Vysehrad is one of the most important historical places in Prague. It is a mighty fortress on a high cliff above the river Vltava. You can recognize it from far thanks to Gothic towers of the Church of St. Peter and Paul, situated there. Vysehrad is a storied place and a seat of the first King of Bohemia in the 11 th century. Remains of various buildings on the hill illustrate the colorful history of the place.
Old legend about Princess Libuse
Old legends about the origin of Bohemia and first Princes of Premyslid dynasty say, that legendary Princess Libuse reigned from Vysehrad, together with her husband Premysl. She was allegedly a prophetess and foretold that the city of Prague will be founded nearby, saying: “I can see a large city, whose fame will reach the stars.”
Residence of the first Bohemian King Vratislav II.
However, there is no evidence of that in historical documents. Vysehrad was probably built later than the Prague Castle, in the 10 th century. It was a seat of Premyslid rulers and there was also a Royal Mint. The most important period of Vysehrad´s history was in the 11 th century, when Vratislav II., the first Bohemian King, resided there. His successors reigned from Vysehrad till 1140.
Bohemian kings moved to the Prague Castle later. Vysehrad was important once again, when Charles IV. introduced the rule, that every future Bohemian king has to come to Vysehrad the day before his coronation. Charles IV. had also a spectacular royal palace built there, and a new fortification with battlement, towers and two gates. Remains of one of the gates, called Spicka, are preserved to the present time.
Church of St. Peter and Paul
Charles IV. also ordered that the Church of St. Peter and Paul has to be rebuilt. It was originally a basilica, that used to be largest of its kind in Prague at the time.
All the buildings at Vysehrad, except the church and the St. Martin Rotunda, were demolished in 1420, when Hussite warriors defeated King Zikmund in the battle of Vysehrad.
Baroque gates at Vysehrad
A Baroque citadel was built there in the 17 th century by Ferdinand III. A rampart and towers were built to protect it. The gates to the fortress are called the Leopold´s Gate at the Pankrac side, the Cihelna (Brick) Gate at the opposite side and the outer Taborska Gate.
Underground corridors and a gallery of statues
Casemates were built in the fortress during the occupation of Prague by French troops in 1742. It was intended as an assembling place of the army and a storage of guns. There are narrow underground corridors there and they are accessible to public. They lead to a huge room, called Gorlice, where the army used to gather. At the present time, there is a gallery, where the original statues from Charles Bridge can be seen.
Prussian and Austrian armies also stayed in the fortress and the Prussian army wanted to blow Vysehrad up when they were leaving. They put some explosives there, but it was fortunately put away before it blew up.
Vysehrad became a part of Prague officially in 1883 and the fortress was abolished. A neo-Gothic building of the New Deanery is from the 19 th century.
Other legends connected to Vysehrad
There are some remains of the former Gothic fortification in Vysehrad. Apart from the gate Spicka mentioned above, there is also an enclosure wall of a watchtower, called Libuse´s Bath. A legend says, that Princess Libuse used to bath here with her lovers and then she threw them to the river through a hole in the rock. Libuse´s Bath is situated at a high edge and another story is connected to that place: the squire Horymir, condemned to death at Vysehrad in the middle ages, allegedly asked if he can ride his horse Semik for the last time before the execution. It was permitted, but the gates of Vysehrad were closed. Horymir then spurred his horse and Semik jumped over the fortification to the river Vltava and saved Horymir´s life.
Legend has it that there is a treasure of first Premyslid rulers hidden in a cave somewhere in Vysehrad. The real treasure of Vysehrad consists of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque monstrances, crosses, cups and Vysehrad Madonna. It is the third largest Prague treasure, after the Prague Castle treasure and the Loreta treasure.
Another interesting and mysterious object in Vysehrad area is the Devil´s Column: a strange formation of three stone columns of obscure origin. It was probably originally a part of the former Romanesque Basilica, but it could also be a column for measuring time from the era of first Slavs in the Bohemian territory. A story says, that the devil threw these stones to Vysehrad in anger, when he lost a bet with a priest. The priest said he can say Mass quicker than the devil can bring a column from Rome to Vysehrad. Then he prayed to St. Peter and he helped him to win the bet.