Look, don’t touch – Strahov Library

Looking uphill at Strahov Monastery.

It was a long walk up the hill to Strahov Library in the monestary, where on a fine summer day folks sit on the brewery patio with a tremendous view of Prague. St. Vitus Cathedral rises out of Prague Castle, the domes of churches in Old Town populate the sky line and the guilted roof of the National Theater sparkles. But I wasn’t huffing up Nerudova Street for the view, I was on my way to see old books.

Strahov Monastery

Sitting at the top of the part of town called Mala Strava just inside the defensive wall, the Monastery began in 1143 and suffered ups and downs until 1586 when a new abbot breathed life into it. The parts I came to see are much newer. The Theological Hall was built between 1671-1679 and the grand Philosophical Hall in 1783, with the walnut cabinets and internal work done by 1794.

The library also include the Cabinets of Curiosity, a collection purchased in 1798 of things considered mysterious and strange (at the time) that mostly include specimens from the sea, bugs, butterflies, an amazing collection of tree books and what they believed at the time to be a unicorn horn. The corridor containing the Cabinet of Curiosoties (really several cabinets) is a look back in time at our urge to know the world and to see unimagined things from far away places. The transition time from natural philosophy into the natural sciences is a fascinating thing.

Cabinet of Curiosities

The trek to Strahov was not the things I hoped for, although I didn’t expect to get: peering into the spines of books hundreds of years old, craning my neck to look up at ceiling frescoes, holding my breath to look at a Blaeu family map or globe, soaking in the quiet and mustiness of a library. In fact, to preserve the rooms and their contents, you can only go into the halls by arranging for a tour (as in planning, which isn’t part of this trip). Otherwise, you stand in the doorway looking in.. The library, even at the top of the hill, certainly isn’t quiet as groups of tours come through the narrow connecting hallway between the two rooms, and it’s even lacking the old musty smell, what with the conditioned air being circulated.

The Philosophical Hall

Even still, Strahov Libraby is a place of learning and commitment to preserving old books and specimens. The walnut shelves of the Philosophical Hall and the gleaming, geometric pattern of the floor are something to see all on their own. And the seeing but not touching leaves a whole lot of room for the imagination.

The Theological Hall

 

Loud and soft

Oh Prague, your history speaks so loudly, even as other stories whisper down your narrow lanes. Yesterday we took a guided tour of Old Town, a part of Prague on the east side of the Vltava River that used to have a wall around it before the construction of New Town. Old and new are relative terms here – New Town construction began in the 1340s under the reign of Charles IV. As our guide took us through this part of the city we passed churches and old market squares, like the horse market, coal market and fruit market, remaining towers that were once part of the defensive wall and buildings that are so old they sit several meters below street level because they were built before material was added to bring the city up above flood levels.

It was an amazing three hours of dipping into unexpected places to see pieces of history, walking softly into stone churches tha hold a special, deep kind of silence, and peeking through the gate to see the remaining Jewish cemetery in Old Town. I shot hundreds of photos, asked dozens of questions and tried to soak it all in – yet I can’t tell you where we were or what we saw. There was simply too much. And all of it with Czech names, so it was difficult to commit to memory. With the winding nature of the streets and market squares, we’ll have to see how long it takes us to make our way back to certain places where we want to spend more time.

This type of exploration is good practice for me to be and do, and not to think. This is about taking it all in, being where I am in the moment that I am, and not worrying about what I’m missing or forgetting. This alone is part of our Big Adventure, because if I could, I’d be taking notes. But I can’t, so I’m letting it be, doing my best to be as near-sighted as I can. We’re about to head out for another walk-ing tour this morning.