VYSEHRAD, the rock above the river with its dark outline of slender spires, is an inseparable part of the Prague skyline. The traditions of this mysterious site are bound up with the legends whose literary treatment was worked up Alois Jirásek from the ancient chronicles into his work "The Old Czech Legends". These tell of the Princess Libuse, who foresaw the future glory of Prague from her seat at Vyšehrad, and who sent a delegation to seek out Premysl the Ploughman, founder of the ruling dynasty, as well as of brave Bivoj, the wondrous horse Semik and its leap from Vysehrad rock, and of the War of the Maidens. The legends of Vysehrad, explaining and celebrating the origins and early years of the Přemyslid state, have made this one of the Czech nation's most distinguished sites. A fortified settlement appeared at Vyšehrad sometime during the 10th century. The first definitive evidence for the existence of the Vysehrad hillfort are Premyslid denarii of Boleslav II, minted there in the mid-10th century.
The reign of Vratislav II (1061-1092) opened a new chapter in the history of Vysehrad. This prince, named King of Bohemia and Poland in 1085, chose Vysehrad as his royal residence, strengthening its fortifications and building a permanent palace more suited to the aspirations of the Bohemian rulers. He founded a new minster, the Basilica of St Lawrence, and what is probably Prague's earliest Romanesque rotunda, that of St Martin and The Vysehrad Chapter. The Chapter was excluded from the authority of the Bishop of Prague, and was subject directly to the Pope. It benefited from the great attention paid to it by many Bohemian sovereigns, and obtained a range of political and economic privileges. Vratislav´s successor, Soběslav I (1125-1140), also took an interest in the artistic decoration of the churches, and in the social prestige of Vyšehrad. The coronation of Vladislav in 1140 brought the precedence of this seat over Prague Castle to an end.Vyšehrad regained its importance under Charles IV.
According to the coronation rite, the procession of the new sovereign began here as an expression of respect for the forefather of the dynasty to which Charles IV belonged on his mother's side. Charles IV converted Vysehrad into a stone fortress, joining it to the ramparts of the New Town of Prague, built a Gothic Royal Palace, the Capitular church, and the great new Peak Gate. During the Hussite Wars, however, the whole royal precinct was destroyed. From the mid-17th century onwards Vysehrad became a Baroque fortress with its own military garrison, and thenceforth remained under military jurisdiction until 1911 when it was made over to the city; it has been preserved almost unchanged to the present day, with the exception of the burning down of the armoury on the site of what is now a park containing sculptures by Myslbek.
The present appearance of Vysehrad was largely determined in the second half of the 19th century. It was led by a number of nationalist-oriented provosts; of these, the most important in terms of the development of Vyšehrad were Václav Štulc and Mikuláš Karlach, who decisively determined the present appearance of Vyšehrad and its major landmark, the neo-Gothic : Church of SS Peter & Paul was rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style to a design by J. Mocker and F. Mikes that respected the disposition of Charles IV's Gothic design. It was then that the idea arose of founding a national cemetery at Vysehrad on the site of the parish graveyard. It took many years to build the Pantheon, and the present Vyšehrad Cemetery is a unique artistic whole, harmoniously fitting its surroundings. At the same time it is also a unique gallery of funerary sculpture, and an expression of Czech artistic development from the second half of the l9th century to the present day. It is the final resting place of over 600 personalities from the fields of culture and intellectual endeavour.
At the 21th century, Vysehrad retains its atmosphere of magic and mystery. It offers visitors one of the most beautiful urban panoramas of bygone Europe, quiet parks for relaxation, and true cultural and spiritual inspiration.
The church and monastery of Our Lady of the Snows are among the most important foundations made in the New Town district of Prague when it was established. Prague is sometimes called "the Rome of the North", although this title belongs more properly to Salzburg. But it is possible that, when the church and monastery of Our Lady ofthe Snows were founded by the Emperor Charles IV in the mid-14th century, they were thought of as being in a certain way a reminder of the city of Rome. This is reflected in the dedication of the church, which refers to thefamous Roman shrine of Santa Maria Maggiore.
