together at a local restaurant. (Overnight Budapest) BD
Day 3: Sunday 5 September, Budapest
- Millennial City Park & Heroes’ Square
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Jewish Quarter
This morning we travel by subway to visit Heroes’ Square, with its vast monument of the seven Magyar tribes. The historic subway running under Andrassy Avenue was the second underground system to be constructed in Europe. Before Heroes’ Square we visit the Millennial City Park with its famous Szechenyi Baths and other attractions. A short, pleasant walk through the park brings us to Heroes’ Square.
Following the tour of the square, we view the collection of European paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts. This contains a fine collection of Old Masters and French Impressionists.
In the afternoon we visit the Jewish district of Budapest, which was established in the 18th century. This is now a very popular area, full of cafes and restaurants. The district boasts many fine houses and religious buildings, including the enormous Central Synagogue (Lajos Forster, 1854-59), Imre Varga’s Holocaust Memorial (1991), Otto Wagner’s Rumbach Sebestyan utca synagogue (1872) and the beautifully restored Klauzal Square covered market. Our route to the hotel also passes the famous Budapest Academy of Music. (Overnight Budapest) B
Day 4: Monday 6 September, Budapest
- Guided tour of the State Opera House
- Fishermen’s Bastion & Mátyás Templom (Castle Hill)
- Medieval town of Buda
- Afternoon at leisure
After a guided tour of the interior of the State Opera House we shall make our way by bus to Castle Hill. We shall tour the Neo-Romanesque Fishermen’s Bastion, and visit the great Mátyás Templom, tracing the original Gothic form of the church on the much-restored façade, as well as exploring the spectacular 19th century interior.
We shall spend the rest of the morning exploring the medieval town of Buda. The entire area, which is protected by UNESCO, has been carefully restored since World War II and much of the original street pattern of the medieval city still exists together with many of the original buildings. For those wishing to taste Hungarian pastries, there will be an opportunity to do so at the little coffee house, Ruszwurm Cukrászda, which dates from 1827 and is the only classic coffee house in the Castle District.
The afternoon is at leisure; you may wish to visit the famous Gellert baths. (Overnight Budapest) B
Day 5: Tuesday 7 September, Budapest
- St Stephen’s Basilica
- Gresham Palace (exterior)
- Hungarian National Gallery (Royal Palace, Castle Hill)
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we walk across the Danube river by the Chain Bridge and take the funicular to Castle Hill. Before crossing the bridge, we shall examine the façade of the monumental St Stephen’s basilica and visit the interior including the chapel containing the relic of St Stephen, Hungary’s first Christian king and chief patron saint. Our walk includes the façade of the Gresham Palace located in Roosevelt Square. This palace is one of Budapest’s finest commercial buildings (Zsigmond Quittner, 1906).
When we arrive at Castle Hill, the panoramic view gives us an excellent opportunity to see how Buda, Pest and Obuda came together to form the modern metropolis of Budapest. In the Royal Palace, part of which was transformed into the Hungarian National Gallery, we shall spend the morning viewing the fine collection of Hungarian art. The collection echoes, in its iconography and style, the evolution of the Hungarian national spirit and distinctive cultural language. Of particular importance is the magnificent collection of winged, carved and polychromed medieval altarpieces; unique in Central Europe. Of interest also are the grandiose 19th century history paintings, where heroic images describe historical events, such as the expulsion of the Ottomans from Hungary. Landscape paintings and country scenes in the museum present a visual record of folk traditions, analogous to the systematic study of folk music found in the compositions of such 19th-20th century composers as Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.
The afternoon will be free, allowing time for you to explore the gallery at your leisure. (Overnight Budapest) B
Vienna - 7 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 8 September, Budapest – Esterházy Palace – Sopron – Vienna
- Esterházy Palace, Fertöd
Today we travel from Budapest to Vienna via one of the palaces of the great Esterházy family, located in Hungary, at Fertöd. This palace was built in the 1760s for Prince Miklós Esterházy (1714-90). Designed in the Louis XVI style and surrounded by extensive French gardens, its interior boasts ornate Rococo panelling with stucco decoration and frescoes by Johann Basilius Grundemann (Apollo of the Chariot of the Sun) and Josef Ignaz Mildorfer.
