A Guide to the Prague Klementium
The places I was most excited to see while visiting Prague, were their libraries. Prague has some of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and although most of them are off limits to the public, there are tours during certain times of the day that allow bibliophiles to soak up all the history and literary treasures that lie inside these old buildings.
The Clementinum or Klementinum in Czech is a large building complex that stretches over a few different buildings. Since the 15th century, astronomers, scientists, philosophers and musicians have poured through its door to study the precious books inside these doors. Each of them, influencing each other and discovering some of the modern era greatest discoveries. You enter the Clementinum through the back of the building and as you walk up to it, through its maze of stuccoed arches and towering windows, you get to see just how large this complex is.
The only way to get into the Libraries, if you’re not a Czech scholar, is by a guided tour. These run about every hour and are worth every penny. When you enter through the small wooden doors, near the church, at the back of the building, you will see a small ticket booth with a surly employee sitting behind the glass. You purchase a ticket, which is in itself a work of art and waits for your tour guide to set your off on your journey throughout this gorgeous building.
The Clementinum dates all the way back to the 11th century. It originally simply a small chapel, dedicated to Saint Clement run by Dominica monks. The Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I wanted to help increase his power within the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia, now Prague, and to do this he invited the Jesuits into his city. Wanting to make them feel at home and give them some sense of grandiose importance, the Emperor gifted them the building now known as the Klementinum as it was in a prime location, right across from the Charles GBride. In 1556, the development of the library began and in 1653 they had managed to build one of the greatest collections of books and literary material in Europe. When the entire library centre, it was the largest building in PRauge after the castle itself. Eventually, the Jesuits fell out with the Pope, and so in 1773 the library was given over to the people and became a part of the Charles University.
The first room that the guide will take you into is the great, Mirror Chapel. This chapel can also about if you want to watch a Classical Concert inside the Mirror Chapel. These are a fantastic option for visiting the Kelmentinum; there you will be treated to music from an 18th-century organ playing beautiful pieces from the period. The architecture of the Klementinum varies from room to room as different parts of the building were built during different periods but in essence, it is an excellent example of Baroque architecture. The Mirror Chapel was built in 1724 and features ornate frescoed and ceiling mirrors, gilded stuccos along the walls and marbled columns each of which contains a beautiful work of art in a custom frame whose designs reflects the room itself. The rust coloured walls and peach ceiling are a unique touch make the chamber seem to glow with cosy warmth.
These works of art were created mostly by Jan Hiebl, a Czech artist not of much note, but whome made a significant impression on the people who visit this chapel. One of the most important things to look at while in here are the two organs, one of which that was actual played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on his visits to the Klementinum.
After soaking in all you can inside the Mirror Chapel, our guide lead up the first set of narrow stairs to the 2nd Floor was the historic main library is housed. On the way towards the only open doorway, you pass various glass cabinets, housing different instruments that astronomer who used this building to explore the skies would use to track the weather and the constellations.
The corridor is covered in ornate stucco along the sides of the ceiling, within that containing frescoes of various scenes from prominent literary writings.Like echoes of the past, leading you down towards your destination.
Although you can't walking inside the library and pick up any book, there are books on display in the corridor that can give you an idea of what these ancient books would have looked like. Each one is masterfully written in ornate typography and illustrated lettered at the top of each page. Monks would spend a lifetime creating a mere few copies of the same book, dispersing it to only a few different prestigious libraries around the world.
As the guide leads you over to the final set of doors at the back, you eyes almost are taken aback the treacherous amount of things to look at you see for the first time the library. It is a stunning displaying, housing over 20,000 books from the early 17th century and onwards. It is a sea of baroque finishings. The ceiling is frescoed and unlikes some parts of the building, remains untouched from the original 18th-century design. The painting displays the Temple of Wisdom, a location from Greek Mythology, which was thought to have housed thousands of theological volumes dating back to 1600. Jan Hiebl, the same artist as who painted the fresco I the Mirror Chapel, use light and shadow to create a domed effect. He spent tireless hours to give the illusion of natural sunlight pouring into the space despite light being very restricted to keep the books safe from damage.
The bookshelves themselves are carved from some of the most brilliant dark wood and seem almost to shine in the dim lights. Some columns are carved into spirals topped off with gold capitals. Above the tops of each bookshelf are golden frames with the names inscribed on them of prominent Jesuits throughout the ages who helped form this impressive library.
Throughout the centre of the room are various globes, of different sizes, each on a historical diagram of the world and how the people of that time saw the various continents. There are also several sets of celestial globes. Celestial globes show the apparent positions of the stars in the sky. The collection consists mainly of theological books in many foreign languages. It also contains a Mozartiana, material about Tycho Brahe and Comenius, as well as historical examples of Czech literature. Some of the books in the collection are so rare and unique that they have been given to Google to scan and be preserved online for everyone to see.
Although you don't want leave, eventually the tour guide must move on, and you are taken o the next floor up which contains the infamous Meridian Hall. The Meridian Hall was an invention designed to determine noon. When the scientists inside would see that noon has come, they would ring the bells from the top of the belltower, indicated to the rest of the town; it was midday. Alongside, the Meridian Hall as several weather recording devices used to record the weather in the Czech lands as early as 1775. These are even still used today to continue to record the weather.
For those brave enough, you can mount the final, very thin and rickety set of stairs to enter the bell tower. You must climb 172 steps to get to the top of the tower but once you're up there you have a stunning 360° view of Prague!
Being up here, especially on our first day, really helped us get a sense of where everything was compared to each other. We could see all the important landmarks and bronze diagrams helped identify all the famous landmarks we were looking at.
This was so helpful since we'd see something far off in the distance and want to make a note of tracking it down on land to check it out closer up.
Seeing as the tour group is so small, you have this view all to yourself once the group spreads out. It was so romantic and after the insane crowds down below, it was truly an oasis of serenity up here.
On the very top of the bell tower, there is a massive bronze sculpture of Atlas holding up the world. On our way out, we took on the last look up to the top of the tower from where we were once standing. The Klementinum and the Strahov Monastery are truly my two favourite landmarks in Prague, and you MUST give them a visit if you're even in the city. On the way our we thanked our guide and said goodbye to the other people on our guide. Our guide sneakily told us that the old man and his wife who had joined us on the tour, who we thought were absolutely delightful, was the former minister of finance for the United State Government under Kissinger. Pretty amazing the kind of people you meet when you take this kind of tours.