TRAVEL / Prague step by step: The rich historical jumble of Europe's most fashionable capital is best enjoyed on foot, as this extract from a new Eyewitness Guide reveals. Next week, two walks in Florence

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The Independent Culture
PRAGUE offers some good opportunities for walking. In the centre of the city, many streets are pedestrianised and the most important sights are confined to quite a small area. Here are four walks of varied character. The first passes through a main artery of the city, from the Powder Gate on the outskirts of the Old Town to St Vitus's Cathedral in Prague Castle. This is the Royal Coronation Route, followed for centuries by the rulers of Bohemia. The second walk is in Vysehrad - a peaceful, ancient fortress which is steeped in history and atmosphere. The views here of the Vltava river and Prague Castle are unparalleled. The third and fourth routes are away from the busy centre; they take in the peace and quiet of two of Prague's loveliest parks - Petrin and the Royal Enclosure. Petrin Park is rewarding for its spectacular views of the city. The Royal Enclosure is in the old royal hunting park. The final part of this walk crosses a spur of the Vltava before ending at the Troja Palace and the zoo.

THE ROYAL ROUTE

A 90-MINUTE WALK

This route originally linked two important royal seats: the Royal Court - situated on the site of the Municipal House and where the walk starts - and Prague Castle, where it finishes. The name of this walk derives from the coronation processions of the rulers of Bohemia who passed along it. Today, these narrow streets offer a wealth of historical and architecturally interesting sights, shops and cafes, making the walk one of Prague's most enjoyable.

History of the Royal Route: The first major coronation procession to travel along this route was for George of Podebrady in 1458. The next large procession took place in 1743, when Maria Theresa was crowned with great pomp - three Turkish pavilions were erected just outside Powder Gate. September 1791 saw the coronation of Leopold II. This procession was led by cavalry, followed by mounted drummers, trumpeters and soldiers and Bohemian lords. Some 80 carriages came next, carrying princes and bishops. The most splendid were each drawn by six pairs of horses, flanked by servants with red coats and white leather trousers, and carried the ladies-in-waiting. The last great coronation procession along the Royal Route - for Ferdinand V - was in 1836 and featured 3,391 horses and four camels.

From the Powder Gate to Old Town Square: At Namesti Republiky turn towards the Municipal House and walk under the Gothic Powder Gate 1. Here, at the city gates, the monarch and a large retinue of church dignitaries, aristocrats and foreign ambassadors were warmly welcomed by leading city representatives. The gate leads into one of Prague's oldest streets, Celetna. It was here the Jewish community and the crafts guilds, carrying their insignia, greeted their king.

The street is lined with baroque and rococo houses with unusual house signs. Behind the facades are Gothic buildings. At house No 36 is the Mint 2, moved here after the Mint at Kutna Hora was occupied by Catholic troops in the Hussite wars. It minted coins from 1420 to 1784. Further along is the Cubist house 'At the Black Madonna' 3 and the taverns 'At the Spider' 4 and 'At the Vulture' 5, where revellers could watch through the windows.

At the end of Celetna Street is the Old Town Square 6. Here, the processions halted beside Tyn Church 7 for pledges of loyalty from the university. Keep to the left of the square, past No 20, called 'At the Unicorn' 8, where Smetana began a music school in 1848. Proceed to the old Town Hall 9.

Here, the municipal guard and a band waited for the royal procession, and city dignitaries cheered from the temporary balcony around the hall.

Along Karlova Street and across Charles Bridge: Walk past the sgraffitoed facade of the House at the Minute and into Male Namesti 10, where merchants waited with members of the various religious orders. Turn left down gallery-filled Karlova Street. Beyond Husova Street is an attractive baroque house, 'At the Golden Well' 11. Further on is the 16th-century Clementinum where the clergy stood. You then pass into Knights of the Cross Square. When Leopold II's procession passed through here the clouds lifted, which was considered to be a good omen. But only a few months later he died. Walk under the Old Town Bridge Tower 12 and over Charles Bridge 13 and then under the Little Quarter Towers 14.

