There’s nothing quite like exploring a new city.
Post-lunch, after everything has settled and having picked up a cool drink or a cheeky ice cream, it’s so relaxing to stroll at a gentle pace through cobbled streets, along winding rivers and across ornate bridges, taking in the culture and the ambience.
Europe is packed with centuries of artistic endeavors for visitors and locals to enjoy, and the statues in Prague, Czech Republic are no exception!
We spend a lot of time looking for murals and paintings of street art in the cities and towns we visit, but I try to take the time to acknowledge the 3D artistic offerings we discover as well – the more elaborate the better!
Busts and plaques are all perfectly fine, but for me, a full-on statue, much like a full-wall street art mural, gives a much better feeling and tells a bigger story about a city’s culture and its history.
What’s with all the Prague Statues, anyway?
Lucky for us the history of Prague’s statues goes way back. For hundreds of years, many of these statues were used as navigation tools by the illiterate. And why not? After all, as you’ll see, some of these statues are pretty unique! Who wouldn’t know what you mean when you say, “Meet me by the statue that looks like an evil knight?”
You may remember we briefly touched on statue and sculpture hunting in our article about getting off the beaten path in Prague, but here, in greater detail, are some of the ones that stand out to me the most.
All of these statues are within the city limits, and can easily all be seen in one day and on foot (as we were).
A quick note: this is by no means a definitive list of the most famous statues in Prague. There’s plenty of art to find in Prague that’s famous, notorious or has a valued reputation. The purpose of this list is to present a varied spread of different styles, from the sublime to the ridiculous; to try and give just a taste of what can be discovered in this wonderful city.
And yes, as is unavoidable when talking about Prague statues, a few of those featured below are from the creative and potentially deranged mind of the Czech Republic’s famous (infamous?) and irreverent sculptor, David Černý. Honestly, you could spend a whole post on him alone, but we wanted to show a more varied selection.
The only other thing they all have in common is that I like them. Because art is subjective. One person’s eyesore is another person’s masterpiece. Yay!
The Iron Knight
Kicking us straight off with a dark beginning is this statue of the Legend of the Iron Knight. Found just outside Prague City Hall on Platnéřská (Street) near the Old Town, this statue relates to a spooky tale of jealousy and murder.
The statue is of Jáchym Berka, a medieval knight who, according to legend, was betrothed to a beautiful young woman he fell in love with while her blacksmith father was working on Berka’s armour.
While off fighting in another country, Berka heard malicious rumours of his fiancés infidelity. Stories differ on the circumstances, but the most dramatic version seems to be that, upon his return, he killed his fiancé in a jealous rage. Heartbroken, she cursed him with her last breath, and the knight immediately turned to stone.
The knight was also cursed to walk the streets of Prague every 100 years, looking for redemption which can only be provided by a virtuous maiden’s kiss.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition to see this depiction of macabre folkloric tragedy outside a municipal building. Or is it?
Statue of Franz Kafka by Jaroslav Róna
Have you ever been walking down the street and had to do a double take because you don’t accept what your brain told you you saw the first time?
That’s what happened as Dagney and I were strolling through the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town. We were passing by the Spanish Synagogue on Vězeňská Street and thinking of where we might like to eat when I had to stop for a moment.
“What’s up?” Dagney asked.
“Did you see anything unusual just a moment ago?” I replied. “I think I may have just hallucinated something.”
We retraced our steps a short distance and found this:
“Was that what you meant?” Dagney asked.
“I hope so.”
The Statue of Franz Kafka is certainly one of the most unusual offerings I’ve seen to the city’s famed literary figure. It;s creative and wonderfully surreal.
In case you’re worried about the artist Jaroslav Róna’s state of mind, the statue is a direct reference to Kafka’s 1912 story “Description of a Struggle”, in which at one point he is carried around on a nameless acquaintance’s back for part of the narrative.
Many people believe that the headless creature is meant to be a Golem, and the statue is often referred to as Kafka and the Golem.
Related: The Legend of the Prague Golem
Plaque of the National Marionette Theatre
This one isn’t a statue per se, but it’s close enough for me to want to put it on this list.
Located on the outside of the National Marionette Theatre on Žatecká (Street) in the Old Town, the plaque depicts a characterful and motley crew of puppets, all highly detailed. It reminds me of that famous photograph of builders sitting on a girder high above New York City (Lunch atop a Skyscraper), as if the marionettes are all taking a break after a performance to hang out.
Il Commendatore by Anna Chromý
From a peaceful face to no face.
This statue really appeals to the music geek in me. Il Commendatore (or The Cloak of Conscience – epic alternative name) sits outside the Estates Theatre on Ovocný trh between Prague’s Old Town and the Můstek area.
The statue depicts the shape of a cloaked figure – the eponymous “Commander”, named in direct reference to the Commander character from Mozart’s Don Giovanni opera, which premiered in the Estates Theatre in 1787 and was conducted by Mozart himself. Mozart was really here! (Ok, geek-ery over).
