We’ve arrived in Prague, historical capital of Bohemia and now of the Czech Republic. We’ve been a bit careless though and managed to lose our luggage for the second flight in a row. This time round, it isn’t slowing us down at all and it isn’t long before we’re out and about exploring the city of Five Hundred Spires, which takes into account spireflation that has occurred since the original “City of One Hundred Spires” phrase coined by the 19th century mathematician Bernard Bolzano.
But before we go spire hunting, we head up the hill just behind our accommodation to the fortified castle Vyšehrad. Situated less than three kilometres from the centre of Prague on the banks of the Vltava River that flows through the city, there are no remains of the wooden castle that was originally built sometime around the 10th century AD. However, there are plenty of other cool things remaining to make this slightly out of the way place worth visiting, even when competing against the myriad of other Prague attractions.
There is a widely held belief that Vyšehrad was the location of the first settlement which later became Prague and for two centuries it vied with Prague Castle for the predominant seat of power. Nowadays, Vyšehrad is a popular public park home to the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul, as well as the final resting place for more than 650 famous people throughout Czech history.
Vyšehrad is sufficiently large to take up to half a day exploring or, if you’re looking to be a speed tourist, you can also easily whip around it in about an hour. At least, I did on on one of the three times that I was up there! Regardless, it is essential that you take in the many statues sculptured by Josef Václav Myslbek. While his most famous statue is the Statue of Saint Wenceslas, located in the center of Wenceslas Square, there are four equally as good which were relocated to Vyšehrad from Palacky Bridge.
My favourite is the one showing Ctirad and Šárka from the Bohemian tale The Maiden’s War in which woman take up arms against men. The sculpture depicts a scene whereby Šárka has untied Ctirad from a tree and drinking mead as a celebratory thank-you gift. The mead contains a sleeping potion and after the men have fallen asleep, Šárka blows a horn after which the maidens come out of their hiding places to kill the men.
Runner up would be the statue made in 1889-1897, showing Premysl the Ploughman and Libuse, the mythical Czech rulers who settled in Vyšehrad in the 8th century AD. Legend has it that from Vyšehrad Princess Libuse pointed to the forest across the Vltavea River and stipulated that a castle called Praha would be built. She prophesied that Prague would become a rich and powerful center of trade and whilst that didn’t happen immediately, going by the prices that we’ve currently experienced it looks like it finally on the cusp of doing so.
Easily the most prominent feature within the fortress is the Basilica of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. A fire in 1249 meant that the church which was originally constructed in 1080 AD was rebuilt in Gothic style and later, between 1887 and 1903 in neo-Gothic style. And let’s be honest, we’re all suckers for Gothics and their style.
I should apologise for the ensuing photos, but I was keen to get some angle shots potentially for framing later when we finally get back home to NZ and forgot to take mainstream photos, hence pretty much all the photos of the Basilica are set at a “jaunty” angle.
Still, I make no apologies for the close up detail of some of the work, which is astounding.
Having bagged our first two spires, we were in for a more than pleasant surprise at the exquisite Vyšehrad Cemetery right alongside. I use those words not audaciously but simply because the cemetery is a place of marvel and splendour.
The main path leading through the cemetery takes you to a mass tomb of over 50 Czech artists and sculptors called Slavín which loosely translates as Hall of Fame. The sarcophagus above the central monument of Slavín is an allegoric winged figure of the Genius Patriae and at the front of the monument you can find the names of the first 15 people buried there with the Slavin motto “Though dead, they still speak.”
The national Vyšehrad burial ground was only established in the 1870s, although a cemetery has been on site in or around this place since 1260. Around the northern and western sides of the cemetery is a magnificent neo-Renaissance arcade where curving gothic arches separate burial plots from the next.
If all that’s not enough to wow, then there are also plenty of vantage points that provide great views out over Prague, cosy places to grab some food and coffee and also Prague's oldest Rotunda, that of St. Martin which dates back to the 11th century. Needless to say, Vyšehrad is a place that has to be visited and provided us with the perfect introduction to Prague.