Prague’s historic old-world structures are one-of-a-kind. The antiquated gothic architecture is as foreboding as it is beautiful. Dark gray stone, sharp black steeples, and intricate masonry are the hallmarks of these incredible buildings, and their signature Gothic styling is the most “Medieval-looking” thing I have ever seen. Now, the medieval period was not exactly the friendliest era in human history, so perhaps it is fitting that some of Prague’s architectural wonders have a somewhat grim and ominous characteristic to them. They look magnificently impressive yet mysteriously sinister, captivatingly unique yet threateningly dark.
1. Church of Our Lady before Týn
Looming dominantly over the Old Town Square, this has been the main church of the Prague’s Old Town since the 14th century. Its two towers protrude prominently from the surrounding buildings and they are sure to catch your eye if you are in the vicinity. Despite their initially symmetrical appearance, one of the spires is actually larger than the other to symbolize the masculine/feminine duality of the world. As with many structures of this age, the church has seen a tumultuous history unfold. It was founded during a period of war between the Roman Catholic Church and the Hussites. The church was originally controlled by the Hussites, during which time a sculpture of George of Poděbrady (the leader of the Hussites) was erected in the church below a giant golden chalice. Almost two centuries later the sculpture of the “heretic king” was torn down and replaced with a statue of the Virgin Mary, whose halo was made with the melted-down gold from King George’s chalice.
2. St. Vitus Cathedral
Residing in Hradčany, Prague’s Castle quarter, this bold Cathedral is both intricately ornate and impressively grand. It is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic. Its construction spanned from the 14th century all the way through early 20th century, causing it to demonstrate a number of different architectural styles throughout its various segments, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. However, it is undoubtedly an icon of the Gothic style. The main entrance is tall and imposing, with sharp arches and detailed masonry throughout. It contains many pointed spires, gargoyles, and an extensive series of flying buttresses which were typical of Gothic architecture. But perhaps the most unusual features are the numerous rows of spine-like protrusions from the edges of the spires and buttresses, which give the structure a geometrically jagged, almost “prickly” appearance. The awe-inspiring construction and jaw-dropping stained glass windows make this cathedral a truly incredible sight to behold (not to mention the historical artifacts, treasures, and royal tombs found within).
3. Charles Bridge
The famous Charles Bridge is one of the most recognizable sights Prague. With construction beginning as far back as 1357 under King Charles IV, this bridge was the only point of crossing over the river Vltava until 1841. Sixteen thick arches of Bohemian sandstone extend powerfully across the water—so powerfully, in fact, that the bridge survived a flood in 2002 that was considered the worst Czech flood in the past 500 years (645 years after the bridge’s initial construction). While the bridge itself is a compelling sight, it’s the tower standing at its end that gives it an unmistakably Gothic look. Again we see sharp black spires and dark, boxy stone that, upon witnessing, will transport you back to Feudal Europe.
4. Old Town Hall Tower & Astronomical Clock
The Old Town Hall Tower is, architecturally, very comparable to the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. However, this tower gets a special recognition for housing one of the most beautiful and remarkable old-world clocks on earth. The Orloj is the oldest functional astronomical clock on earth, dating back to 1410. Not only is it aesthetically striking, it is also staggeringly complex in both design and function. It tracks present-day time, Ancient Czech time, movements and positions of the sun and moon, Zodiac, and more. There is also a section just above the clock face in which an hourly display called “The Walk of the Apostles” commences, parading moving figures of the various saints. This clock tower’s historical significance, artistic allure, and impressive engineering make it one of the coolest things in Prague.