Prague – City Of A Hundred Spires
Discover why the enchanting Czech capital Prague is known as the City Of A Hundred Spires – and the best ones to seek out when you’re there.
There are few sights as beautiful as the skyline of Prague, its profusion of spires, towers and domes largely unchanged in over 400 years. Prague is often called the City of a Hundred Spires, partly spires because there are so many rising high above the historic city.
In this article we’ll look into why this particular Prague nickname has stuck more than others, and who first coined the phrase ‘Prague City of 100 Spires’. We’ll also find out how the nickname sells Prague rather short, and we’ll direct you to the most beautiful Prague spires you should see.
Who First Called Prague The City Of A Hundred Spires?
The first known reference to Prague as the City of 100 Spires was in the early 19th century when Austrian historian Josef Hormayr described it as such. At that time, the city of Prague was part of the Austrian Empire.
Bohemian polymath and priest Bernard Bolzano also gave it the same name, having supposedly counted the spires on the Prague skyline.
Is Prague City Of A Hundred Spires?
Yes – and no.
Yes, there are a hundred spires in Prague. And the rest. Bernard Bolzano was also a renowned mathematician, but must have got distracted and stopped counting early when he was surveying Prague and its spires.
There are hundreds of spires in Prague – cathedral spires, church spires, Gothic spires, Baroque spires and many more.
Bolzano and Hormayr both called Prague City of a Hundred Spires, and there have been many more additions to Prague’s skyline since then. Some of the most famous churches in Prague – including the three spires of St Vitus Cathedral, the Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Vysehrad and the Church of St Ludmila in Náměstí Míru – were added long after they nicknamed it.
We don’t know of a definitive count of the number of Prague spires, but it far exceeds the number in its nickname.
And don’t forget the many towers in Prague besides, from those at either end of the Charles Bridge to lesser known gems like the Powder Tower (Prasna brana) which offer some of the best viewpoints in Prague.
All this, and we haven’t even mentioned the many domes, cupolas, and turrets you’ll find all around Prague. Nor indeed the ‘Prague Eiffel Tower’, the Petřin Tower atop Petřin Hill, and the retro-futuristic space-age syringe that is the Žižkov TV Tower.
Does Prague Have Any Other Nicknames?
Yes. It is also known as the Golden City – not a great surprise when you see all those golden-crowned spires.
It’s also known as the Mother of Cities. This name goes back considerably further than the City of a Hundred Spires, and you’ll often see the Latin inscription ‘Praga Mater Urbium’ on coats of arms around the city.
I have also overheard tour guides referring to Prague as the City of a thousand Spires. This is a little optimistic, but perhaps it has more of a ring to it than the City of Several Hundred Spires.
What Prague Spires Should You See?
Even if you’re only visiting Prague for a day or so, you’ll see many of its spires.
Many of the best ones are around Old Town Prague. Head for the magnificent Old Town Square, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, where you’ll be greeted by the sight of the (almost) twin spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn.
This is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, its façade and fairytale Gothic spires one of the most recognizable landmarks of Prague. Climb the Old Town Hall Tower for an incredible elevated view – or the nearby, aforementioned Powder Tower to see it from another angle, with Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral in the distance.
Also in the Old Town, there are many beautiful churches to seek out on your spire-spotting trip. Look out for the elegant Church of St James the Great (Kostel sv Jakub), and if it’s open, look out for the grisly relic hanging above the south aisle.
St Vitus Cathedral is unmissable. You see it from all along the Vltava river in Prague, with the mighty Castle dominating the city below. You can climb the Great South Tower for superb views over the city and the spires of the west front of the Cathedral itself.
Between the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, you’ll pass the imposing yet graceful Baroque St Nicholas Church, its Baroque spire and dome the main landmark of the Mala Strana (Prague Lesser town) district. The spire – known as the St Nicholas Town Belfry – is one of the most intriguing Prague towers you can climb. During the Cold War it was used as a listening post to eavesdrop on the numerous embassies in the streets below.
The other Prague spires I’d urge you to seek out are around 3 km from the city centre. Take the 17 tram along the river, a Prague architecture tour taking in Art Nouveau mansions, the famous Dancing House, rare Cubist apartment buildings and the unusual twisting spires of the partially rebuilt Emmaus Monastery.
Alight at the following stop, Vyton, and climb the hill to the fortress of Vysehrad and the wonderful neo-Gothic SS Peter and Paul Basilica. Also take a walk around one of the best parks in Prague while you’re up there.