Praga Caput Regni

(Prague, Capital of the Empire)

[Front of Box]


[Card Backs][Joker]The Czech Republic is just six years old this year, having emerged from the former Czechoslovakia in 1993.  It's capital and best-known city, Prague, is more than a thousand years older.  Prague began life as the Prague Castle around 870 c.e., and became the capital of the kingdom of Bohemia at the close of the 9th century.  Located on an important trade route, the town just below Prague Castle developed over the centuries into a bustling commercial center.  With the founding of Vysehrad Castle across the river Vltava, bridges began to span the water, and by the 13th century, it was a moderate city.

The 14th century saw the collapse of the ruling house, and the throne of Bohemia was eventually taken up by the family of Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles ushered in the golden age of Prague, founding the University, building bridges, constructing St. Vitus' Cathedral, and declaring the city his residential capital.  That honor has never been forgotten by the residents, who still call their city "Praga Caput Regni," or "Prague, Capital of the Empire."

After Charles IV's death, the city began to experience troubles, and it receded from importance (and into political problems, economic troubles, and even a great fire) for centuries.  Emperor Rudolph the II was responsible for a small renaissance of the city in the 16th century, when he made it a center of astronomy (with the invitation of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler into his court) and art (he filled Prague's galleries with the finest in Mannerist art), but it wasn't until the 18th century that Emperor Joseph II merged the historical four districts of Prague (the Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town and Hradcany) into a unified Prague, which would become a center of industrialization, leading the revitalization of Bohemia.  The 20th century has been a tumultuous time for the Czech People, but the City of Prague has managed to avoid much of the violence that ravaged other ancient European capitals.

The deck of cards itself is a Skat deck, which containes 32 cards rather than the 52 we expect in the USA.  The cards number from 7 to King, plus the Ace, in each suit.  It uses English ranks, and is obviously intended for an international tourist audience.  Skat is, after all, one of the most popular card games in much of Europe, even often called the National Card Game of Germany.  In addition to the normal cards, this deck also comes with four index cards (shown above, right), which, organized by suit, identify the sights on each card in four languages - English, German, French and Italian.  It was produced by Maxim, and, as it's the only deck I have by them, I know nothing else about the company other than its name.

In our tour today, we start with the Jack of Spades at the town square of the Old Town in Prague, where we find the Old Town Hall, with its famous astronomical clock (Orloj), built in 1410.  The original clockwork has been in continuous operation for nearly six hundred years, and every hour, a crowd of spectators watches the mechanical performance of the 12 Apostles.

Next we can travel to the King of Hearts, the Charles Bridge, named for the Emperor Charles IV, who had it constructed.  In the intervening centuries it has become adorned with numerous statues, and now the whole effect is breathtaking.  Intended as a replacement for the crumbling Judith Bridge, it remained the only link between the separated halves of the city for hundreds of years.

A much more modern attraction is on the Eight of Diamonds, the National Theater, built only in 1868 (and again in 1893, after a fire) as the industrial revolution swept Prague back into international prominence.  Home to opera, ballet and drama, it features both classical and modern work, of both a Czech and an international flavor.

And finally, we must visit the Nine of Clubs, Vysehrad (literally, "castle on the heights"), sister to Prague Castle, occasional seat of government, and now the location of a national cemetery.  It boasts an unequalled view of the Vltava valley, parkland, and a profound peacefulness, and is one of the most common tourist destinations in all of Prague.

All images © Oldrich Karasek and MAXIM, displayed here for commentary, analysis and appreciation only.

Jack of Spades

[Jack of Spades]

Astronomical Clock

King of Hearts

[King of Hearts]

Charles Bridge

Eight of Diamonds

[Ace of Diamonds]

The National Theater

Nine of Clubs

[Nine of Clubs]


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