A Guide to Prague's Little Quarter, Malá Strana
Malá Strana, or "Little Quarter" in Czech, is the large area of town situated on the hills below Prague Castle. In the middle ages, the city was divided into two halves, separated by the river and the Charles Bridge. King Ottokar II of Bohemia founded Malá Strana in 1257. The right side of town was the centre of the bourgeois, native Czech population. The left bank, however, was made up of many more German and Italian citizens, alongside some noble palaces. The king had brought with him many of these German craftsmen to help establish his city as one with some of the finest merchants and craftsmen in Europe.
In 1419 and 1541 to town suffered massive damages due to fires set by invading armies. It was rebuilt after the fires in Baroque architectural style, dominated by pastel coloured burgher houses and ornate facades. As you walk through the town, down quaint side streets and ancient alleyways, you feel as though you've been transported through time. Cobblestones on the road and old brickwork along the walls encase you inside what feels like a portal to another era.
In Mala Strana, you can explore small shops filled with trinkets, perfumes, lace and more. You can explore the various devotional churches that have stood on these stones since it's foundation. You can eat and drink to your hearts content at the various traditional Czech pubs, bars and restaurants along the river, complete with a picturesque view of the right bank. At night, the streets are lit with lanterns and the crowds dwindle. Although it might be outside the inner city, it is a real treat to stay overnight on this side of two for a night or two. The experience is unique and one you should give a try! Most of the hotels on this side of town are housed inside beautifully restored buildings, and they give you a sense of what living in Mala Strana would have been like in the Renaissance.
Mala Strana itself is divided between the lower and upper halves of the hill. The upper half mostly houses the Prague Castle and surrounding palaces and monasteries. The bottom half is made up shops, hotels, Burghes houses and various Churches. Since the Prague Castle district is such an elegant and extensive area, we decided to come back here in the early morning to see all of it.
The Wallenstein Palace, built for Albrecht von Wallenstein is one of the most stunning sights to see Lesser Town. The palace is made up of 26 different houses, five courtyards and an elaborate French Park Garden. Wallenstein brought in Italian architects and artisans in 1623 to build his palatial estate so while walking through the grounds on a warm day; you can get the feeling of being in Italy. The garden themselves were also influenced by Italian gardens and included an aviary, a grotto, and a fountain.
St. Nicholas Church has always served as a meeting place for citizens from the upper and lower parts of town. It is the heart and soul of the city and as such, is an architectural marvel. Inside the church, you'll see even more incredible pieces of Czech artwork. The dome is finely painted with the scene of the apotheosis of St. Nicolas, the defender of children, seamen and wayfollowers.
In addition to St. Nicholas Church, the Church of Our Lady Victorious is also another sacred place of devotion and prayer. Inside the church, you'll find the great Holy Infant Jesus of Prague statue which you'll see as trinkets, magnets and paintings all over the rest of the city. This small statue draws millions of people to the church every year.
The Lennon Wall is a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike. Since the 1980s, people have been coming to visit this wall and covering it in graffiti relating to John Lennon and the Beatles. It represents all the ideals that John Lennon stood for, peace, love and equality. The origins of the first piece of graffiti are unknown, but it seemed to have caught on like wildfire. In addition to Lennon-inspired graffiti, in 1988 the wall became a place were young Czechs could air their grievances about the communist regime. Whenever local authorities would paint over the graffiti the next day, it would be covered up once more in poems and paintings. Eventually, they just stopped trying and accepted it as long as people stuck to graffitiing this one area and didn't start defacing the entire lower half of Mala Strana.
Kampa Island is a peaceful, green retreat just off Charles Bridge. On Kampa island, you'll see lots of local Czech families out to enjoy some time outdoors. There are outdoor sculptures along the island along with the Kampa Modern Art Museum. This Museum features the private collection of Meda Mládek.
There are many different cafes along the island to grab a treat, various little shops to poke your heads into. One in particular sells used books, both in English and Czech. It's worth exploring.
Many people come to the Little Quarter solely to visit the Prague Castle, but I advise that you take a day or a half day to come and visit all the small corners of this district of Prague. There are so many treasures to uncover.