Kampa Island: off the beaten path near Charles Bridge
Kampa Island is an (almost) undiscovered gem located just below Charles Bridge. Most tourists linger on the bridge, enjoy the view and buy souvenirs from the stalls. Few know that on the south side of the bridge lies a little paradise. Kampa Island is an oasis of tranquility, full of trees and with breathtaking views of the Vltava River. The island offers plenty of entertainment: the main avenue with pleasant outdoor cafes and restaurants gives the island a French touch. Culture lovers go to Kampa Museum and nature lovers stroll through the park. The island is free of cars.
Kampa Island: what to do and what to see
The island consists of two parts: the northern part is built-up and the southern part is a park
1. View. Stroll around the island and go to the waterfront for splendid views of Charles Bridge and the National Theater.
2. Outdoor cafes. Na Kampe is the main avenue on the island and lined with pastel-colored houses in Baroque style. There are no shops, but restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating under shady trees in summer.
3. Meals with a view. Dine or lunch in style with a view of Charles Bridge. The Kampa Park restaurant does come with a price tag but is a unique culinary experience. The ultimate experience: the restaurant provides private boat trips with your own captain. Tasty snacks and drinks are of course included.
4. Christmas market. Na Kampe has a small-scale Christmas market during Christmas time and an Easter market at Easter.
5. Penguins. 34 penguins sit on a metal bar, looking out over the Vltava River. In the evening the penguins are illuminated. They are made from recycled plastic. The message is wildlife and nature suffer from the plastic waste that humans generate.
6. Babies. Next to Kampa Museum are three giant babies, sculptures made by David Cerny. The same babies with barcode mouths crawl up the Zizkov TV tower.
7. Devil’s Stream. The Čertovka or Devil’s Stream is the canal that separates the island from the mainland. Several water mills stood on the island. Some are still there but converted like Kampa Museum.
8. Water wheel. The water wheel of the Grand Priory in the Devil’s Stream is seven meters in diameter and is still running although no longer used for water power.
9. Liechtenstein Palace. Dates from the sixteenth century but has been renovated many times because the Vltava River regularly flooded the island. It is state-owned and used as accommodation for high-ranking guests such as the Spanish King Juan Carlos, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Japan’s Emperor Akihito.
10. Werich Villa. The Villa dates back to the early 17th century and was originally a tannery. Today it is a multifunctional centre for lectures, workshops and temporary exhibitions. There is also an interactive exhibition dedicated to the actors Jiří Voskovec, Jan Werich and their Osvobozené divadlo (liberating theater).
11. Kampa Museum. Art gallery with a permanent collection of 20th century European art, mainly from the Czech Republic. The Kampa Museum building is a beautifully converted watermill right on the Vltava River.
12. Socha Harmonie (Statue of Harmony) stands next to the Kampa Museum on the bank of the Vltava River. It represents a devout person with folded hands and it is easy to think of it as a praying Buddhist monk or perhaps an image of Mahatma Gandhi, but nothing could be further from the truth. When in 2009, the director of Kampa Museum received the statue as a present, he assumed it depicted Buddha or a monk sunk in prayer. In reality, it is a life-size bronze statue of the controversial cult leader Sri Chinmoy.
After Sri Chinmoy’s death in 2007, dozens of his former followers accused the cult leader of sexual abuse and strict cult rules that went against the public image of a man who claimed he devoted his life to world peace and healthy living. Some people want the statue to be removed, but this has not happened yet.
13. Manhole covers as art. Hlasy z podzemí (Underground Voices), an art project consisting of 14 manhole inscribed with a quote, looks back the Czechoslovak underground art scene in Communist days. They are the work of sculptor, painter and graphic artist Viktor Karlík and made between 2000 and 2013. They are located near Kampa Museum.
There is one round manhole with a quote from 1961 of the French artist Marcel Duchamp, translated into English: ‘The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.’ Thirteen square manholes show quotations from Czech poets. Fourteen is not a randomly chosen number; they refer to 14 stations of the Way of the Cross, the route that marks Jesus’ persecution.
14. Love locks. The bridge over the Devil’s Stream used to be one of Prague’s love locks bridges but in 2018 all locks were removed. Couple sealed their love and attached padlocks to the bridges and threw the key into the water. But the many locks weighed heavy on the bridge so much so that it could collapse. That’s why all the padlocks on Kampa Bridge and also other Prague bridges were removed and melted down. The metal was used to cast a church bell. The St Havel Church near Havelske market had been missing one of its bells for years. Since 2020 the church has again two bells.
Kampa Island: Man Made Island
Kampa is an artificial island, actually a peninsula. The three mills that used to be here needed water power to make the wheels turn and a mill race was dug, the current Devil’s Stream. Regular flooding made living on the island difficult, there were only gardens and vineyards, and a few fishing huts. Narrow footbridges and ferries connected Kampa Island with Mala Strana. The ferrymen lived on Sovovych Mlynu 134/1, which is now a seafood restaurant.
Fire in Mala Strana
In 1541, a big fire in the neighbouring Mala Strana destroyed the greater part of this district. This was a happy accident, at least for Kampa Island. As many houses in Mala Strana were destroyed, the debris was used to raise Kampa Island. The the island was now suited for housing. Yet, wealthy citizens had their reservations because it was still not entirely certain that the land would no longer be flooded. That is why the parcels of land were sold to craftsmen who built here their own (small) city with a market square at its centre, presentday Na Kampe Street.
A plan that fell through
In the 1950s, the communist regime had the unfortunate idea of filling in the Devil’s Stream and build a road. Fortunately, they changed their minds and the watermills and water wheels were spared.
1. The easiest way is via Charles Bridge. Coming from Karlova Street and Nove Mesto, walk almost to the end of the bridge. Take the stairs on the left side and you will arrive at Na kampe Street
2. Take tram 2, 9, 17, 18, 22 to Narodni Divadlo stop, cross the bridge (most Legii) and take the first street on the right, Malostranske nabrezi, go down the stairs and you are on Kampa Island
Photos: Marianne Crone