Vyšehrad is the historical and mythical counterpoint to the Prague castle. It is the place where the oldest Czech legends are played out. These include the story of Horymír, who escaped execution by riding his horse Šemík and jumping down a steep rock and into the river.
During the reign of Charles IV, the ancient royal seat was converted into a canonry – a symbolic antipole to secular power. This role proved fatal during the Hussite wars in that it became the target of one of the most devastating attacks by the raging Hussite rebels. Over centuries, the damaged castle became derelict. It was only in the 17th century that it became a large Baroque fortress. The reconstruction for military purposes dealt it the final blow, completing the damage caused over previous centuries and leaving only remnants of the original structure. Few as they may be, they still made Vyšehrad the theme of romantic dreams and mythical interpretations of Czech history. Its symbolic national role was confirmed with the construction of a Neo-gothic basilica, and, more importantly, the establishment of a cemetery for the greatest figures in Czech cultural and political life.
To this day, Vyšehrad retains an atmosphere of a dream-like mythical place: set on a rock above the city, drenched in a thousand-year history, which can only be revealed to those who can stay still long enough for it to speak to them.
The extraordinary atmosphere can also be felt around the Vyšehrad extramural settlements, which, unlike other magical sites of Prague, have been spared the strain of too many visitors thus far. The main street, gradually rising towards the Baroque gate, is lined with houses whose romantic facades mostly date from the turn of the 19th century. The history of this quarter includes quite a unique phase known as the “Cubist intermezzo”, during which several extraordinary tenement houses and villas were built.
Most important monuments:
The earliest phase in the history of Vyšehrad is to be found in the rotunda of St. Martin, with roots stretching as far back as the 11th century. Further medieval structures are being unveiled, thanks to archaeological excavations that have been on-going for over a hundred years.
The most impressive feature from the Baroque era are the fortifications themselves, together with an interwoven network of underground corridors and halls (see casemate museum).
The most significant event of the 19th century was the building of the Neo-gothic Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which unfortunately completely obscured the older parts of this historical church. It is also worthwhile to visit the Slavín national cemetery, with its statues and tombstones of great artistic merit. The Cubist-era houses on Neklanova Street and on the embankment below Vyšehrad are equally striking.