The Little Quarter: The walk now follows Mostecka Street. On entering the Little Quarter the mayor handed the city keys to the king and the artillery fired a salute. At the end of this street is Little Quarter Square 15 and the baroque church, St Nicholas's 16. The procession passed the church to the sound of its bells ringing. Leave this picturesque square by Nerudova Street 17. Poet and writer Jan Neruda, who immortalised hundreds of Little Quarter characters, grew up and worked at No 47 18. At the end of this street you turn sharp right and walk up the Castle ramp which leads you to Hradcanske Square. The route ends at the Castle's Matthias Gate 19. The procession ended with the coronation, which was held in St Vitus's Cathedral.

TIPS FOR WALKERS

Starting point: Namesti Republiky.

Length: 2.4km (1.5 miles).

Getting there: Line B goes to Namesti Republiky metro station. At Hradcany you can get tram 22 back into town.

Stopping-off points: Rest at outdoor cafes on Old Town Square in the summer. Karlova Street has one of the most popular in Prague, called 'At the Golden Snake' (U Zlateho hada). There are also cafes in Malostranske Square.

VYSEHRAD A 60-MINUTE WALK

According to ancient legend, Vysehrad was the first seat of Czech royalty. It was from this spot that Princess Libuse is said to have prophesied the future glory of the city of Prague. However, archaeological research indicates that the first castle on Vysehrad was not built until the 10th century. The fortress suffered a turbulent history and was rebuilt many times. Today, it is a peaceful place with parks, unrivalled views of the Vltava valley and Prague, and a fascinating cemetery.

V Pevnosti: From Vysehrad metro 1 make your way up the steps facing the metro exit to the complex of the Palace of Culture 2 straight ahead. Walk west along its large granite terrace, go down the incline and straight ahead into the quiet street Na Bucance. Turn right at the end, cross the road and you find yourself on V Pevnosti, facing the brick walls of the original Vysehrad Citadel. Ahead of you is the west entrance to the fortress, the mid-17th-century Tabor Gate 3. Past this gate on the right are the ruins of the 14th-century fortifications built by Charles IV. Further on are the ruins of the original Gothic gate, Spicka 4. Pass that and you get to the sculpture-adorned Leopold Gate 5, one of the most impressive parts of these 17th-century fortifications. It adjoins brick walls 6 widened during the French occupation of 1742.

K Rotunde to Sobeslavova Street: Turn right out of the gate and just before St Martin's Rotunda, turn left into K Rotunde. A few metres on your right, almost concealed behind high walls, is the New Deanery, now the Vysehrad Museum 7. This is used to house archaeological remains found around Vysehrad. Situated at the corner of K Rotunde and Sobeslavova Street is the Canon's House 8. Turn left down Sobeslavova to see the excavations of the foundations of the Basilica of St Lawrence 9. This was built by Vratislav II in the late 11th century, but was destroyed by the Hussites in 1420. At the basilica turn left on to the fortified walls for a stunning view.

Vysehrad Rock: The wooded outcrop of rock on which Vysehrad was built drops in the west to form a steep rock wall to the river - a vital defensive position. On the summit of the rock are the Gothic ruins of what are called Libuse's Baths 10. This was a defence bastion of the medieval castle. Further on your left is a grassy patch where the remains of a 14th-century Gothic palace 11 have been found.

Vysehrad Park: The western part of Vysehrad has been transformed into a park. Standing on the lawn south of the Church of St Peter and St Paul are four groups of statues by the 19th-century sculptor Josef Myslbek 12. The works represent figures from early Czech history. The park was the site of a Romanesque palace, which was connected by a bridge to the neighbouring church. Another palace was built here in the reign of Charles IV.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul: This twin-spired church 13 totally dominates Vysehrad. It was founded in the latter half of the 11th century by Prince Vratislav II and was enlarged in 1129. In the mid-13th century it burned down and was replaced by an Early Gothic church. Since then it has been redecorated and restored many times. Note the early 12th-century stone coffin, thought to be of St Longinus, and a 14th-century Gothic panel painting.

Vysehrad Cemetery and the Pantheon: The cemetery 14 was founded in 1869 as the burial place for some of the country's most famous figures, such as Bedrich Smetana. Access is through a gate to the right of the church. On the east side of the cemetery is the Slavin (Pantheon) - a great tomb built in 1890 for the most honoured personalities of the Czech nation, including the sculptor Josef Myslbek.