In the afternoon we shall visit Sopron, which, because it never came under Turkish control, has a large number of Gothic churches in excellent condition. Its centre is made up of fine streetscapes of mansions from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods, many of which incorporate elements of more than one style, having been slowly transformed from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 7: Thursday 9 September, Vienna
- Baroque city (Graben, Petersckirche)
- Karlsplatz Metro Station
- St Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)
- Tram ride around the Ringstrasse
- St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
We shall walk through the centre of the Baroque city, visiting the Graben with its outstanding fountains, Plague Column, and Lukas von Hildebrandt’s masterpiece, the Peterskirche (begun 1702). After exploring the historic centre of the city we shall cross the Ringstrasse to Otto Wagner’s Secession style Karlsplatz metro station where we shall have a brief coffee break.
A short walk through the park brings us to St Charles’ Church (Karlskirche), Vienna’s most important religious building. This superb Baroque church, commissioned from Fischer von Erlach by Emperor Charles VI in 1716, is an excellent example of the way in which the Habsburg rulers legitimised and glorified their rule. The church’s grand design is a masterful organisation of architectural masses. The central section of the façade has a grand portico dominated from above by a fine dome. On either side of the façade stand two huge, free-standing columns, inspired by Trajan’s column in Rome, which are surmounted by the Imperial Crown. The interior boasts frescoes by M. Rottmayr, D. Gran, S. Ricci and others.
We next take a tram around the Ringstrasse past the monumental, 19th-century historicist landmarks of Vienna such as the Hofburg, the museums, the Parliament House, Town Hall and the University.
In the afternoon we shall visit the Gothic Cathedral of St Stephen (Stephansdom). The building provides us with the opportunity to observe the manner in which a Romanesque building could be transformed by later styles (Gothic and Baroque), according to the changing fashion of the centuries. After investigating the outstanding exterior of the cathedral (the Romanesque west front, the sculptural program of the south nave which includes images of the Duke Rudolf IV the Founder and his distinguished family, as well as the remarkable south portal and tower), we shall visit the interior and see such masterpieces as Anton Pilgram’s 16th-century pulpit and organ case, Gerhart van Leyden’s tomb of Frederick III (1467), and the carved Wiener Neustadt altarpiece (1447). (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 8: Friday 10 September, Vienna
- Prince Eugene’s Winter Palace
- Schloss Belvedere
Today is devoted to the patronage of Vienna’s great hero and patron of the arts, Prince Eugene of Savoy. In the morning we shall visit his Winter Palace just off the Kärntner Strasse. This building, by Fischer von Erlach and Lukas von Hildebrandt, is not only a fine example of a mansion designed to cope with the problems of a narrow and dark street in old Vienna, but the iconographic program on the façade also provides an excellent introduction to the heroic qualities of Prince Eugene.
We then travel by tram to Schloss Belvedere (Eugene’s summer residence) a complex which comprises two lovely Baroque palaces separated by terraced gardens. These palaces, designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt for Prince Eugene of Savoy, house fine collections of Austrian medieval, Baroque and modern art. The Upper Belvedere boasts an imposing entrance in which a heavy ceiling is supported by great atlantes reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Slaves. From this dramatic overture we progress, as the Prince’s guests would have done, up the majestic staircase to the state rooms on the first floor. These house a small but fine collection of works by early modern Viennese artists such as Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Oscar Kokoschka (1886-1980), and Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
The Upper Belvedere, with its ceremonial architecture and decoration, was used for courtly occasions such as balls and receptions. The Lower Belvedere, on the other hand, is less grand, in keeping with its role as a summer palace. After walking through the gardens, we shall visit the Lower Belvedere, whose fine interior houses the Museum of Baroque Art. We shall then move to the adjacent Orangery, the Museum of Medieval Art, which contains interesting altarpieces and sculptures. (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 9: Saturday 11 September, Vienna – Performance #1
- Hofburg Palace (exterior)
- Hofburg Court Library (Prunksaal)
- Hofburg Schatzkammer (treasury)
- Hofburg Crypt in the Capuchin Church
- Evening performance (details to be confirmed)
Today is devoted to the political culture of the Habsburgs and how it found expression in buildings and objects. The day’s sightseeing will be introduced by a brief lecture on the evolution of the Habsburg magnates from dukes to extremely powerful rulers who controlled a vast empire. We shall then commence with a tour of the Habsburgs’ chief residence, the Hofburg, which was the showpiece of the dynasty’s power and prestige. Our tour will include the various courtyards, monuments and buildings (exterior) that make up the vast complex and we shall see how the palace evolved from the oldest medieval section, Schweizerhof, to the final bombastic 19th-century addition called the Neue Burg.
