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Archive for czech republic

Birthplace of the Dollar

By Linda Tancs

The U.S. dollar is the most widely used currency in the world. Do you know where it originated? The U.S. is obviously far too easy an answer. And wrong. To find its origin you’ll need to go to the unassuming Czech town of Jáchymov near the German border. Over 500 years ago the town minted the first Joachimsthaler coins, the predecessor of the U.S. dollar. Its high-purity silver content (derived from the mines in the region, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) made it a popular currency that spread across Europe and was renamed locally. The word “dollar” closely resembles the German thaler and the Dutch leeuwendaler. In fact, the Dutch colonists brought their coin to New Amsterdam (the colony at the southern tip of New York City), where it eventually became the nation’s official currency.

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A Czech Icon

By Linda Tancs

Founded in the 9th century, Prague Castle is one of the most important cultural symbols in the Czech Republic. Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ancient castle in the world, it comprises palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles as well as knockout views of the city from the Great South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral. The castle’s season opening is on May 11, when you can visit for free. Be sure to see the falconry show in the castle gardens throughout the day.

Czech Functionalism

By Linda Tancs

In the functionalism tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright stands Villa Tugendhat in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-largest city. It’s the only UNESCO-designated example of modern architecture in the country, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1930 for Greta and Fritz Tugendhat. Due to heavy interest in tours, you’d best book several months in advance. Brno is a two-hour, high-speed train ride from Prague.

The Church of Bones

By Linda Tancs

It’s certainly not unusual for a church to have an accompanying graveyard. What is unusual is an unearthing of tens of thousands of bones—bleached, carved and arranged into decorations in the form of a chandelier, a pyramid, crosses and a coat of arms. That’s what you’ll find in an ossuary in Sedlec near Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. It contains the remains of over 40,000 skeletons, a popular resting place owing to the sprinkling of dirt from Golgotha in the Holy Land and a subsequent expansion resulting from victims of the plagues. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, it’s about an hour away from Prague.

City of a Hundred Spires

By Linda Tancs

Prague is known as the City of a Hundred Spires, its UNESCO-designated landscape in the Czech Republic dotted with spired churches. Its historic heart is in Old Town, bursting with Baroque buildings, Gothic churches and an astronomical clock. Drawing wonder for over 600 years, the clock adorns the southern wall of Old Town City Hall and gives an hourly performance featuring 12 apostles passing by the window above the astronomical dial and the movement of symbolic sculptures.

 

Under the Microscope in Prague

By Linda Tancs

At the Museum of Miniatures in Prague, Czech Republic, the exhibits are meant to be viewed microscopically. How else would you see a flea with golden horseshoes or the Lord’s Prayer written on a strand of human hair? Microminiature is an art form featuring works that typically range from a couple of millimeters to just a couple of tenths of a millimeter. Boasting one of the largest collections of microminiatures in the world, the museum can be reached by taking tram 22 to Pohořelec station.

Napoleonic History in Moravia

By Linda Tancs

Bounded by Bohemia on the west and northwest, by Silesia on the northeast, by Slovakia on the east and by Lower Austria on the south, Moravia is a historic region in the Czech Republic. In this land of chateaux and unique folklore you’ll find significant developments in European history, like the Battle of Austerlitz. Also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, it was a decisive engagement in the War of the Third Coalition, which was fought between the forces of Napoleonic France on one side and an alliance between the Holy Roman Empire, Russia and Austria on the other.  It represents arguably the greatest victory achieved by Napoleon, who defeated the much larger Russian and Austrian armies in December 1805 near the village of Austerlitz in modern-day Slavkov. An annual reenactment takes place between Dec. 2 and Dec. 4, featuring military camps, concerts and costumed tours of Slavkov Château by Napoleon himself.

A City Between Two Castles

By Linda Tancs

The Czech city of Brno sits between two castles—Špilberk Castle on the hill in the city centre and Veveří Castle on the Svratka River. The castles play an important role in Brno’s history, having been laid siege by the Swedish army in the 1600s during the Thirty Years’ War. Despite their significant power, the Swedish forces failed to maintain their position and retreated empty-handed. The Moravian victory is celebrated each year on 15 August, Brno Day. The festivities include a re-enactment on the slopes of Špilberk, a period market fair and costumed parades.

The 2015 European Capitals of Culture

By Linda Tancs

Welcome to a new year and two new European Union capitals of culture:  Mons in Belgium and Pilsen in the Czech Republic.  The major exhibitions in Mons feature Van Gogh’s emergence as an artist in the Borinage, the poetic metamorphosis of Paul Verlaine, and the Battle of Lumecon in the main square where St. George slays the dragon.  The opening ceremony for Mons 2015 will be held on 24 January.  Like Mons, Pilsen will promote great personalities associated with the city, like Jiří Trnka (the Walt Disney of the East), Ladislav Sutnar (a pioneer in information graphics) and the architecture of Adolf Loos.  The festivities officially launch in Pilsen on 17 January.

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