Vysehrad is a national cultural monument located on the south of Prague's historical city center. Vysehrad nowadays is basically a park inside of the former fortress area, but it used to be a castle of the Czech royal dynasty of Premislids.
The first mention of Vysehrad dates back to the end of the 10th century AD, when the royal acropolis, the church of St. John Evangelist, and the royal mint were established on top of the hill. We owe the 'discovery' of Vysehrad to the mint masters, whose coins from the year 999 were found during the excavations and helped to determine the age of this iconic landmark.
The next step in the history of Vysehrad was taken in 1070 when duke Vratislav II moved here and established a new ecclesiastical institution - Vysehrad Citadel. It is the oldest still-functioning clerical institution in the Czech Republic nowadays. Rumor has it, that Vratislav's decision to move his royal residence and found Vysehrad Citadel was caused by an argument with his brother, Jaromir, who was a Prague Castle bishop. Whether it was brought about by the sibling rivalry or not, Vysehrad Citadel has been one of the strongholds of the church with its Basilica of St. Peter and Paul that used to fall directly under the Pope's jurisdiction. Two other shrines - basilica of St. Lawrence and Rotunda os St. Martin - and the first bridge in Prague were built in the 11th-century Vysehrad.
In 1140, Vladislav II moves back to the Prague Castle and Vysehrad's influence starts to weaken. The last queen of the Czech royal dynasty of Premyslids, Elizabeth, spends her last days here in 1330. Her son, Charles IV, comes back to Prague only in 1346, but for him, Vysehrad is more of a legendary birthplace of the Czech people rather than a seat of political power. For this reason, King Charles IV started a tradition that every Bohemian ruler has to spend the night before his coronation in Vysehrad and then in the morning, dressed as a plowman, continue through the Royal Way to St. Vitus Cathedral. In 1348-50 the defenses of Vysehrad were consolidated and included in the area of the New Town, and four new palaces were built in the royal acropolis.
Despite this period of prosperity, Vysehrad very soon becomes a battleground during the Hussite War in 1419-1435. The Vysehrad battle on November 1st, 1420 was fought between king Zikmund's crusaders and armed Hussite peasants, which ended with the victory of the latter. Hussites sieged and ransacked Vysehrad destroying the kings' residence and most of the churches in the citadel. Vysehrad has never fully recovered after its battle.
At the end of the 15th century, Vysehrad becomes inhabited and the citadel comes back to its old walls. Peace lasts till the Thirty Years War when the Swedish army attacks and destroys Vysehrad's defenses showing that it cannot stand a chance in a long-term military campaign.
From 1650, an architect Innocenzo de Conti attempts to transform Vysehrad into a modern fortress. Even though the citadel had survived, most of the medieval buildings were destroyed. Three Vysehrad gates (Cihelna, Leopoldova nad Taborska Brana) were constructed together with the fortification walls by the end of the 17th century. During the War of the Austrian Succession, the French army had briefly occupied Vysehrad and built Gorlice Casemates tunnels in the fortification walls. Casemates were later used as a food-warehouse and filled up with potatoes almost to its ceiling.
In 1763, Vysehrad Citadel returns after all war exiles and loses its Pope protection becoming a subordinate of Prague's archbishopric. Emperor Joseph II, who releases his famous anti-corruption reform for monasteries and clerical organizations, orders to close the citadel, but calls it back a few days before his death.
During the period of the Czech National Revival in the 19th century, Vysehrad became a symbol of Bohemian legacy. Vysehrad's perception as a cradle of the Czech nation was formed mainly thanks to forged historical documents, such as Zelenohorsky and Kralovedvorsky manuscripts, that told legends of the mythical Libuse, and other folklore characters.
No, the Vysehrad area and park are free to visit! You will need tickets only to Basilica St. Peter and Paul and Gorlice Casemates.
We talk about it in our how to Visit Vysehrad video, but you can easily get to Vysehrad by taking the metro to the hilltop or tram to the bottom of the hill.
Vysehrad Cemetery is a burial place for famous Czech nationals: writers like Bozena Nemcova and Julius Zeyer, composers like Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana, architects like Josef Zitek, and hundreds of others. Vysehrad Cemetery also has symbolic graves of political activists such as Milada Horakova who was shot by Communists during show trials of the 1950s.
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Author: Valeriia Zahradnikova and Vaclav Zahradnik, Prague guides certified by Prague City Tourism agency. Valeriia and Vaclav have worked in tourism for over 6 years and have guided thousands of Prague visitors.