Monday, July 20, 2009

Praha Part I- Metal Babies in "Royal Vineyards"

On my most recent European adventure (accompanying a student choir) we dipped into the Czech Republic for a couple days. Being of 50% Czech extraction I looked forward to this opportunity with typical Bohemian reverence. Even though we had only time to visit touristy parts of Prague (I wouldn’t mind spending a couple days in Plzeň!) it offered something new for this traveler.

The Charles Brid
ge was crowded, St. Vitus Cathedral filled with “a million babbling yahoos,” and the town square full of sketchy people dressed like leprechauns advertising free booze at a party (a.k.a. be ready to part with a kidney!) It was pleasant but I found the most curious aspect of Prague to be off the beaten path.

the Prague Castle one can look far across the old city and up the hill rising beyond the Vltava River. At the pinnacle of the hill is a giant telecom tower- the Žižkov Television Tower, a massive, 709 foot communist structure built between 1985 and 1992.

ough Žižkov Tower has a restaurant (and food is particularly tasty in Prague) and an observation deck affording an impressive view its Communist nativity and strikingly modernistic, skyline rupturing design has caused many locals to despise it.

ook closely!

Naturally, someone thought to beautify this functional steel eyesore. Thus, in 2000 David
Černý, an artist who has tempte
d even Europeans to censorship, created giant, crawling, metal babies and affixed them to the tower. They came down but because of popular admiration crawled back up in 2001.

little context to appreciate the humor here: I live in a city where people bitch about the expense and impracticality of any civic art or beautification (i.e. sculptures of stylized bikes along bike trails- difficult concept, eh?) Imagine how the high school kids reacted when they saw 1800 pound, 10 foot infantile masses of metal swarming a TV tower!

Moving on.

e district around Žižkov is called Vinohrady, until 1968 Královské Vinohrady- “Royal Vineyards.” The name comes from the 14th century when Charles IV planted vineyards in this hilly area outside of Prague. To this day a city park nearby contains an active vineyard! In the 18th century large gardens filled the area.

inohrady experienced rapid growth through the 19th century. In 1849 it became an independent community, in 1879, a city. The population was estimated at 15,000 in 1880 and more than doubled (34,500) by the next decade.

o permanently serve the needs of community members St. Ludmila parish was established in 1893- two mission chapels were not enough! (This is a striking neo-gothic edifice.) Though this was a step in the right direction the population rose to 50,000 by 1900. This 90% Catholic community needed a new church!

n 2 December 1908 the City of Královské Vinohrady donated land in Jiřího z Poděbrad- “George of Poděbrady Square” for a new church. Though the city council made the real estate selection quite carefully a number of radicals protested and the commitment was litigated for a number of years. Not until 1928 was it set in stone- literally!

Meanwhile, St. Alois Parish was established on 1 January 1914 and operated out of a new school building and its chapel on the north side of the Square. This small and inadequate chapel held Mass and services until 1932!

Construction and details of the church (subsequently rededicated to the Sacred Heart) are traced in a forthcoming post.

s for the neighborhood…Vinohrady was annexed to Prague in 1922. Because of its politically involved, upper-middle class residents the Post-War Communist government split it into three districts in 1949.

oday Vinohrady attracts renown for its wealth of 19th and early 20th century architecture. (St. Ludmila pictured).

Google images: crawling babies zizkov. It may disturb you.

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