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Published: September 5th 2010
Having been living next to the National Museum for the past few days we thought we might as well pay it a visit (it being included on our Prague Cards and therefore free making it all the more appealing.)
The rather imposing building looming over Wenceslas Square is the largest museum in the Czech Republic, but also featured in the politics of Prague. It was bombed during World War II prompting the removal of many of the best exhibits.
The facade was badly damaged by a Soviet machine gun during the Warsaw Pact Intervention in 1968.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the steps of the National Museum was where Jan Palach, a twenty-one year old Czech student, burnt himself to death in January 1969 in protest of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.
The museum itself is beautifully ornate inside and contains huge collections of animals, fossils and cultural treasures from the Czech Republic. We didn't really do it justice zipping round it in under an hour as we had to move on.
Next stop was the metro outside the museum to travel to the castle at Vysehrad.
'the Castle on the Heights') turned out to be similar to Prague Castle in that it wasn't actually a castle! They seem to have interesting ideas as to what constitutes a castle in Prague.
We entered through the main gate (a promising start to a castle) and ended up in a graveyard. :S Rather a pretty graveyard but a graveyard none the less.
Several prominent Czechs are buried in the Vysehrad Cemetery including the composer Dvorak and the artist Alphonse Mucha.
Aside from the famous graves, the cemetery boasted some of the most elaborate tombs imaginable including a truly bizarre one featuring a stone plinth with stone hands reaching out of it. I have truly no idea what the idea was behind it but it looked rather like something out of a horror film!
The cemetery was attached to the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, one of the only remaining features of the original castle. A fortress was established at Vysehrad in the early tenth-century followed by a Chapter House, the Basilica and a walled palace built by Prince Vratislav II in the later eleventh century.
Now all that remains of the original
buildings is the Basilica and the ruins of Princess Libuse's Baths (actually a Gothic Guard Tower) overlooking the Vltava Valley.
Libuse reputedly was the first woman to rule Prague and founded the Premyslid dynasty which ruled for 400 years. Legend has it that she had visionary powers and prophesised that a great city would arise from the seven hills that now surround Prague.
The Gothic Cellar has recently been opened to the public with an exhibition about the history of Vysehrad and its significance to Prague over the centuries.
The main history of Vysehrad, once Prague Castle had overtaken it in terms of importance to the city and the monarchs, was in the seventeenth century. In 1650 Ferdinand III started to build a Baroque fortress there.
In 1742, during the French occupation, French armies built a casemate - a maze of underground tunnels and storage halls - in the fortress. Later Prussian and Austrian armies enlarged the casemates. The narrow corridors, a part of the casemate, with embrasures for guns are about 2 meters high and 1,5 meter wide.
The Casemates go into the hillside for miles on end but only about 1km are open
to the public. We entered through the Brick Gate and followed the tunnels into the Gorlice, the main vaulted hall, where the armies used to store ammunition and supplies and which now house some of the statues from the Charles Bridge.
About half on the bridge are originals, but six were removed due to damage and stored at Vysehrad.
Vysehrad casemate was once almost completely destroyed. In November 1744 the Prussians wanted to blow up the entire fortress as they were leaving Prague. They brought 133 barrels containing gun powder into the casemate.
The last soldier was supposed to light two fuses which would start the explosion which they did. Three brave Vysehrad men went down into the casemate and were lucky enough to find and remove the fuses leaving the fortress and the casemate intact.
After the casemate we decided to warm up by having strudel in the sun (the casemate having got down to a shocking 11 degrees!.) We were quite alright but some of the other tourists actually wanted to leave early due to the cold!! Sometimes it helps being English!
Leaving Vysehrad we went back
to the Old Town and made our way in the now scorching heat to St. Agnes Convent. The convent was founded in 1234 by Agnes, sister of King Wenceslas I.
Agnes introduced the Order of the Poor Clarres to Bohemia and became the first abbess. During recent restorations several tombs of the early Bohemian kings and queens were unearthed.
Agnes herself is buried in the convent in a chapel dedicated to her as St. Agnes of Bohemia. The convent is the oldest Gothic building in the Czech Republic. The convent now houses the Czech Republic's collection of Medieval Bohemian art.
From the convent we continued on to the Jewish Quarter. Funny how things that look so close on a map can take so long to get there when it's hot and I'm in flip-flops!
The first sign we were in the Jewish Quarter was the rather bizarre sight of a clock that went backwards! The numbers were written in Hebrew so, so as to fit in with the lettering, the hands turn anti-clockwise. I can only assume that being able to tell the time by it is an acquired skill!
The area itself seemed rather
nice having fully embraced the popularity of street cafes that seems so popular in Prague. The only difference between here and the Old Town being the truly astronomical prices!
Unfortunately the ticket covered a guided visit of the Ceremonial Hall, Old Jewish Cemetery, The Old-New Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue and Meisel Synagogue.
Well that's all well and good but when it's four in the afternoon on the last day of our visit it does not seem worth paying for all of that when we barely have time to more than one or two things.
Despite pleas to the woman in the ticket office we couldn't get single tickets just for the Jewish cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall. I can only imagine that's what everyone wants as there were signs up emphatically stating that it is not possible to buy a ticket just for the cemetery.
Mean people and something that would have been very useful to know from the guide book!
Instead we headed back to the Charles Bridge getting slightly distracted by Chinese food on the way. We still had a couple of hours to kill until sunset
so we decided we'd go to this little museum of the 'Ghosts and Legends of Old Prague'. They'd had people dressed up attacking us with flyers for the last few days so we figured why not.
Not exactly high culture but a whole lot of fun! Spent enough time there that we were on perfect time for the sunset on Charles Bridge. Still horribly hot but worth it. Stayed in the bridge for a while then tried to get back to the metro (Prague is seriously short on metro stops.)
Unfortunately we got lost. Slightly more fortunately we ended up at a viewpoint for the bridge so we could get sunset photos with it in front.
Finally made it to the metro and back to the hostel in time to slump utterly exhausted.
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