Leave the cemetery by the same gate and walk back down K Rotunde. On your left is the Devil's Column 15, said to have been left by the devil after losing a wager with a priest. At the end of this street is St Martin's Rotunda 16. This is a small Romanesque church built at the end of the 11th century and restored in 1878. Turn left, walk downhill through the Cihelna (Brick) Gate 17, which was built in 1741, and down Vratislavova Street to the Vyton tram stop on the Vltava Embankment.

TIPS FOR WALKERS

Starting point: Vysehrad metro station, line C.

Length: 1.5km (1 mile).

Getting there: The walk starts from Vysehrad metro station and ends at No 17 tram, which takes you back to the city centre.

Stopping-off points: The park in front of St Peter and St Paul is a lovely place to relax. There is a cafe opposite the Basilica of St Lawrence.

PETRIN PARK

A TWO-HOUR WALK

Part of the charm of this walk around the large and peaceful hillside park are the many spectacular views over Prague. The Little Quarter, Hradcany and the Old Town all take on a totally different aspect from above. The tree- covered gardens are dotted with chateaux, pavilions and statues and criss- crossed by winding paths leading you to secret and unexpected corners.

Kinsky Square to Hunger Wall: The walk starts at Namesti Kinskych in Smichov. Enter Kinsky Garden through a large gateway. This English-style garden, founded in 1827, was named after the Kinsky family.

Take the wide asphalt path on your left to the Kinsky Summer Palace 1. This 1830s pseudo-classical building was designed by Jindrich Koch and its facade features Ionic columns terminating in a triangular tympanum. Inside the building is a large hall of columns with a triple-branched staircase beautifully decorated with statues. The Ethnographical Museum is housed here, but at present closed.

About 50m (150ft) above the palace is the lower lake 2 with a baroque sandstone statue of Hercules. Walk left around the lake and continue up the hill to the Church of St Michael 3, on your left. This 18th-century wooden folk church was moved here from a village in the Ukraine.

Follow the path up the hill for about 20m, then go to the top of the steps to a wide asphalt path known as the Observation Path for its beautiful views of the city. Turn right and further along on your left is the upper lake 4 with a 1950s bronze statue of a seal at its centre. Keep following the Observation Path; ahead of you stands a Neo-Gothic gate. This allows you to pass through the city's old baroque fortifications.

Hunger Wall to Observation Tower: Continue along the path to the Hunger Wall 5. This was a major part of the Little Quarter's fortifications; the wall still runs from Ujezd Street across Petrin Hill and up to Strahov Monastery. Passing through the gate in the wall brings you to Petrin Park. Take the wide path to the left of the wall and walk up the hill beside the wall until you cross the bridge which spans the funicular railway. Below on your right you can see the Nebozizek restaurant, famed for its views. On either side of the path are small sandstone rockeries. Most are entrances to reservoirs, built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Walk up to the summit of the hill. On your right is the Mirror Maze 6. Facing the maze is the 12th-century St Lawrence's Church 7, renovated in 1740.

Observation Tower to Strahov Monastery: A little further on stands the Observation Tower 8. This replica of the Eiffel Tower is 60m high. Opposite the tower is the main gate of the Hunger Wall. Pass through, turn left and follow the path to the Rose Garden 9.

The garden was planted by the city of Prague in 1932, and features a number of attractive sculptures. When you look down to the far end of the garden you can see the Observatory. It houses a huge telescope and is open in the evenings to the public.

Returning to the Observation Tower, follow the wall on the left, passing some chapels of the Stations of the Cross dating from 1834. Then pass through a gap in the Hunger Wall, turn right, and walk past a charming baroque house. About 50m beyond this, you pass through another gap in the Hunger Wall on your right. Turn left into a large orchard above Strahov Monastery 10 for spectacular views of Prague. Continue on to a wide path which leads slightly downwards along the wall, through the orchard and past tennis courts to the Strahov Monastery courtyard. You can catch tram 22 from here, or linger in the peaceful monastery grounds. If you feel energetic you can walk back down the hill.

TIPS FOR WALKERS

Starting point: Namesti Kinskych in Smichov.

Length: 2.7 km (1.7 miles). The walk includes steep hills.

Getting there: The nearest metro station to the starting point is Andel. Trams 6, 9 and 12 take you to Kinsky Square.

