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©2019 Shawn Basey | Tbilisi | Prague | Travel blog and tips

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Hidden Gardens of Prague's Mala Strana

May 30, 2018

 

 

Behind every front cover, there’s an inside, a story to be told, long and wordy and often quite boring. Yawn. Who wants to read books anymore anyway when we’ve got Avengers movies and Game of Thrones? The idea though extends to buildings too, where there’s a front, there’s a back. Depending on the country, the front side is usually the nicely held up representation of what’s inside. People want to say, “Look, whoever lives here lives well, lives nice, lives proper.” So they spend all of their money making up a beautiful façade, but then run out of money for the interior. Maybe they’ll get to it later.

 

Then again, I’ve been in countries where they don’t give a single haypenny worth’s of care about the façade, and they only care about the interior. Sometimes just the façade of the interior. There are so many metaphors that can fly around this that one should consider a fly swatter. Just watch your heads folks.

 

 

 entering a "hidden garden"

 

All that to say, over the weekend there was an interestingly themed “festival” of sorts. Most people know the much more famous sister festival of this one called “Open House Prague”, when all these old Baroque beauties open their doors and let you look up their skirts (indeed, most cities have some sort of variation on the theme). On this not-quite-the-same weekend was Malostransky dvorky, the festival that you shouldn’t confused with Prague Dvorak Festival, which comes from the same roots. That is, Dvorak comes from the word for courtyard. Or porter, actually. A porter was the guy who tends the courtyard and answers the front door and tells the residents if they have a guest. You see, back in the day before the doorbell and cell phone were invented, each apartment complex had their own non-composing dvorak to act as the doorbell. “Hello, I’m here for Svarak,” you might say. Then it was his job to look you over, make sure you were a decent fellow, and then yell up the courtyard, “Svarak!” Then a random neighbor would yell, “Shut up! Everyone wants svarak these days!” True story.

 

 

 "The svarak comes from up there?!"

 

 

So the festival this last weekend saw many buildings in one of the oldest quarters of the city, Mala Strana, open their courtyards to the public. Usually there was some sort of bizarre art display, like one with a bunch of bricks playing sounds from busy places. Another was pretty straight forward, with large paintings for sale.

 

 

She's checking on the Internet to see if art makes sense there

 

 

 art for sale... or not... I don't know...

 

 

I went through about half of the courtyards. Some were small and unimpressive, maybe in bad condition even. Others were in a cute rustic condition, where I could imagine happily spending hours drinking coffee and writing, while gazing off into the dark recesses hidden by the thick hanging ivy. The last courtyard I saw was a real masterpiece, one perfect for endless garden parties. The place had their own miniature baroque garden with a fountain, and half a dozen busts and sculptures.

 

 

 many places featured galleries of sorts

 

 and more galleries

 

 I could imagine a garden party here

 

 fanny packs are in

 

 

Vrtba Garden

 

All of these courtyards really left me for an appetite for more gardens. On my way out, I passed the completely hidden but for a small sign “Vrtbovska zahrada” leading into yet another courtyard. I shrugged and decided to go on in. My day of courtyard wandering had been fully established. But I really wasn’t prepared for what came.

 

 

the entry garden house ceiling of Vrtba 

 

cool party house 

 

 

The entry into the garden was in the courtyard. I went in, and there they were charging 69 crowns, or three dollars. That seemed a lot to me. I mean, that’s like two beers in Prague! So expensive! But really, it’s not that much, so I paid the money and went in. That little pretend baroque courtyard I saw was just a teaser for this. The Vrtbovska zahrada (or Vrtba Garden, in English) was the real deal.  

 

 

 the first terrace

 

 

Fantastic gardens were all the rage back in the 1700s, so every nobleman who was anyone had to build a bigger and better one than the next. This gardening boom included the massive gardens just underneath the castle, along with Wallenstein (which I’ll get to next) and Vrtba.