Next we visit the magnificent Court Library, commissioned from Fischer von Erlach by Charles VI. Here we admire the Prunksaal (Ceremonial Hall) where we shall see Daniel Gran’s fresco, Apotheosis of Charles VI, as well as an exhibition of some of the library’s priceless collection of manuscripts.
Our investigation of the Habsburg monarchs continues with a visit to their crypt in the Capuchin Church, located in the nearby Neuer Markt. After 1633, most of the Habsburg monarchs and their families were buried here. Many of the tombs are beautiful works of art and are among the finest funerary monuments in Europe. We shall take particular note of Balthasar Moll’s grand tomb for Maria Theresia and her husband, Franz Stephan of Lorraine, completed in 1753.
In the afternoon, we visit the Hofburg Schatzkammer (treasury) to view the superb collection of Habsburg treasures. This unique store of regalia, jewellery, precious garments and portraits charts the progress of the Imperium from the tenth to the 19th century. The various items in the treasury functioned as visible symbols of the Habsburg rulers’ legitimacy and power. The objects reflect the way in which ritualistic finery and precious works of earlier imperial dynasties were accumulated by the Habsburgs in order to provide a visual manifestation of their status and position. Here you will see such treasures as the Imperial Crown (German, 10th century), the Imperial Cross (German, 10th century), the coronation robes of the Norman kings of Sicily (Sicily, 12th century), the regalia of Rudolf II (Prague, 1602), the Burgundian Chain of the Golden Fleece (Burgundy, 1429) and much more.
Tonight we will plan to attend a musical performance (details to be confirmed later in 2020). (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 10: Sunday 12 September, Vienna – Performance #2
- Kunsthistorisches Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
- Evening performance (details to be confirmed)
We shall spend the morning in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is one of the great art galleries in the world. The Habsburgs were great collectors of art and, drawing on the cultural riches of their extensive empire, were able to amass a huge collection of works from Bohemia, the German territories, the Low Countries, Italy and Spain. We shall examine a selection of the paintings, not only from the point of view of style but also as visual ‘historical documents’; illustrating the manner in which the Habsburg dynasty grew into one of the greatest ruling families in Europe. The afternoon is at leisure.
For those who enjoy sacred music, the Augustinian Church at the Hofburg has a splendid Choral Mass on Sundays at 11:00am. It is best to be seated by 10:20am as this mass is extremely popular. The ceremony lasts for about one hour. After an early lunch, the rest of the day may be spent at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Tonight we will plan to attend a performance at the Musikverein (details to be confirmed). (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 11: Monday 13 September, Vienna – Dürnstein – Melk – Krems – Vienna
- Valley of the Danube & Dürnstein
- Monastery of Melk
- Walking tour of Krems
Today we leave Vienna by coach for an excursion to the beautiful valley of the Danube. Geologically, the valley is formed from the granite of the Waldviertel in the outlying foothills of the Bohemian massif. En route, we shall stop for a coffee break at Dürnstein, a charming town that is dominated by the ruins of a castle in which, purportedly, Duke Leopold of Austria imprisoned Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century.
At Melk Monastery, we encounter one of the masterpieces of the Central European Baroque. The current monastery dates from the early 18th century but is built on an ancient foundation (which had lost power and ultimately been destroyed during the struggle against Protestantism and the wars with the Turks). The original site was a stronghold of the Babenberg family in the 10th and 11th centuries. After the family moved its centre of power to Vienna, Leopold III von Babenberg gave the castle to the Benedictines (11th century). Thereafter, it achieved spiritual and intellectual renown throughout Lower Austria. The great Baroque complex was designed by Prandtauer (1702-1726) and modified by his pupil Franz Muggenast. We shall visit the Court of Prelates, the Emperor’s Gallery, the Marble Hall, the Terrace, the vast Library and the Abbey Church with its paintings by Johann Michael Rottmayr, Gaetano Fanti and Paul Troger.
