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Silvestr v Praze


The highlight of New Year's Eve in Prague was our walk through Vyšehrad. Karla's friend Věra tipped us off that it would be more pleasant than the noisy drunkenness that sprawls over Václavské náměstí and Staroměstské náměstí. Vyšehrad probably had a higher density of Czechs in the crowd, but there was plenty of German, Russian, and English to be heard among the other people milling around the walls. Not much conversation was possible since we were surrounded by fireworks. In most places the air was thick with powder smoke and fog before midnight.

To better appreciate our experience, one has to know about Vyšehrad's significance in Czech (and Prague) culture. The name means "high castle," and it is a complex of old (and newer) buildings enclosed by a wall of fortifications. It sits atop a rock bluff that juts out over the river Vltava just south of Prague's center. The area was not originally "in" Prague (the medieval city was much smaller and enclosed by walls), but it has been surrounded by Prague suburbs since the nineteenth century. From the walls of Vyšehrad one can look northward over the Nusle valley and see the Prague castle and most of Old Town as well as more recent constructions, such as the Radio Tower and the Nusle Bridge that carries the freeway and metro lines south from Vinohrady.

The center of Vyšehrad is the neo-gothic church of Sts. Peter and Paul (built in the nineteenth century), easily recognizable by its lacy lattice-work towers. Next to the church is a cemetery partly conceived as a "Pantheon" of Czech greats where many famous personalities of Czech culture are buried (most-noted are Dvořák and Smetana).
Another highlight of the complex is the romanesque rotunda of St. Martin built around 1070.
The site is also significant as the mythical site of the founding of Prague. According to legends (popularized and made into "literature" by nineteenth-century cultural revivalists), the priestess-cum-prophet Libuše looked off the rocks of Vyšehrad and foretold the future glory of a great city. The picture is Myslbek's statue of Libuše with the legendary father of the Přemysl dynasty.

There is certainly a large and magical city now. On this Silvestr (the Czech name for New Year's Eve), the park surrounding the church and other buildings was full of people setting off fireworks, drinking champagne, and carousing. There were no municipal fireworks. Instead people were igniting their own fireworks and setting them off amongst the crowd. There were no mishaps, but there was certainly potential. Some of the rockets were very large and required small launching tubes that were packed in snow and aimed off the fortifications. It certainly beat the re-enactment of Austerlitz for noise and general rowdiness. All in all it was a great way to ring in the new year.

Karla mentions our pre-midnight feast, has a nice picture of the rotunda with fireworks, and features the ever-popular Musical Atlas of Mushrooms (now one of my prized possessions) and other oddities. As the composer Václav Hálek explains, "every mushroom has its own idea which the Creator breathed into it, and . . . it's possible to hear this idea if we're modest enough and if we ask the mushroom nicely to sing it for us. I've always been able to hear it." Hálek also writes Christmas music.


Vyšehrad portal. Some of the photos above were taken earlier in December and you can see them in better resolution on flickr.

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Comments:

Blogger Karla said . . .

The photos turned out very nicely. The church in the snowfall is especially appealing for atmosphere.    

1:17 PM, January 08, 2006


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