Vysehrad Prague Second Castle What to do and See
Vysehrad is Prague’s second castle and stands on a rock above the Vltava River. This castle complex dates from the tenth century and consists of several historical buildings: Rotunda of St. Martin, Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul whose two spires point high into the air and are visible from almost any position in Prague. Next to the church is Vysehrad cemetery, the last resting place of more than fifty famous Czech artists whose names are engraved on the Slavin Cenotaph. Walk round the cemetery and you will see graves of other famous Czech artists: the composers Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana, the writers Karel and Josef Capek, poets Jan Neruda and Karel Hynek Macha and Alfons Mucha best known for his Art Nouveau posters.
Vysehrad: what to do and where to eat
Only few tourists visit Vysehrad because it is not on the tourist trail. Yet it is easy to get there by metro line C to Vysehrad station. See the historic sites first, and then wander through the grounds. Sit on a bench and marvel at the splendid view of the Vltava and Prague beyond. Relax on one of the lawns and have a picnic or go to one of the many eateries for an ice cream or a complete meal. There is plenty of choice: Hospudka Na Hradbach right behind the Leopold Gate has a pleasant beer garden and serves Balkan dishes from the grill. Slightly more upscale is Cafe Citadela, located next to a small vineyard close to the Vltava River. Dotted all over the grounds are simple snack bars.
Basilica Saints Peter and Paul
One of the highlights of Vysehrad is the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The eye-catcher is the double spires. They are in sharp contrast with the neo-Gothic facade. When the church is open, go inside to see Art Nouveau frescoes. In a niche, next to the main entrance in a glass box with gold fittings is the shoulder bone of Saint Valentine. The fourteenth-century painting of the Blessed Virgin in the Basilica is a copy. The original is in the National Gallery. Pregnant women come to light a candle and pray in front of the painting for a healthy baby.
Next to the basilica is the cemetery with the Slavin Cenotaph at its centre. The names of fifty Czech artists are engraved on the monument. Have a look at Art Nouveau and neo-Baroque grave stones. The name ‘Rodiny’ occurs frequently. It is not a pretty female name but means ‘family’. On the other side of the church is Vysehrad Garden. Four gigantic statues adorn the four corners. They are legendary figures, one is Libuse with her husband, the founders of the Premysl dynasty. Originally these statues stood on Palacky Bridge, but they were removed in World War II and have never been replaced.
Ramparts and Casemates
Walk the entire length of the ramparts wall and enjoy the beautiful view over the Vltava River. Be sure to visit the casemates. Built in the mid-eighteenth century by French troops, these vaulted chambers served as a storage room for weapons and cannons.
A short tour through the casemates leads to a huge hall where the army gathered and now it is home to four of the original Charles Bridge sculptures. The others are in the Lapidarium Museum, the official place for the city’s endangered sculptures. The entrance of the casemates is next to the Cihelna Gate.
Walk along K Rotunde and take the path between the basilica and the garden. On your right is the new Arch Deaconry. Behind it are three stone pillars, the devil’s pillars. Their origin is unknown. They may have been part of an earlier basilica or part of an old sundial. The story goes that a priest made a bet with the devil. He said he could celebrate Mass faster than the devil could bring a pillar from Rome to Vysehrad. The priest then prayed to St Peter to help him win the bet. When the devil discovered that he had lost, he got so angry that he threw these three pillars towards Vysehrad
A Brief History of Vysehrad
The Vysehrad complex is one of the most important historical sights in Prague. It was the original seat of the Czech monarchs, probably built in the 10th century, and served as a fortified settlement. In the 17th century it was converted into a military fortress. Today, Vysehrad is a favourite attraction.
Legend has it that chief Krok built a fortress here in the seventh century. His daughter Libuse married the nobleman farmer Premysl. According to legend, Libuse was a prophetess and she predicted about Prague: “I see a great city whose fame will reach to the stars.” Archaeological evidence shows that in the eleventh century Premsyl Vratislav from Bohemia built a royal palace on this rock.
Vysehrad and Libuse
Opposite the gardens, next to the basilica is Galerie Vysehrad, an art gallery with temporary exhibitions. Below this gallery is Libuse’s Bath. All that remain are the walls. Legend has it that Princess Libuse bathed here with her lovers. When she had enough of them, she threw them one by one through a hole in the rock down onto the river.
Bedrich Smetana and the Opera ‘Libuse’
Bedrich Smetana composed ‘Libuse’ an opera that was first performed in the Narodni Theater (National theater) in Prague in 1881. It is the story of the legendary princess and the feud between two brothers that ends with reconciliation and the prediction of a glorious future for the Czech nation. The opera is always performed on October 28, Czech Independence Day, the creation of Czechoslovakia on this day in 1918.
Take tram 2, 3, 7 or 17 to Vyton, walk along Rasinovo Nabrezi, under the railway bridge. Take the first street on the left, Libusina, then immediately right a path that leads to a staircase. Walk up the stairs and you are in front of the basilica.
On the way back you leave the via Tabor Gate, walk straight on Turn left into Na Bucance, walk past Prague Congress Centre and straight onto Vysehrad metro station.
Photos Marianne Crone