On our return journey to Vienna we will stop for lunch at the small historical town of Krems, situated on the left bank of the Danube at the foot of terraced hills covered with vineyards. After lunch, we turn to the Renaissance and Baroque façades of the old houses on the main street. We also visit the 15th/16th century Piarist Church, an unusual building with a raised choir and a triple hall nave. The church boasts magnificent net vaulting and paintings by Krems’ most famous son, the artist Johann Martin Schmidt (‘Kremser Schmidt’), as well as lovely Renaissance choir stalls. (Overnight Vienna) B
Day 12: Tuesday 14 September, Vienna
- Austrian Post Office Bank (Otto Wagner, 1904-6)
- Majolika House apartment block (Otto Wagner, 1898-99)
- Secession Building (Olbrich, 1892)
- Time at leisure
This morning we shall walk to the Austrian Post Office Bank, built by Otto Wagner in 1904-6. This important structure reflects the principle of ‘Faith to Material’, whereby the functional details of a building are an integral part of its aesthetic.
A short subway ride takes us to Schönbrunn (commenced 1696). The core of this palace, built upon the site of a earlier hunting lodge, was the Habsburg response to Versailles. The present design took shape under the Empress Maria Theresia and reflects her refined tastes. Although Schönbrunn was inspired by the great palace of Louis XIV, it was not conceived as a grand statement of the semi-divine status of a Sun King. Instead, it was designed to be a somewhat homely residence, reflecting a more casual, less rigid court etiquette than that which dominated those at the court of the French king. We shall walk through the many rooms of this large complex with its luxurious interiors and treasures of art and furniture, in order to gain a sense of the ideals espoused by the Habsburg court at the time. We shall then explore the palace park, which is laid out upon an axis between the palace and the Gloriette; a Neo-Classical triumphal arch perched upon the top of a hill, and the site J. B. Fischer von Erlach originally chose for the main palace building. From here a fine vista takes in Schönbrunn’s gardens and the mass of the palace.
In the afternoon we continue our investigation of Jügendstil architecture, with a visit to the Majolika House apartment block. Built by Otto Wagner in 1898-99, the Majolika House boasts fine examples of Art Nouveau decoration. A short walk along the Linke Wienzeile brings us to the renowned Secession Building, designed by Joseph Olbrich in 1897.
Our program today should conclude in the early afternoon, enabling you time to visit other galleries such as the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), the Academy of Fine Arts (containing Bosch’s Last Judgement Triptych), or the Albertina’s famous print collection. (Overnight Vienna) B
Telc - 1 night
Day 13: Wednesday 15 September, Vienna – Telc
- Telc: walking tour, taking in the main square, medieval streets and house façades
- Telc Chateau
We depart Vienna by private coach for Telc, which has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites because of the integrity of its environment as a medieval town. Its chief glory is its beautiful main square bordered by houses with richly decorated, colourful façades. An entire day could be spent just examining the various frescoes, sgraffito or Baroque sculptures, and stucco on the many house-fronts.
At one end of the square is the 17th-century Baroque Jesuit church and on the other, the Renaissance castle. In the 16th century, the original Gothic fortress was reconstructed into a Renaissance château by Anton Vlach and the Italian architect, Baldassare Maio da Ronio. Relatively minor renovations occurred after the 16th century, and consequently, the Telc chateau is one of the few Renaissance palaces in the Czech Republic remaining intact. Of particular importance are the Golden Hall with its coffered ceiling, the Marble Hall with its display of Renaissance armour, the monochrome trompe-l’oeil decoration of the Treasury, and the elaborately decorated 16th-century tomb of Zachariah and Catherine of Valdstejn in the palace chapel. This evening we dine at a local restaurant. (Overnight Telc) BD
Ceske Budejovice - 1 night
Day 14: Thursday 16 September, Telc – Cesky Krumlov – Ceske Budejovice
- Cesky Krumlov Castle, Theatre and Gardens
- Cesky Krumlov: Walking tour, incl. Church of St Vitus, market place, medieval streets & house façades, exterior views of castle etc.
This morning we depart Telc and travel west to Cesky Krumlov which, like Telc, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because it has remained virtually unaltered since the 17th century. Cesky Krumlov is made up of two settlements, one below and around the castle, and the other between two bends of the Vltava River.
