Vysehrad Castle

At first look, Vyšehrad is a fortress. Situated atop a hill overlooking the Vltava and surrounded by thick walls, it lost its military importance long ago. Instead, it became a major symbol of the Czech national revival in the 19th century and a favorite destination for dat trips too.

Vyšehrad is a fortress situated atop a hill overlooking the Vltava, photo: Barbora Kmentová

Vyšehrad is a fortress situated atop a hill overlooking the Vltava, photo: bkm / prague.tips

Vyšehrad may refer to an administrative district which includes also neighboring streets. For some time, it was a town in its own right, but later merged with Prague.

The place has a long history. If you visit Vyšehrad you can clearly see that it commands the southern approach to Prague and the river. According to legend, the dukes of Bohemia resided here. Přemysl, the mythic founder of the first dynasty on the Czech throne (the Přemyslid dynasty), was one of them. According to the same legend, Vyšehrad was the first settlement in all of Prague.

But in fact, it was the other way around. The dukes of Bohemia fortified the location in the 10th century after Prague was well established. The historic rulers also mostly preferred Prague Castle to Vyšehrad, although there were some exceptions.

The events of the legends often took place at Vyšehrad. One of them tells a story of Horymír who had a dispute with the duke, was tried at Vyšehrad and sentenced to death. However, he was granted his last wish, which was to ride his horse Šemík. Šemík lept over the wall, carrying Horymír to the Vltava. Šemík died but Horymír survived and was pardoned by the awestruck duke. Looking at the fall from Vyšehrad to the river, I must say that if it really happened it is no wonder that such a jump became legendary.

St Peter and St Paul basilica, photo: Barbora Kmentová

St Peter and St Paul basilica, photo: bkm / prague.tips

In the Middle Ages, Vyšehrad was mainly a fortress and also a cultural center. Several churches were built here, including the oldest rotunda in Prague. Priests of the Vyšehrad chapter created many pieces of art and some of them belonged to the most influential person in the Czech Kingdom.

Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV had many works made at Vyšehrad in the 2nd half of the 14th century, including a new palace, ramparts, a temple, and a gate. However, Vyšehrad was conquered by the Hussites during the Hussite Wars and the fortification and many of its buildings were destroyed. It was refortified in the 17th century. Nevertheless, the new fortification did not see military action.

During the 19th century, the main importance of Vyšehrad was more symbolic than anything. It gained an almost holy status due to its central role in many of the legends that resonated through the Czech society. That is why it was chosen as the site of the Czech Pantheon — the burial place of famous Czechs, mostly for those from the worlds of culture, education, and science.

In 1911, the Army gave Vyšehrad to the city of Prague. Nowadays, Vyšehrad offers many green lawns and parks relaxing and picnicking. If you go to Vyšehrad, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy the magnificent view from the ramparts. You can also visit the oldest rotunda in Prague (St Martin from 11th century), St Peter and St Paul basilica (originally Gothic construction, but rebuilt in the 19th century when it gained its rich internal decorations), and administrative and residential buildings belonging to the chapter. There are several permanent displays related to its history. There is also an amphitheatre where you can see plays during summer.

Slavín, photo: Barbora Kmentová

Slavín, photo: bkm / prague.tips

Next to the basilica is the Vyšehrad cemetery with the crypt Slavín. The Slavín now includes remains of almost 600 people, including composer Antonín Dvořák, conductor Rafael Kubelík, opera singers Emma Destinová, Eduard Haken, Beno Blachut, violinists Jan Kubelík and Josef Suk, painter Alfons Mucha, writers Karel Čapek and Jan Neruda, scientists Jan Evangelista Purkyně, Jaroslav Heyrovský (Nobel Prize recipient in 1959) and František Křižík and Josef Bican, a football player with the highest number of goals scored in history (although some statistics put Pelé as 1st place). Here you can also find the symbolic grave of Milada Horáková, whom the Communists executed in 1950 after a show trial typical of Stalin’s era.

The Vyšehrad compound is also notable for Jedlička’s Institute for Disabled, which was founded in 1913, and is the oldest such facility in the Czech Republic.

The best option to get there is to go with metro C to station Vyšehrad. From here it’s an easy but longish walk to the grounds. You can also walk from various tram stations under the hill: Výtoň (tram No 3, 7, 17), Albertov and Ostrčilova (both: tram No 6, 7, 18, 24). These walks, such as the one from Výtoň, can be a challenging incline with a lot of stairs, but the view from the top is worth the effort.

Author: Pavel Janecek

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