I got off the last tram at the wrong stop, and found myself out in the boondocks not sure which way to go to reach the zoo. A friendly Czech man pointed me in the right direction. It was about a two-mile walk on a pleasant path along the river. There were no motorized vehicles but several runners, skaters, and bicyclists.
Czechs are kayaking enthusiasts and they often set up competition courses along the river. To prepare for a competition you can practice maneuvering your kayak through a challenging man-made obstacle course. On the way to the zoo, I passed a lively kayak competition in progress complete with loudspeakers and a sports commentator.
After a few more stops I finally arrived at the zoo! Prague Zoo opened in 1931 with the goals of “advancing the study of zoölogy, protecting wildlife, and educating the public”. In 2007 Forbes Traveler Magazine listed it as the 7th best zoo in the world.
The zoo suffered serious damage during the 2013 floods earlier this year but has recovered fully.
“Prague Zoo contributed to saving the Przewalski horse – a rare endangered subspecies of wild horse. For years the zoo was the biggest breeder of the species in the world.”
The zoo has a fantastic natural layout and I saw many animals I’d never heard of before. The zoo’s signs are in Czech – no English – so after walking around for several hours (in circles a few times) I found the exit and headed to Na Slupi Botanical Gardens.
Prague has two botanical gardens, but Na Slupi is the first and oldest. It was founded by King Charles IV in the l4th century. The gardens feature a large greenhouse, a variety of greenery, colorful flowers, organized gardens, forests and lawn, and even a vineyard. There are many places to sit and rest. The pad of Na Slupi’s famous giant water-lily, Victoria cruziana, is large enough to support a small child!
Besides the zoo and botanical gardens Holešovice is home to several other major attractions. I walked by some and plan to return to explore them further:
- Trade Fair Palace – Veletrzní Palác
- Parish Church of St. Anthony of Padua
- Strossmayerovo Square
The Trade Fair Palace has the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Prague. It’s displayed on six floors in a modern “Functionalism” style building. The Palace houses permanent expositions of 19th and 20th centuries’ French art, Czech art from 1960-1995, 20th century European art, and selected collections of interesting short-term exhibitions.
The Parish Neo-Gothic Church of St. Anthony of Padua is the most important feature of Holešovice’s skyline. The beautiful church’s front face has two towers and is a prominent feature in Strossmayerovo Square.
Eight bells were confiscated from the church’s towers during World Wars I and II. Today, the tower on the right side houses the bell called Climent molded in 1572.
The second tower houses the “Bell of Freedom”, which is a copy of America’s Liberty Bell from 1753. This bell was a present from President Thomas Woodrow Wilson to T.G. Masaryk, the founder and Fist President of Czechoslovakia, in memory of the Independence Declaration of the Czech Republic.