 

 

 looking down on the first terrace

 

 

Vrtba is a Baroque terraced garden built on a closed off area of Petrin Hill, on a spot where you don’t even realize you’re on Petrin Hill. It was created by the Count of Vrtba, Jan Josef, to go along with his newly renovated palace. The palace isn’t accessible today, though the garden was renovated in the 90s and the garden house (along with its large Greek murals) were cleaned up and opened in 1998.

 

 

 a window from the palace

 

 

You enter from the bottom of the four terraces, first to a large courtyard with trimmed hedges and a bird cage. The bird cage is there to give it the real nice touch of creating a constant bird song, as though you’re in the nature or somewhere apart from the city.

 

 

 one of many statues on the second and third terraces

 

 

The second terrace has more hedgework, another little garden house, and a hidden little area with a fountain. The third terrace is mostly open grass with a veranda walk complete with statues that seem to be in some sort of constant despair. Then the final terrace is really just a viewing deck, with a view of the Castle and the rest of Prague. Before I thought the Clementinum was the best viewing place in Prague, but this one might even be better for the crown, mainly just for the pristine surroundings and birdsong.

 

 

 a couple enjoying the view

 

 

 a couple not noticing the view

 

 

Valdstejnsky Zahrada

 

Now after this Baroque masterpiece, I wanted to quickly revisit a garden that had long been one of my favorites in Prague to see if it still stood up. I walked out of the Vrtba Garden and to the other side of Mala Strana, where I met my wife and we took a stroll to Wallenstein (pronounced Vallen-schtein and in Czech spelled Valdstejnsky with a very similar pronunciation though somehow dropping a syllable and gaining a d). We entered through the Senate courtyard (the Senate building is the Wallenstein Palace), but you can also gain entry from next to the Malostranske metro exit or there’s another gate along Letenska street.

 

 

 entering Wallenstein Garden

 

 

 

The Wallenstein Palace originally served as the palace for Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, Imperial Count Palatinate Generalissimo of the Holy Roman Empire, who provided the Empire with an army that could field up to about 100,000 men at a given time and probably annoyed very many porters in the day with a name and title like that. He served during the Thirty Years War under the Emperor Ferdinand II, and was responsible for stopping the Swedish Protestant armies by defeating and killing their king, Gustavus Adolphus. But the Emperor began to fear that Wallenstein was getting a little too strong, so he dismissed him. During this time, Albrecht thought about maybe joining the Protestants due to his enormous insult by the Emperor, but was assassinated by the Irish general, Walter Devereux, by the Emperor’s orders/permission, foreseeing how much the general was insulted. Now that's insult to injury, my friends.

 

 

 Devereux assassinating Wallenstein

 

 

The palace was built in 1623 but the resident only got to live there for one year before he got offed in 1634, as he was off campaigning most of that time. Over 20 houses were razed to make room for the palace and its grounds. It stayed in the Wallenstein family until the Communists took over Czechoslovakia, and then like most of the grand palaces from the feudal days, it was nationalized. Some turned into museums, others to book depositories, and like this one, some turned into government offices. Wallenstein Palace is now the home of the Senate of the Czech Republic.

 

 

 not a bad spot for speeches and press conferences

 

 

Albrecht had done a lot of traveling in Italy and fell in love with that country, so wanted as many Italian elements as possible, which included the Baroque palace, its murals and columned veranda, a riding school, a grotto, and a massive Baroque garden. He wanted the castle to be even prettier than the Imperial Castle on the hill overhead, which was, in hindsight, probably a bad decision. Hindsight is of course, 20/20, at least as long as you're alive to use that vision.

 

 

 plenty of peacocks roaming around

 

 

The gardens have dozens of statues, a strange “grotto”, with the concrete designed to look like natural stone and includes dozens of little hidden statues in the little caverns of the stones. Then there’s also a massive pond, a fountain, and inexplicably, a half-dozen peacocks just roaming around. It’s free entry but closed during the winter.

 

 

 who doesn't love a fake grotto?

 

 

Enjoyed reading about Prague? Read some more in my latest book, A Facetious Guide to Prague, available on Amazon. 

 

 

 

 

 

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