During his October 2005 visit to Prague, the Monkey discovered that there’s more than one hilltop castle in town. He also finds an answer to the not-so-oft-asked question, what would it look like if Picasso built an apartment block in Prague?
While the Hradcany is the best known castle in Prague, the Vysehrad fortress boasts a long history all its own. Somewhat south of the city center, the Vysehrad fortress is poised on a hilltop and commands great views along the Vltava River and the surrounding districts. Local lore holds that Vysehrad was the earliest settlement in what would later become Prague, although this point remains in contention. Legend aside, the record is clear that the Vysehrad’s fortifications date from the 10th Century, and it was here that Vratislav II moved his residence as he became the first King of Bohemia—a title bestowed upon him by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1085.
Although the Bohemian kings moved their seat back to the Hradcany later, the lore of Vysehrad lingered. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV restored it in the mid 13th Century, only for the Hussites to ruin it in 1420. Two centuries later, the Hapsburgs remodeled the Vysehrad as a military barracks and training ground. The shape of today’s fortress largely dates from these 17th Century Hapsburg interventions. Its grounds also contain the Vysehrad Cemetery—resting place for many national heroes, including the composers Dvorak and Smetana, and the artist Mucha—a fact which further cements the fortress’s place in the national identity.
Here, the Monkey ponders Prague’s history as he peers out over the steady flow of the Vltava from a wall in the Vysehrad fortress.
It’s not all history at the Vysehrad fortress, however. The castle grounds are also one of Prague’s nicest parks, with green spaces and a range of cultural attractions. In this clever example, the fortress walls are incorporated into the stage for a summer theater—unfortunately the Monkey was a few months late for the show. Other highlights include an art gallery and the towering neo-Gothic Church of St. Peter and Paul.
On a spectacular autumn day, the Monkey enjoys the view from the ramparts of the Vysehrad fortress across the rooftops of Prague. Far in the distance in the center of this photo, you can see the cluster of spires at the core of the Hradcany, Prague’s power nexus and once a rival to Vysehrad.
In the cluster of streets below the hilltop fortress, the Monkey encountered a remnant of a unique architectural school that never really caught on. In the first decades of the 20th Century, a small group of Czechoslovak architects began applying the stark, high-contrast geometry of the Cubist school of artists to residential building. Key adherents included Pavel Janák, Josef Gocar, and Josef Chochol—all members of the Manés Union of Fine Arts. Their growing list of commissions was curtailed by the outbreak of World War I, and in the years that followed the Cubist architects were subsumed by the rise of the Modernist (International) movement. One of the elements both movements shared was a recognition of the revolutionary qualities of reinforced concrete—the Czechoslovak Cubists were among the first architects to experiment with this construction technique’s flexibility.
Located on Neklanova street, this 1913 apartment block by Josef Chochol is considered one of the standout Cubist buildings. The angular prisms that decorate the façade, windows, and portals suggest the concern for multidimensional depth that Cubist painters demonstrated, while the building’s lines are a clear departure from the 19th Century schools, whether Viennese Secessionist, neo-classical, or more vernacular. In this photo, the building is surrounded by more traditional apartment blocks of similar proportions—at the time of construction the block towered above its neighbors and truly resembled a sculpture to live in (as seen here).
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