The hill of Vítkov with its huge stone National Memorial building and large bronze statue of Jan Žižka on a horse, easily catches one’s eye .
Getting closer, you can readily see just how huge the statue really is. In fact, it is 9 meters high and weighs 16.5 tons. This makes it one of the largest, bronze equestrian statues in the world.
It is logical that the colossal statue of Jan Žižka stands on Vítkov hill. In July 1420, a battle was fought here in which which dozens of Hussite foot warriors, defending a small fort, routed thousands of attacking knights of the Roman Emperor Sigismund. This led to the failure of the campaign against the Hussites in 1420. One-eyed Jan Žižka led the Hussite force and survived the battle to become one of the most successful commanders in history. Utilizing methods which could be described as “blitzkrieg of the early 15th century,” he never lost a single battle despite losing his remaining eye in 1421. Žižka died of plague in 1424. Prague 3 is named after him – Žižkov.
The statue is a part of the National Memorial. The Memorial was built in the interwar period to commemorate the Czechoslovak legions (the legions fought against the Central Powers in World War I which means that they could – and did – encounter their compatriots who remained loyal to Austria-Hungary to which Czech lands and Slovakia belonged at the time) and the independence of Czechoslovakia.
During Nazi occupation, the building became a depot for the German Army. After a few years, the communists turned the memorial into a mausoleum in which the mummy of the first Czech Communist president Klement Gottwald was put on a public display. Despite the best efforts of 70 doctors and cosmeticians attending it every night, the mummy decayed. After only eight years, the mausoleum was closed. Since then, the National Memorial has served solely as a museum. It also serves as a place of ceremonies because the Memorial includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you are lucky enough, you may meet our President here.
Things to see or do
You can visit several long-term exhibits here. “Crossroads of the Czech and Czechoslovak state in 20th century” focuses on five turning points of Czech history: independence in 1918; Munich Treaty and dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39; restoration of Czechoslovakia and the Communist coup d’état in 1945-1948; the federalization of Czechoslovakia in 1968; the fall of communism in 1989.
“Laboratory of power” in the halls of the former mausoleum depicts the communist rule in the 1950s. It also shows the complicated system designed to preserve the mummy of Klement Gottwald.
On the roof, there is a lookout and a café. If it rains the lookout and the café are closed. The view from the lookout is excellent. You can see the whole center of Prague and the hills on the other side of the river.
Not tired of history yet? Great! There is another museum very close by. Just walk down the steep slope. If you see a tank, you are in the right place. The tank marks the entrance to the Military History Institute and its Army Museum Žižkov. The museum is dedicated to Czech military history in 20th century, mainly the legions in World War I, army of the interwar Czechoslovakia, resistance against the Nazi in World War II and also the communist era resistance.
More than history
While these sites must surely satisfy even the greatest history enthusiast, there’s more to Vitkov hill than that. Luckily, it also offers quite a lot possibilities for sport. There is a bikeway from Krejcárek which goes through the hill and ends at the main railway station. The tunnel is quite long (and chilly) but the lights are on all the time. This bikeway is excellent for cycling, inline skating, and running. The surface is smooth and the track is wide enough. I can recommend it even for beginning skaters as I had my first skate there. There are several places on the way where you can sit and have a drink or something to eat.
Another option for bikers, skaters and runners is the road leading to the National Memorial from Ohrada. The climb is steeper, making this way more challenging. After several runs you would certainly know exactly how many lampposts there are! This route is also shorter but you can continue across Ohrada to Pražačka (where an outdoor swimming pool is open in summer).
And if you want to play beach-volleyball, table tennis or table football outdoors you can visit Zahrádky Žižkov next to bus stop Ohrada. There is also a playground for children. Of course, you can have a beer here, too.
Children can also enjoy Vítkov. If you go to the National Memorial from Ohrada, there are a number of playgrounds to your left. There are teeter-totters, climbing bars, etc. On the top of the hill, there is a fenced playground with a sandpit for small children.
How to get there:
- Krejcárek (tram No 1, 10, 16) or Husinecká (tram 9) or Hlavní nádraží (tram No 5, 9, 26, metro C, train) if you choose the bikeway.
- U Památníku (bus No 133, 175, 207) or Tachovské náměstí (bus No 133, 175, 207) if you want to go directly to the Vítkov National Memorial (but the hill is very steep from that side). From U Památníku you can also go directly to the Army Museum Žižkov (ca 200 metres).
- Ohrada (bus No 133, 136, 207 and tram No 1, 9, 11) if you want to have a 10-minute walk on the crest of the hill before reaching the National Memorial. It is the longest way, but no so strenuous. On a hot day, I prefer this one