In the afternoon, we shall visit the castle at Cesky Krumlov. Founded in 1250, it was the seat of the powerful South Bohemian magnates, the Rozmberks. Positioned on a spur overlooking the town of Cesky Krumlov, the castle’s large, round Renaissance tower is visible from all parts of the settlement. The castle is one of the largest and most exciting fortified complexes in Central Europe and the Renaissance palace reflects the taste and wealth of some of the most influential baronial families in the Czech lands. The interior decorations and furnishings show the changing fashions in interior design during the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods. Of particular interest is the Masquerade Hall with its amazing trompe-l’oeil paintings by J. Lederer (1748) and the elaborately carved, golden Eggenberg coach (1638). We shall also visit the castle theatre, with its unique Baroque stage sets, as well as the castle gardens and park.
After our tour of the castle we shall walk from the Budejovicka Gate, along the main street and across the river to the main square. This will give us an opportunity to see the many varied Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque house façades, most of which are justly considered to be architectural gems. We shall also visit the church of St Vitus, completed in 1439; one of the most important buildings in South Bohemia in the early 15th century. Here we shall see the influence of the Prague Parler workshop (St Vitus Cathedral) in the use of intricate vaulting and tracery as well as a new emphasis on verticality and light. (Overnight Ceske Budejovice) BD
Prague - 7 nights
Day 15: Friday 17 September, Ceske Budejovice – Tabor – Prague
- Ceske Budejovice: Medieval Town Square, Cathedral, Black Tower, Dominican Convent, Salt House
- Tabor (Fortifications, Gothic Town Hall, Hussite Museum Burgher Houses, Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord)
Our journey to Prague gives us the opportunity to view the historically and architecturally important towns of Ceske Budejovice and Tabor. Ceske Budejovice is the regional capital of Southern Bohemia and is mainly famous today for its renowned Budweiser beer (not to be confused with the American variety). The town was founded by King Premysl Otakar II in 1265, according to a remarkable chequerboard plan. The preserved historical core of the town has much to interest the visitor, including one of the largest medieval squares in Central Europe (133 metres square), many interesting streetscapes, burgher houses, churches and other monuments.
In Tabor, the Hussite Protestant revolutionaries established their fortress town or encampment. The Hussites named their town after the mountain in Palestine where the Gospels record the transfiguration of Christ as having occured. Time permitting, we shall view the outstanding late Gothic Town Hall (which contains memorabilia of the Hussite movement), burgher houses (with their Gothic and Renaissance façades), and the deanery church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mt Tabor. In the late afternoon, we leave Tabor for Prague. (Overnight Prague) BL
Day 16: Saturday 18 September, Prague
- Prague New Town: Wenceslas Square, Na Prikope
- Prague Old Town: Coronation Route, Old Town Square, Karlova St
- Clementinum, Charles Bridge, Havelske Square, Carolinum, Estates Theatre
Today begins with a walk up Wenceslas Square. This market place was the largest public space in the Prague New Town which was founded by Charles IV in 1348. Today, the square is lined with late 19th and 20th century buildings, and functions as the main shopping boulevard of Prague. The buildings make up a veritable compendium of modern architectural styles, including the historicist styles of the late 19th century, and some splendid examples of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Social Realist architecture. Many of the buildings have been restored to their former glory. At the top of the square is the Neo-Renaissance National Museum and the monument to St Wenceslas (Myslbek, 1912). This is a site of great significance. It is here that the Czech attempt to institute a more liberal government was crushed by the Russian invasion in May 1968 (‘Prague Spring’). Jan Palach and his friends immolated themselves in protest, and there is still an unpretentious but moving shrine to their memory. It is in this same square that Czechs agitated en masse for a return to democracy during the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989.
We shall take a coffee break in one of the newly restored early 20th-century arcades (the Crown Palace or Koruna, 1918), and enjoy the Cubist decorations that have been preserved in the interior. Afterwards, we proceed along Na Prikope (‘on the ditch’) which, as its name implies, was once the moat dividing the Old Town from New Town. Today this street is an important commercial avenue and contains excellent examples of architecture from every period. Our route ends at the Powder Tower (15th century) and the splendid Art Nouveau Municipal House.
