Written by Inta Wiest
for IWAP’s ‘The Bridge’ magazine
High on a cliff overlooking the Vltava, with breathtaking views up and down the river, lies Vyšehrad, once a mighty fortress but now a peaceful green oasis, the home of the Church of SS Peter and Paul and a wonderful cemetery where many prominent Czechs are buried. The neo-Gothic church, decorated with Art Nouveau murals, is a visual delight, a definite must-see in this golden city. (For more on the church see the article on Vyšehrad in the November 2005 issue of The Bridge.)
The cemetery, hugging the left flank of the church, is the final resting place of some 600 notable personalities, as well as members of several religious orders. The funerary sculpture here is strikingly distinctive, some of it by leading Czech sculptors. Above a modest ivy-covered grave, a slender woman stands on tiptoe, arms back, leaning forward, like a wingless angel about to take flight – the work of Olbram Zoubek. A František Bílek scupture, called “Sorrow”, keeps watch by another grave. Weeping angels, busts and figures in stone and bronze, tombstones both simple and elaborate, all add to the fascination of this beautiful graveyard. Here you can pay your respects to Czech composers, writers, artists and musicians: Dvořak and Smetana; Neruda, Němcová and Čapek; Mucha, Myslbek and Švabinský, to name a few. Dominating the cemetery is the Slavín, or Pantheon, a mausoleum where some 54 of the most significant figures of Czech cultural and political life are buried. The inscription on the monument reads: “Ač zemřeli, ještě mluví.” Though they are dead, they still speak.
One can spend hours wandering the cemetery, always discovering something new. A grave I visit is that of Milada Horáková, a survior of Terezín and a member of Parliament until the communist coup of 1948, when she was accused of conspiracy and high treason. She was executed in 1950. Her tomb of gray granite is also a memorial to all victims of the totalitarian regimes, 1939 – 1945 and 1948 – 1989. My husband’s favorite grave is that of Lt. Ivan Španiel, who was killed in action fighting in the French armored forces in 1944. The actual wooden cross from the temporary French field cemetery is attached to the family tombstone, a moving reminder of the many Czechs who fell in foreign fields in two wars for the freedom of their country.
Although Vyšehrad is beautiful any time of the year, I recommend a visit on All Soul’s Day, November 2; the atmosphere is mystical, with leaves falling, an autumn mist in the air and the cemetery aglow with flowers and candles. Should you want to look up a specific gravesite, there is a list of names with numbers and a plan of the graveyard outside the main entrance. You too may want to listen to those voices from the past and light a candle for someone here.
How to get there: Vyšehrad can be reached easily from the Vyšehrad metro station. Keeping the large modern Congress Center on your left, walk towards the little residential street that brings you to the Tabor Gate. Inside the gate there is an information center, but you can keep walking until you see the church on the left. If you haven’t explored Vyšehrad yet, you’re in for a wonderful treat, as well as a time for unhurried reflection amidst the hectic pace of daily life.
This article first appeared in The Bridge magazine October 2006 produced by The International Women´s Association of Prague (IWAP), an organization whose purpose is to welcome women to the Czech Republic, promote friendship among them, and acquaint them with the local culture. For more information, visit the IWAP website, www.volny.cz/iwap.