We were howling through the night, crossing the bridge that seemed to lead across the netherworlds, fog wrapping up and down, and soon we were on the battlements of a castle, singing songs and drinking wine and liquor. That was my first exposure to Vysehrad so many years ago, and I still remember that crisply enough. So when I moved to Prague, I was thinking, “well, no rush to get to Vysehrad and see it in the day since I’ve already technically done that.”

Then I went from city to city, country to country, and now our four years is almost up, and I still hadn’t gone to Vysehrad. When my wife’s cousin came here to see the city, I decided this was the proper occasion to finally give the place a proper look.

vysehrad and vltava

view from a bridge on a cloudy day

Anyone who’s been to Prague knows Vysehrad, at the very least by sight: it's that other big church on the other hill on the river. Many people make the mistake of not going. They think “castle” and see Prague Castle, and left to a sense of general disappointment because they were thinking a castle had big walls and ramparts and all that jazz, where in Prague Castle it just feels like a semi-modern complex of government buildings and museums—because that’s what it is. Vysehrad though, actually retains that feel of a castle, touching a little on our Disney-world imagining of Europe, with huge stone walls, high ramparts, and massive gates.

A Tale of Two Castles

Long before the dawn of Prague, there were two castles on the opposite sides of the River Vltava. Czech historians are constantly bickering at which castle was first, and perhaps no one will ever know for sure. But the Czech folk tradition maintains that Vysehrad—which means “high castle” in Czech—was indeed the first castle and even the origin of all Bohemian tradition.

There in the castle lived a most fair maiden, named Princess Libuse, the daughter of the mighty King Krok son of Czech. But to understand Libuse’s importance, let’s rewind to Czech.