A stillness rests over the Vyšehrad fortress. The short walk from the Metro C Station leads to the mid-tenth century. Compared to Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, Vyšehrad hardly gets any visitors. Spring is the perfect occasion to spend some unadulterated time exploring where Prague and the Czech lands started.
A cobblestone street winds through a lonely village, the road bordered by a few small shops and restaurants, leading past the oldest part of Vyšehrad: the Rotunda of St. Martin. The road leads straight to the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, an old neo-Gothic cathedral and cemetery which looks straight from a Grimm Brothers fairytale. The spiked steeples rise high, and the weather-worn bricks tell its century-old history. The church entrances are framed with detailed mosaics that foreshadow the beauty inside. For 50 CZK, you can enter the cathedral and stand beneath the towering ceiling painted with colorful ornate designs. Walk down the aisle past rows of polished pews, and find the altar bathed in kaleidoscopic light from the stained-glass windows above. To attend a service at the cathedral, traditional Roman Catholic masses are held every Sunday at 9:00 and Thursdays at 18:00.
Leaving the cathedral reveals the ghostly cemetery. It is the part of Vyšehrad that will weigh the heaviest, frozen in the moment, its residents laid forever beneath the shadow of the old cathedral. The stone paths wind beneath monuments of the dead reaching toward heaven. An owl hoots in the distance, sorrowful and mourning. A breath of air whispers through the trees, the joined voices of a thousand souls stirring in the presence of a life above them. Fallen leaves rustle on the ground, holding on to a wisp of life as their last attempts to dance along the cobblestone are vanquished by a fragile crunch and the scattering of a hundred pieces. As the age and vastness of this garden of souls begin to weigh on you, the clock strikes three and the church bells ring out sweet and melancholy. But the notes fall lifeless and the graves are silent in reply. Visiting hours end at 17:00, perhaps an attempt to keep guests away from the haunting that surely goes on in the dark night.
Late afternoon is a perfect time to visit the fortress, when the sun is high enough in the sky to keep you warm on a chilly late winter or early spring day. Walk along the tops of the walls and absorb the panorama of the red rooftops and soaring spires. The hill on the south side of the fortress is a perfect place to watch the sunset as the last daylight glitters on the Vltava River below, glowing crimson on the houses and buildings below. Seemingly every place in Prague is romantic, and this is a place to go with your lover to huddle together as the sun sets and the evening turns chilly. Prague transforms into dimly lit magic with Prague Castle illuminated on the horizon.
For a more modern visit and springtime view of the old fortress, return at the end of May for the eleventh annual Prague Food Festival, to be be held on the Vyšehrad premises. From Friday 26 to Sunday 28, chefs from Prague will offer food and drinks. With the trees and grass returned to their green colors, and the smells of a hundred different cuisines drifting through the warm air, perhaps the fortress will awaken from its mystical slumber and bring life to the party.
Cover photo courtesy of Stanislav Jelen/ Wikimedia Commons