The word “Prague” calls to mind a rich array of intriguing features: gold and black, light and dark, wine, music (Mozart, Dvořak, Smetana), twinkling crystal, Arcimboldo’s dreamlike paintings, the view from Vyšehrad Castle, stylish cafés, noisily joyous beer halls, Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being”, and the miraculous Infant Jesus. The city exerts a mysterious allure, as did Emperor Rudolf II’s court of wonders, where magicians, astronomers, and alchemists from all over Europe engaged in surreptitious plots. Cardini takes his readers on an extraordinary journey through the medieval synagogue’s Gothic vaults, the Jewish cemetery, Kafka’s ghosts, crowd-pleasing defenestration, the blazing darkness of the Nazi occupation, and the dreary gloom of the Communist era. Prague offers its visitors immersion in art, a convergence of places and people, in which the final destination is the Charles Bridge, where one can gaze at the Vltava River and suddenly understand Europe.
Franco Cardini is professor emeritus of Medieval History at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Directeur de Recherches at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and a Harvard University fellow.