Chromý’s statue does not actually have a figure inside it (it’s just a cloak), which does a really good job of getting you to lean in close to see what’s inside. It’s very creepy … which I love.
Memorial to the Victims of Communism by Olbram Zoubek, Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel
Ok. Of all the statues on this list, this one is the most serious.
The Memorial to the Victims of Communism was unveiled on May 22nd, 2002 and stands as a very impactful tribute to those who were affected by Communism during the period of 1948-1989.
Unlike other, more traditional memorials, this one is immediately very visually arresting, especially at night when it is lit by specially placed spotlights.
The memorial is located on Újezd Street, straight across the river from the National Theatre that lies in the main part of the city.
Opinion is divided here at Cultura Obscura regarding the interpretation of this monument. When I look at the sculptures, I see them moving forwards, gradually staggering away from the Communist brutalities of the past and becoming more whole as the passage of time heals them. When Dagney looks, she sees them being pulled back up the slope, slowly disintegrating as the effects of Communism wear them away into nothing.
What do you see? Do you agree with either of us? Or have we misinterpreted it completely? Let us know in the comments below!
Babies by David Černý
There are many people who believe that a human baby is one of the cutest and most beautiful things in the world.
We both do.
Alright, so they’re not entirely representative of the real thing (what with them being much bigger and having had a bar code stamped into their faces). But I can no longer see a newborn without these guys being on the horizon of my mind.
Originally created by Černý for the city of Chicago in 1994 before finding their way to Prague in 2000, the Babies can be found outside the Museum Kampa (Museum of Modern Art for Central Europe) just across the river in Kampa Park in the Malá Strana district (very close to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism).
Alternatively, some more of the Babies were creatively installed in another part of Prague. If you happen to be near the Žižkov Television Tower in the East of the city and you look up, you may well get a shock.
There they are, crawling all over it. You can’t take your eyes off of kids for a second, can you?
Effigy on a grave in Vyšehrad Cemetery
As a dark tourist, I’ve been to a fair few graveyards. Aside from the quiet calm that many of them possess, I also appreciate the artistic endeavors that those who wish to decorate their relatives’ graves go to.
While exploring the Vyšehrad Cemetery next to the Saint Peter and Paul Basilica, this particular effigy stood out to me. The minimalism, the simplicity, the peaceful expression on the figure’s face; to me it suggests the comforting relief of a soul leaving the body for a better place. It’s certainly a very striking interpretation of life after death.
Related: Cemeteries of Prague
Man Hanging Out by David Černý
Much like the Statue of Franz Kafka, this one seems like something out of a dream at first sight, especially considering its placement.
As you walk south down the narrow Husova (Street), passing other people as it twists and winds, your attention may not be on the high windows and rooftops. But as you reach the junction with Betlémské nám. you may notice a small figure hanging high above the cobbles.
This is another work from the creative and unusual mind of David Černý (the man responsible for the Babies above). What makes this piece even more interesting is that the figure in question is a specific person. Namely, renowned father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
Freud was born in Freiburg which eventually became part of the Czech Republic. During his life, he was also constantly struggling with the fear of his own death, which is one of the possible explanations given for why he has been depicted here in this manner.
Another is that it represents Černý’s uncertainty about intellectualism in the 20th century. Regardless, I think it looks neat.
The statues of Charles Bridge (and part of one in particular)
Charles Bridge connects the Old Town with the Prague Castle area of the city. It was built to replace a pre-existing bridge under the direction of King Charles IV (hence the name) and, starting in 1357, took a good half-century to finish.
That may have been because the bridge is decorated with a series of 30 statues that line both sides all the way along. It is one of, if not the most concentrated point of statue accumulation within Prague and is therefore something of a jackpot for any would-be statue hunter.
The statues are all excellent examples of Baroque artistic endeavor, and many of them are over 300 years old. One in particular stood out to me, but for reasons that would make a classic art student a little irritated I think.
The Statues of Saint John of Matha, Saint Felix of Valois and Saint Ivan sculpture (near the Castle end of the bridge) has a dog on it! Sorry die-hard classic art experts; that’s sometimes as basic as I think!
So I snapped a picture and was admiring it when I noticed something that the bright sunlight had hidden from me.
Wait a minute … but … hang on … what’s that inside …
What the hell?! What’s going on here? Who are these guys?
I thought at the time that this might be a depiction of Hell, based on the expressions (especially the “wailing” guy at the back). Apparently, though, they are actually (living) Christian slaves being freed by the aforementioned saints. I shall try to be less alarmist in the future.
R2-D2 Bunker Statue
In Folimanka Park, there’s an abandoned nuclear bunker. You wouldn’t know it, except for the formerly unsightly ventilation shaft sticking out of the ground.
However, anonymous street artists noticed its shape resembled a certain robotic figure from popular culture and voilà! It’s now R2-D2 that overlooks the path and the city beyond. He used to have arm pieces which have now been replaced with (blaster?) damage and a little graffiti, but he’s still recognisable and standing strong.
Have you ever been to Prague? What statues stood out to you? Have you ever kissed a roaming ghost knight and set him free? Let us know in the comments!