Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thursday's House Insignia of the Day Revealed - At the Red Eagle (U červeného orla)

 At the Red Eagle (U červeného orla) 

From the 15th century onward, the eagle served as the symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor; the heraldic depiction of the lord of the skies with two heads expressed the superiority of the emperor to all other rulers, and hence his right to absolute power.  In the Czech lands, the double-headed imperial eagle became the insignia of the ruling dynasty of the Habsburgs, and in many centuries of their rule came to adorn many a house façade, even in Prague.  The Habsburg eagle was used most frequently for governmental buildings, or houses belonging to persons affiliated in some way with the imperial court: doctors, suppliers of goods or services to the imperial house, craftsman and pharmacists.

Under the protective wing of one such majestic figurative raptor, positioned on the present house in Celetná Street, a prosperous inn dating back to medieval times flourished for many years.  Later a cafe of considerable repute, U Suchých, was by the 1830s one of the focal points of intellectual life for the Czech National Revival, frequented by nationally conscious Czech writers, artists and students, including the famed writer and dramatist Josef Kajetán Tyl, often in the company of actors, both professional and amateur.  

Josef Kajetán Tyl

Another of Tyl's companions was Karel Hynek Mácha, the poet now universally regarded as the greatest figure of Czech Romanticism.  

Karel Hynek Mácha

In this cafe, it so happened that Tyl ordered hot chocolate for his fiancée and her friend Eleanora (known as Lori) Šomková.  Then a mere girl of seventeen, Lori felt quite shy in such elevated company, until a young man arrived at the table and kindly encouraged her to take a sip of her chocolate.  Supposedly, this was the first meeting of Mácha with the woman who was to prove his great love.  Their relationship, however, ended in tragedy, since Mácha died on the day planned for their wedding in November of 1836.

Do you remember when I told you that Czechs have their own version of Valentine's Day on May 1st...A Day for Lovers.  On the first of May, lovers are supposed to kiss under a blossoming cherry tree to ensure a year of good health and good luck.  But, there's another tradition associated with A Day for Lovers, and that is to meet at the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha.  Why?  Well, he was a Czech romantic poet, and today he stands on Petřín Hill.  Couples who kiss in front of his statue believe that their love will be as strong as the stone his statue is made from. 

Karel Hynek Mácha is best known for his lyrical epic poem, Máj (which is about May 1st and speaks of the tragic love of two young people).  Máj is "regarded as the classic work of Czech Romanticism, and is considered one of the best Czech poems ever written."  It's quite beautiful and you can read the translated version of it here

The building was originally a Gothic house, but was rebuilt several times - the way it looks today was created during a High Baroque reconstruction around 1725 and also during a late Classicist adaptation in 1838.  In 1958, the house was very insensitively adapted and most of the Classicist architectural details were removed. The house has been owned by the Charles University since 1754.  Originally there were flats that housed  professors from the law and medical faculties.  

Location:  Celetná ulice 21/593, Staré Město (Old Town)