Petřín Hills

Not many people can resist the opportunity to travel on the funicular railway. Access to it is from the crossroads called Újezd, by which until 1892 stood the Újezd Gate, and through which one passed from Smichov to Malá Strana.

In front of the gate, on the site of today's small park at the foot of the Petřín Hill, stood the Újezd Barracks until 1932, where on the 9 July 1834 Jan Neruda was born. His mother Barbora Nerudová used to do cleaning in the house opposite (No 419/12) for the family of the French engineer Joachim Barrand who is credited with surveying and mapping the Český kras region. One of the trilobite fossils he discovered was named in her honour “Babinka Prima”. At Újezd the writer Eduard Bass (house number 423/20) and the poet Karel Hynek Mácha (house number 401/35) and world famous violinist Ferdinand Laub (house number 400/37) were also born. The photographer Josef Sudek had his studio for many years at the back of house number 427/28. The commemorative statues of Neruda, Mácha and Laub stand in the Petřín Gardens directly above this street.

After a few steps in the direction of Malá Strana (Small Quarter), on the right we can see the Renaissance part of the Michna Palace (No. 450/40), originally the summer house of Jan Kinský and today known as Tyrš House. To this an early Baroque garden wing was added for Václav Michna from Vacínov in 1640- 1650 by Francesco Carrratti.

Through the passage from the street U lanové dráhy we enter the lowest stop of the Petřín funicular railway, built as an attraction on the occasion of the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891. The contract for building the railway was signed in January 1891 and that same year the railway began running. The length of it then was 396.5 metres and it was the longest funicular railway in Austria-Hungary. It was operated by the use of gravity: water was pumped into a tank in the first carriage at the highest stop, which weighed the carriage down so much, that during the journey down it pulled up the second carriage travelling in the opposite direction. At the lowest stop the water was released and the whole process was repeated.

In 1932 the railway was modernised. It was lengthened to 510 metres and the water power was replaced by electricity. Simultaneously a middle stop was built at Nebozízek. This used to be a vintner's homestead, built beside a snaking path reminiscent of the twists of a carpenter's drill (in Czech nebozez). Today it is a well known restaurant with a panoramic view of Prague.

At the beginning of the 19th century the Prague censor Amand Berghofer lived here with his sons. The family aroused public disquiet. Not only did Berghofer carry out his censorship duties in a laid back manner to the despair of his superiors, but on top of this he became with his sons one of the first proponents of nudism; in Adam's garb he carried out various repairs at the homestead, chopped wood and cared for the garden.

By the railway we advance to the top of the Petřín Hill. The chronicler Kosmas states that the name Petřín comes from the Latin word petra which means rock. Yet despite the fact that Petřín used to be quite rocky, in the Middle Ages vineyards and orchards were founded there. The wooded character was acquired only during the 19th century. The hill defending the Small Quarter from the south west was fortified. To this very day stands the Hunger Wall (Hladová Zeď), built by order of Charles IV and also the ramparts and bastion of the Baroque fortifications. These are clearly visible on maps and serve as boundaries between Prague districts.

Petřín Hill, in the olden days used to be the place of execution. In 1108 the last members of the family Vršovec, who for many years competed with the Přemyslides for control of Prague were executed here. At the end of the Thirty Years War in the woods on the hill deserters from the army hid - bandits who even found their way into fairy tales; their name Petrovští deriving from the name of the hill.

Apart from agricultural use stone was mined here and in the 19th Century even coal. Though the seams were not rich about 300 metres of galleries were dug out. At the end mining stopped because the galleries leading under the fortifications worried the military and civilian authorities.

Through the Rose Garden founded in 1930-32, we reach the Štefánik Observatory, behind which an Alpine garden was created. Passing the statues, the Kiss, by Josef Mařatka, and Eternal Yearning, by Vilém Amort, we reach via a gateway in the Hunger Wall, the Church of Sv. Vavřinec (St Lawrence), first mentioned in 1135. St. Lawrence, martyred on a griddle, became the patron saint of chefs. Therefore it is not surprising that the church was bought by the guild of chefs and in the years 1735-40 given a Baroque appearance and adopted as their main place of worship. Next to the church stands the Kaple Kalvárie (Calvary Chapel) from 1737 with a stone pulpit and on the ground floor the so called Christ's prison. More enticing is the mirror maze, originally the Pavilion of the Czech Tourists Club at the Jubilee Exhibition at Stromovka, from where it was transferred in 1892. It is a smaller reconstruction of the Vyšehrad Gate called špička from the time of Charles IV. Inside, at the end of the maze, is a diarama depicting the fight of the people of Prague against the Swedes on Charles Bridge in 1648. It is the combined work of Karel and Adolf Liebscher and Vojtěch Bartoněk.

The Petřínská Rozhledna (Look-out Tower on Petřín Hill) which is 63.5 metres tall was built on the same occasion as the maze. It is a smaller version of the 300 metre high Eiffel Tower. Of interest is the fact that thanks to the different heights of the ground on which they are built, the tops of both towers are at the same height above sea level. Perhaps even more interesting is the speed of the construction. The first plans were submitted for consideration in February 1891 and it was opened to the public in August the same year.

Behind the Tower the Jerusalem Chapel of Christ's Grave built in 1732 for the pilgrimage route leading from the Strahov Monastery is hidden. The oval Chapel with a copula standing on 8 pillars is one typical of Baroque buildings known at many sites of pilgrimage throughout Bohemia and Moravia.

We return to the Calvary Chapel, from which starts the panoramic path leading under the funicular railway above Nebozízek, across the bastion of the Hunger Wall and around the fortifications to the Kinský Sad (Kinsky gardens).

By the lake on the right hand side stands an interesting stone sun dial from 1686. It is a 5 metre tall pillar with a cube top which has reliefs carved on it of figures and the numbers of the hours. The hands casting the shadows (now sadly missing) were formed by the spear in Christ's side, by the crutch of St. Rocque, the lily in the hand of St. Rozalie and the arrow in the chest of St Sebastian. The sun dial is now shaded by tall trees and is frequently mistaken for a Crucifiction.

We leave the panoramic path by the sun dial and descend by a steeper path which meanders to the right. On our left among the trees we can see the Baroque, tiled, onion domes of the small wooden church of St. Michael, transported here in 1929 from the village of Medvědovce near Mukačevo. The path in front of the church leads down to the neo-classical building of the Kinský Letohrádek (Kinsky Summer Palace), built between 1827 to 1831. We descend through the garden which was started in 1825 by the patriotic Count Rudolf Kinský to represent a purely natural landscape without romantic excess. The original, unique composition and careful planting placed this garden amongst the foremost in Europe.

Close to the statue “14 Year Old” by Karel Dvořák we enter the Kinského Náměstí(Kinsky Square) close to Újezd, where we started from.

What has been left out:

  1. Petřín can be reached via Vlašská ulice (Vlašská Street), from where we can observe the picturesque changes in the character of the hillside as town houses mingle with farm houses and cottages.
  2. Other possible access to Petřín is the route via Strahovská ulice from Pohořelec. It is interesting in the way that it leads between on the one side a gothic wall and on the other a massive brick baroque wall.