The Powder Tower is the beginning of the medieval Coronation Route of Bohemian kings. Our route along Celetna Street allows us to view the exterior of the first Cubist construction in Prague, ‘The House at the Black Madonna’, which was designed by J. Gocar in 1912. Celetna Street leads to the Old Town Square, which is one of the most beautiful public places in Europe. Here we shall examine the varied façades of the houses, the Gothic church of Our Lady of Tyn (with its extraordinary spires and north tympanum), the Old Town Hall adorned by its medieval astrological clock, and the Baroque façade of the delightful church of St Nicholas by Dientzenhofer.
This afternoon, our journey through Prague Old Town takes us past monumental palaces and churches, the old Jesuit seminary-university (Clementinum), through smaller squares, along Karlova Street and ends on the famous Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River. This structure is regarded as the most beautiful medieval bridge in Europe. Founded by the greatest Bohemian ruler, Emperor Charles IV in 1357, it is famous for its Old Town Bridge Gate, with its sculptural program on the east side. The bridge itself is adorned with a host of statues, mostly from the Baroque period. The panoramic views of the Castle and St Vitus Cathedral from the bridge are unforgettable. Time and weather permitting, we shall enjoy afternoon tea on charming Kampa Island, located in the Vltava River and accessed from the Charles Bridge. The medieval houses and square of this tiny, urban space have been recently restored.
We return to the Old Town following the Coronation Route. En route we pass through Prague’s oldest market place (Havelske namesti), see the Carolinum (the first university north of the Alps, founded by Charles IV in 1348), the Neo-Classical Estates Theatre where Mozart’s Don Giovanni was premiered in 1778, and much more. (Overnight Prague) B
Day 17: Sunday 19 September, Prague – Performance #3
- Strahov Premonstratensian
- Cernin Palace (exterior)
- Loreto (exterior)
- Hradcany Square
- Prague Castle South Gardens
- Ledeburg-Palffy Gardens
- Lesser Quarter Square
- St Nicholas Basilica
- Vallenstien Palace Garden
- Concert at the Rudolfinum (details to be confirmed)
The districts of Malá Strana (below Prague Castle) and nearby Hradcany, contain superb examples of Baroque architecture built after the Thirty Years’ War on the ashes of the medieval town. First, we shall visit the magnificent Strahov Premonstratensian Monastery library with its beautifuly frescoed reading hall. We then walk through the lovely town of Hradcany, with its many Baroque burgher houses and palaces. En route to the Lesser Quarter, we shall look at two contrasting examples of Baroque architecture: the delightful Loreto convent façade by Dientzenhofer and, opposite, the massive bulk of the Cernin Palace, designed by Carrati. Our tour of Hradcany takes us through the town square, which boasts the outstanding Renaissance Schwarzenberg Palace with its intricately decorated sgraffito façade. We continue downhill through Hradcany Square and the Prague Castle South Gardens, taking time to admire the unrivalled panorama of the Lesser Quarter. We then descend to the Lesser Quarter Square through the Ledeburg-Palffy gardens which are a series of four Baroque terraced gardens ’inserted’ by their aristocratic owners into the Castle Hill.
After time for lunch, we commence our tour of the quarter by visiting the Basilica of St Nicholas, designed by the Dientzenhofer family to fit in with the existing surroundings. This building is one of the finest late Baroque churches in Central Europe and is a must for any visitor to Prague. Following an investigation of the imposing exterior, we examine the interior with its marvellous undulating vault rising above a complicated centralised ground plan. The frescoes of the nave – one of the most extensive paintings in Europe – were undertaken by Johann Kracker, while the dome was embellished by Karl Palko. We continue our tour of the delightful winding streets of the Lesser Quarter, many adorned with fine colonnades and palaces. One of the finest of these grand residences is the Wallenstein Palace, which was among the earliest Baroque buildings to be constructed in Central Europe and had a great impact on Baroque design in the entire region. It was commissioned in 1621 by Duke Wallenstein from a group of Italian architects directed by Andrea Spezza. Although the palace is inaccessible (it houses the Ministry of Culture), we may visit its magnificent formal garden with the exquisite sala terrena designed by Giovanni Pierroni. The garden also boasts a fine group of statues. These are copies of originals by de Vries, which were carried off to Sweden during the Swedish occupation of Prague in 1648.