During the course of time it was decided that it would have an even more imposing shape and size, so that the present church is simply the presbytery of the church that was at one time planned, but it still makes a tremendous impression on visitors today. Bohuslav Balbín (f 1688), who ranked the church among the most famous ones in Bohemia, was justified in writing: "How magnificent, how kingly, how glorious the church of Our Lady of the Snows in Prague once was... can be seen well enough from the choir that still remains."
In addition, from its beginnings it enjoyed a fairly unique location: it was the only one of the newly founded monasteries to be situated roughly in the middle of the New Town, between two marketplaces that were very busy, ; close to the border with the Old Town at the Gallus Gate. The church and monastery of Our Lady of the Snows were simply too close to the centre of events to avoid becoming the witness of or setting for a number of turbulent and indeed key incidents. Historical changes and disturbances more than once led to the violent interruption of the building work, or of the artistic or spiritual development of the complex, but it has always risen again from the ruins and isolation, in both the recent and the more distant past.
The Vysehrad casemates that are the passages within fortress ramparts serving as hidden mustering points for troops, allowing them to manoeuvre in secret. Construction of the Vysehrad fortress began in 1654 on the orders of Emperor Ferdinand II, marking the definitive end of Vysehrad as a civilian township. The plans for the development of the Vysehrad citadel were grandiose, and not limited to the immediate area of the stronghold; fortunately, the entire scheme was never put into practice, and the New Town thus escaped catastrophic disruption. By 1678 the perimeter fortifications had attained an appearance virtually the same as that of today. The first test of the citadel was in 1742, with the arrival of a French army of occupation under the command of General de Berdiquiera, who ordered his soldiers to modify the ramparts, build a ravelin facing the New Town and construct casemates. The slow pace of construction resulted in its being overtaken by the development of new military equipment, and its later history is thus one of attempts to gradually improve its defensibility. Like all the other newly-built Baroque fortresses in Bohemia, the Vysehrad citadel never participated in military action and had no decisive influence on the military campaigns of the 18th and 19th centuries. After the destruction of the greater part of Prague's Baroque fortifications, Vyšehrad became a self-contained and important example of the city's defensive architectural development after the Thirty Years' War.
The casemates, and Vysehrad as a whole, narrowly escaped total destruction at the end of the First Silesian War in 1742. The Prussians placed 133 barrels of gunpowder within the casemates, with the intention of their being ignited by a slow fuse lit by the last soldier in the garrison to leave. Three locals from Podskálí managed to reach the fuse before it was too late, thus averting disaster.
Entrance to the casemates is gained from the Brick Gate, built 1841-42 to plans by J. Weiss for the Vice-regent K. Chotek. Casemates lie on both sides of the gate, those on the right opening out into the underground Gorlice hall, which served as a muster point, and also as a storeroom for food and munitions. Both lengths of casemates are around 1km long, and are never less than 2m high or 1.5m wide.
The Gorlice hall was built as a component part of Bastion XXXIII in the Baroque fortifications, and with an approximate area of 330 m2 and a height of over 13 m, it is the largest space within the casemates.
For many years the Gorlice hall served as an air raid shelter, and as a potato and vegetable store for Prague. After being cleared and reconstructed, it was opened to casemate visitors at the beginning of the 1990's. Since 1992 it has housed original sculptures from Charles Bridge, namely: St Bernard with the Madonna (M.V.Jäckel, 1709), St Augustine and St Nicholas of Torentino (J.B.Kohl, 1708), St Adalbert (F.M.Brokoff, 1709), and the recently added St Anne (M.V. Jäckel, 1707) and St Ludmilla with the Young Wenceslas (M.B.Braun, 1720-24).
Since the mid-1990's the casemates have also housed thematic modern art exhibitions during the summer. The casemates and Gorlice have been under the management of the administrators of the Vysehrad National Cultural Monument since 1971.
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