If you by chance happen to stray into the vicinity of Podolí Hospital, you may well stumble upon a narrow steep path. Its name is lost in the mists of time, nonetheless it is flanked by old houses and winds its way right up to a tunnel leading through the hill and fortifications of Vyšehrad.
Vyšehrad hill proudly stands out as one of the most stunning features of Prague’s skyline: its ravenesque profile strikes an enigmatic counterbalance to Prague Castle that has spread its opulent wings across the opposite side of the somewhat skewed axis of the Vltava River. Its precarious grandeur is further enhanced by the cliff edge ledge on which the fortress perches while it juts its chin defiantly out towards the river. Far below, a road tunnel leads through the fissured rock and strikingly cubist style, geometric houses in the neighbourhood put the finishing contrasts to the expressionist feeling of this area that so lured our ancestors here in times long past.
Many legends have been woven around Vyšehrad with many of them surviving until the present day. One of them has it that it was from here that the prescient pagan priestess, Princess Libuše, foretold the foundation and blossoming of Prague.
After the castle had been abandoned by Sobeslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, like some cast aside lover, the dilapidation of neglect took its toll as Czech rulers started favouring Prague Castle on the other side of the Vltava River as their royal seat.
Vyšehrad, nevertheless, stubbornly retained its strategic importance and a fortress was built here in the Baroque times; it served this purpose right up until the middle of the 19th century, when the place was opened to the public.
It was at this time that it was gradually revealing itself as a lovely place for walks with beautiful views of Prague. Some of the areas were adapted into park style and were made even more beautiful by adding sculptures, such as the equestrian sculpture of St Wenceslas that had originally overlooked the fountain on Wenceslas Square, or sculptural groups by Josef Myslbek depicting ancient Czech characters from wild Czech legends - Ctirad and Šárka, Záboj and Slavoj, Lumír and Píseň, Libuše and Přemysl. They were originally made for Palacky Bridge and later on moved to the parterre where the former armoury used to stand.
Landscaping also took place on the hillside above the Vltava River, using the designs by František Thomayer, the same man who participated on the park-style adaptations of Letná.
The architectural layout and sculptural decoration of the local cemetery Slavín, which serves as a burial place of notable Czech personalities, were orchestrated using the designs by Antonín Wiehl, Antonín Barvitius and sculptor Josef Mauder.
Based on the design by J. Mocker, St Peter and St Paul Church was adapted in neo-Gothic style and Vyšehrady Chapter House initiated the development of the complex of capitular houses. The only oldest building that has been preserved until present days is the St Martin Rotunda.
PFor visitors in our present times, Vyšehrad is an oasis of peace and tranquillity offering charming walks, many romantic arbours and breathtaking views of the Vltava River and Hradčany. It is also a place where you can contemplate far-distant and recent history, pay homage to Czech luminaries, simply pass time in one of local cafes or restaurants or play with your kids on one of the playgrounds. Most areas have access adapted for wheelchairs.
The first stirrings of life for the settlement date back to the tail end of the 3rd and 4th millennium BC. However, the origins of Vyšehrad, as we now it, are way more recent, they start in the 10th or 11th century. It is during this period that the princely site of the ancient settlement was further embellished with St Martin Rotund, St Peter and St Paul Church and probably with several other buildings such as Collegiate Chapter of Vyšehrad. After the last ruler jilted Vyšehrad’s noble hospitality, in favour of the castle across the river, the building started falling in disrepair and all that has been preserved until our days are probably just the tell tale clues that remains of the outer walls which can be seen in the lawn. In spite of all that, Vyšehrad didn’t fall into oblivion.
One of the provosts of the local Chapter, Jan Volek, started an extensive Gothic conversion of Vyšehrad. Volek was a step-brother of the Czech Queen Elisabeth of Bohemia who died in his house in Vyšehrad.
During the reign of the Czech king and Roman Emperor Charles IV and his son Wenceslas IV., Vyšehrad underwent another period of building development As with many other parts of Prague, Vyšehrad’s slopes were also planted by grapevines. Apart from that, Vyšehrad gained Gothic fortifications with two massive gates. Only a small portion of one of them, called Špička, was preserved and can be seen on the right not far away from Tábor Gate.
The Hussite Wars put an abrupt and savage end to Vyšehrad’s heydays; the place was thoroughly sacked, looted and plundered leaving it all but totally destroyed. Sadly all that remained was the Chapter.
However, time did not stand still, other alterations were carried out in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries when Prague’s fortifications were developed. At this time Carlo Lurago, Santin Bossi and Giovanni de Capauli used the plans by I. Conti to build a stately fortress in the shape of an irregular pentagon and with five great bastions. The fortification has never been truly tested for defence and was in 1911 finally handed over to City of Prague.
The casemates built in the outlying ramparts are currently used as depositaries of original sculptures whose replicas grace Charles Bridge. The biggest casemate called Gorlice occasionally hosts exhibitions or theatre performance. Visitors can also make use of a lovely innovative playground.