Stopping-off points: There is a restaurant, Nebozizek, halfway up Petrin Hill and in summer snack bars are open at the summit of the hill near the Observation Tower.

THE ROYAL ENCLOSURE

A 90-MINUTE WALK

The Royal Enclosure, more popularly called the Stromovka, is one of the largest parks in Prague. Created around 1266, during the reign of Premysl Otakar II, it was opened to the public in 1840. The Troja Palace park and zoological gardens are on the opposite river bank.

The Exhibition Ground (Vystaviste): From U Vystaviste 1 pass through the gate to the old Exhibition Ground, created for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition. The large Lapidarium of the National Museum 2 is on your right. This Neo- Renaissance exhibition pavilion was rebuilt in 1907 in the Art Nouveau style, and decorated with reliefs of figures from Czech history.

Facing you is the Industrial Palace 3, a vast Neo-Renaissance building constructed of iron. It is only open for concerts and events. Walk to the right of the building and you will come to Krizik's Fountain 4, designed by the great inventor Frantisek Krizik (1847- 1941), who established Prague's first public electric lighting system, and restored in 1991. From May to September the fountain is illuminated at night by computer-controlled lights which are synchronised with the music.

Behind the fountain there is a permanent fairground. On the left of the Industrial Palace is a circular building which houses Marold's Panorama 5. This was painted by Ludek Marold in 1898 and depicts the Battle of Lipany. As you walk back to the exhibition ground entrance, you pass the Academy of Fine Arts 6, decorated with 18 busts of artists. On leaving the exhibition ground, turn sharp right. Following the outer edge of the ground you will pass the planetarium 7 on your left; walk straight ahead, then take the road down the slope until you can turn left into a wide avenue of chestnut trees.

The Royal Enclosure: Continue along the avenue until you reach a simple building among trees, on your left. Behind this is the Rudolph Water Tunnel 8, a grand monument of the age of Rudolph II, which is still in partial use. Hewn into rock, the aqueduct is 1,000m (3,000ft) long. It was built in 1584 to carry water from the Vltava to Rudolph's newly constructed lakes in the Royal Park. Continue along the path until you reach the derelict Royal Hall 9. Built in the late 17th century, it was converted into a restaurant, then rebuilt in 1855 in Neo-Gothic style.

Beyond the Royal Hall, at the bend in the main path, take the left fork through woods to the former Hunting Chateau 10. This medieval building was built for the Bohemian kings, who used the park as a hunting reserve. The Chateau was later enlarged, and in 1805 was changed again by Jiri Fischer into a Neo-Gothic summer palace. Until 1918 this was a residence of the Governor of Bohemia. Today it is used to house the newpapers and magazines of the National Museum. Retrace your steps to the main path, walk ahead and take the first small path on the right into a late 16th-century formal garden with a modern statue of lovers 11.

Return to the main path and turn right. At the fork, take the path which bends to the right along the railway embankment. Continue for a short way then turn left under the railway line to a canal 12.

Walk over the bridge, turn left along the canal, then right across the island. Cross the Vltava 13 and turn left into Povltavska Street, where a wall marks the boundary of Troja Park. Carry along to the south entrance of the gardens of Troja Palace 14, and then wander through up to the palace.

Extracted from the 'The Eyewitness Travel Guide: Prague', published by Dorling Kindersley on 12 May at pounds 12.99.

To order your copy, postage free, phone Tiptree Books on 0621 816362 and ask for cash sales (Visa, Access and American Express accepted). Please allow 7 days for delivery after publication date.

TIPS FOR WALKERS

Starting point: U Vystaviste in Holesovice.

Length: 5 km (3 miles). The walk goes up a very steep incline to the former Hunting Chateau.

Getting there: Trams 5, 12 and 17 run to the starting point. The nearest metro stations are Vitavska or Nadrazi Holesovice on line C, 10 minutes walk away. At the end of the walk you can get on bus No 112 at Troja to Nadrazi Holesovice

metro station.

Stopping-off points: There are restaurants and kiosks in the exhibition ground. If you feel like a boat trip down the Vltava, there are often trips starting from the bridge over the canal to Palacky Bridge.

(Photographs and maps omitted)

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