Tonight we will attend an orchestral concert at The Rudolfinum’s Dvorák Hall, one of the oldest concert halls in Europe and well noted for its excellent acoustics. (Overnight Prague) B
Day 18: Monday 20 September, Prague
- Josefov (The Jewish District): Old-New Synagogue
- Parizska (Paris Avenue), Renaissance Portal ‘Two Golden Bears’
- Adria Palace, Cubist Lamp Post, Our Lady of the Snows, Franciscan Garden
- The ‘Ginger and Fred’ Building in New Town (optional)
- Afternoon at leisure
The morning is devoted to the region of Josefov (Joseph Town). A short walk through the Old Town Square and along the Paris Avenue (Parizska) brings us to the heart of the medieval Prague Jewish Ghetto. Jews have made an important contribution to Czech culture. We need only think of Rabbi Loew, who invented the ‘golem’, and the writer Franz Kafka. The area is renowned for its series of ancient synagogues, the most famous being the Old-New Synagogue (built 1270).
Following the tour of the Jewish Ghetto, we take a coffee break on the elegant Parizska Avenue, giving us time to appreciate the street’s imposing Art Nouveau buildings. We then cross the Old Town Square and pause to admire the beautiful Renaissance doorway ‘At the Two Golden Bears’ on Kozena street, which leads us into New Town. This short walk will give us an opportunity to experience some of the charming, winding streets of old Prague. In New Town, we look at the newly restored façade of the Adria Palace, a fascinating Rondo-Cubist building designed by Pavel Janak and Josef Zasche in 1922-1925, and the nearby bizarre Cubist Lamp Post (sole example in existence). As a complete contrast, we shall also view the beautiful Gothic interior of Our Lady of the Snows, founded by Charles IV in the second half of the 14th century. This church, which is next to the restored medieval monastery garden, is remarkable because it boasts the tallest Gothic nave in Prague.
For those who are interested in contemporary architecture, there will be an opportunity to examine one of Prague’s controversial architectural additions, the so-called Ginger and Fred building, designed by the renowned American architect, Frank Gehry, with the assistance of V. Milunic of Prague. A walk through New Town will conclude our program for the day. On the way back to the hotel, we shall see the Charles Square (Karlovo namesti) which, like Wenceslas Square, was designed as a great market place for the New Town. We shall see the lovely late Gothic New Town Hall which will remind us that New Town was, in fact, founded in the Middle Ages (1348), as well as many other interesting buildings from more recent periods. The afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Prague) B
Day 19: Tuesday 21 September, Prague – Kutna Hora – Prague
- Kutna Hora: Walking tour including the Cathedral-Church of St Barbara, Hradek, Lombard Court and Burgher houses
- Lunch in a local restaurant
The words Kutna Hora in Czech mean ‘a mined hill’. The name came about as a result of the intense mining for silver which took place at Kutna Hora from the 13th century. Although short-lived, the wealth derived from these mines was enormous, and funded many of the large-scale royal building programs in Prague and elsewhere. After the Czech capital, Kutna Hora remained the most important town in the realm for some 250 years. The historical core of the town, and the Cistercian abbey church at nearby Sedlec, are included in the UNESCO world heritage list.
In the morning, we shall visit the cathedral-church of St Barbara, which is perched high upon the hill and, from a distance, looks like a giant marquee. This effect is produced by the unusual roof line of the choir, which appears to be ‘swept up’ into three pointed spires and ‘pinned down’ by the flying buttresses. Begun in 1388 by the Parler workshop (St Vitus Cathedral), it was completed in the 16th century by the great Bohemian court architects Matthew Rejsek and Benedikt Ried. As the church was funded by the miners, the interior is full of references to their guild. Thus in the Miner’s Chapel, there are interesting 15th-century frescoes which depict miners at their labours. The church is also important for the late Gothic frescoes and altarpiece in the Smisek Chapel, and the net-vaulting in the choir.
