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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Prague's golden spires
Water floods an art gallery beneath the Hradcany castle
Water floods an art gallery beneath the Hradcany castle
As the worst floods in more than 100 years hit Prague, one of Europe's most beautiful and historic cities is struggling to protect its heritage.

Zidovsky island
Zidovsky island sinks beneath the surface
Prague's historical core - some parts of which date back to the 14th Century - is on the Unesco World Heritage list.

Known as the "golden city of 100 spires" and a "symphony in stone", Prague boasts architectural styles ranging from the Renaissance and Baroque right up to the art nouveau and cubist styles of the 20th Century.

Under communism the city was one of Europe's best-kept secrets, more renowned in the West for the images of Czech civilians standing up to Soviet tanks as the 1968 Prague Spring came to an end.

But since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, it has emerged as one of Europe's prime tourist destinations.

Flawed defences

Prague's authorities say they are prepared for a flood on the scale of the city's last major deluge in 1890, which inflicted major damage on low-lying areas of the city.

Old Town Square
Prague's old centre
Experts say a major flood occurs roughly every 100 years, so this latest one is more or less on time.

The embankments of the Vltava river were designed after the 19th Century flood, but are thought to have crucial gaps.

City officials seem particularly concerned about the fate of the Baroque palaces and gardens of the Mala Strana, or lesser town, nestling on low ground between the Vltava river and the castle above.

The area is connected to the eastern side of the city by the historic 15th Century Charles Bridge.

The bridge - which boasts statues of saints every 10 feet along its entire length - is a prime tourist attraction, normally filled with buskers and street artists.

But it is vulnerable in times of flood - in the past debris carried downstream on the floodwaters has knocked out some of its arches.

Other historic areas possibly under threat include:

  • Parts of the Stare Mesto, or Old Town, the buzzing hub of Prague. The marketplace is surrounded by medieval buildings and contains one of Prague's many curiosities, the 15th century Astronomical Clock, which brings out a display of the 12 apostles as it chimes every hour;

  • The Josefov or Jewish quarter, which houses some of Europe's oldest synagogues and a Jewish cemetery featuring 12,000 tombstones and several layers of graves, some of which date back to the 15th century.

Fortunately, two historic fortresses - Hradcany containing the Czech president's castle, and Vysehrad in the south of the city - are both safe from the flood waters.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Sudworth
"Emergency shelters have been set up"
The BBC's Ray Furlong in Prague
"Some are reluctant to leave their homes"

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FORUM

TALKING POINT
See also:

13 Aug 02 | Europe
16 Feb 00 | Europe
14 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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