Included in a walking tour of the town’s historic core is a visit to the medieval mining museum in the Hradek (a Gothic baronial court) and, if time permits, a chance to explore a mineshaft which is still in its medieval condition. This fascinating experience will enable us to see how the tiny miners (they had to be small in stature in order to fit through the narrow shafts) worked deep underground, seeking the precious metal that made their king one of the richest rulers in Europe. Our tour also includes the Vlassky dvur (Italian Court) where Italian craftsmen once minted the silver coins (Prazske grose) which were prized throughout Europe in the 15th century. The Vlassky dvur was also the occasional residence of the monarch and thus includes a palace, which features a Gothic assembly hall and a chapel with stellar vaulting. In the chapel are three important late 15th century altarpieces by Bohemian masters, and a 16th-century statue of Christ the Redeemer by Hans Elfeldar. We will return to Prague in the late afternoon. (Overnight Prague) BL
Day 20: Wednesday 22 September, Prague – Performance #4
- The Castle District (Hradcany): St Vitus Cathedral, the Medieval Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, The Golden Lane, The Royal Gardens, Belvedere
- Evening performance (details to be confirmed)
Our tour of Prague begins with a visit to the Castle District (Hradcany) with its historic cathedral-palace complex. Prague Castle’s site was first settled in the early middle ages, and subsequently developed through additions in the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Gothic styles. The morning will begin with a visit to the political and spiritual heart of the old Bohemian kingdom, the Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, with its unique St Wenceslas Chapel. We shall admire the famous choir built by Peter Parler (including its innovative net vaulting), the important tombs of various rulers and saints, the extraordinary royal oratory by Benedikt Ried, as well as modern stained glass windows by significant Czech artists like Alphonse Mucha. Next we shall view the exterior of the cathedral concentrating on the remarkable South ‘Golden’ Portal and the Great Steeple.
Across the courtyard is the Old Royal Palace which is one of the largest medieval complexes of this type in Europe. Here we shall see the Vladislav Hall with its late Gothic vaulting, the Ludwig Wing, the Diet Hall and the old Bohemian state offices, before descending by the Riders’ Staircase to the Gothic and Romanesque sections of the palace. We then visit the Romanesque Basilica of St George and walk along the Golden Lane with its quaint houses, in one of which Franz Kafka wrote The Castle.
In the afternoon we shall visit the Royal Garden, Belvedere and Renaissance Ball Game Court. This complex affords beautiful views and includes a formal garden with a singing fountain. The Belvedere was the first truly Italian Renaissance building north of the Alps, built by Paolo della Stella between 1538 and 1564.
Tonight we plan to attend a performance (details to be confirmed in 2020). (Overnight Prague) B
Day 21: Thursday 23 September, Prague
- Municipal House interior tour
- Ungelt (Customs House) and the north tympanum of Our Lady of Tyn Church
- Our Lady of Tyn Church (interior, if restoration work permits)
- Gallery of Old Bohemian Art at the Agnes Convent
- Afternoon at leisure
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we shall take a guided tour of the Municipal House. This building was constructed as a showpiece of Czech architecture at the turn of the 20th century. The complex, which has just been restored, may be regarded as one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe. The interior contains the Smetana Hall, numerous salons, elegant cafes, and other fine interiors.
After the tour of the Municipal House, we shall walk through the newly restored Customs House (‘Ungelt’ or ‘Tyn’ in Czech) behind the Tyn church. This fascinating enclosed area boasts a beautiful Renaissance loggia and other charming medieval structures. We continue past the north tympanum of Our Lady of Tyn, with its magnificent late Gothic sculptural program. This is the only portal of this type to have survived the Hussite Wars in Prague. If Our Lady of Tyn is accessible (it is presently under restoration), we shall visit the interior of this magnificent Gothic basilica.
We then continue through the northern section of the Old Town to the Gothic Agnes Convent, now home to the collection of old Bohemian art (National Gallery). Among the most important pieces in the collection are the 14th century Votive Picture of Jan Ocko, Master Theodoric’s extraordinary panel paintings, and the exquisite Vysebrod and Trebon altarpieces. In these paintings, we see examples of a style which might truly be regarded as ‘Bohemian’, characterised by soft modelling and voluminous expression of the human form, as well as a stress on a naturalistic and individual depiction of the human figure and facial features.
The afternoon is at leisure. In the evening we meet up again for our Farewell Dinner at a local Prague restaurant. (Overnight Prague) BD
Day 22: Friday 24 September, Prague
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated flight’
Tour concludes in Prague. Participants taking the designated flight will be transferred to the airport for their flight to Australia. B