I’m taking a class here in the Czech Republic called “Images of Prague”, which is a literature based class that discusses Czech art: a mixture of (mostly) literature, art, and history. It’s been so interesting so far, and it’s a great way to learn about the culture of the Czech republic and Prague by familiarizing myself with their history and cultural identity.
We’ll be reading Kafka (obviously), Capek, and other famous Czech writers and works of literature, and, as a sort of introduction to the class and city, we’ve started by reading Czech legends that detail the conception of the Czech Republic and Prague. I thought I would share them because I found them so interesting–I would recommend anyone studying abroad to read into those of their own cities, even if they aren’t required by a class. They’re a great, fun, entertaining way to learn more about your new home.
Legend has it that Pagans settled in the land of the Czech Republic in ancient times, and those who came to prosper built themselves castles and lived happily among their growing population. When the most well-respected leader, “Father Czech” died, disorder began to spread, and the people yearned for a new leader. Pace, who was another wealthy citizen, took the position and reigned for many years. He founded schools where magic, religion, prophecy, and hymns were taught, and found a suitable spot on the river to build a new castle, as the Gods guided him to do, and called it Vyšehrad.
Upon his death, his three daughters, Kazi, Teta, and Libuše, survived him–they were all well loved and talented: Kazi in medicine and herbs, Teta, as a priestess, and Libuše in prophetizing. Libuše was chosen as the new leader. It was she who prophesied the creation of a new city, on a cliff by a river, where they would find a man building a house, and instead build a castle and call it Praha (Prague). She also premonised the existence of her future husband.
This is a brief summary of the basic legend, which exists inside a maze of a whole slew of other legends. The existence of Prague is legendarily attributed to Libuše’s ability to prophecise it’s future existance.
After reading these stories, my class took a field trip to Vyšehrad, which is just one metro stop away from my school. The views are absolutely beautiful, as the castle is situated on top of a cliff over the river, as the legend details. We visited statues and large wooden figurines that tell the story of the legends we’d read, and discussed the origins of the legends and what they reveal about the times in which they were written or in which the statues were built. Oftentimes, legends were either created or dramatized in the 19th century, when the Czech Republic was trying to “catch up” to, or legitimize/dramatize itself and it’s history next to Germany, which is interesting and culturally telling.
We also passed through a graveyard in which many famous Czechs are buried, and a beautiful church (where a movie was being filmed!).
Both reading about and visiting the sites where legends supposedly took place has been so interesting and valuable for me. I look forward to reading more Czech literature during my time here, I know it’s going to increase my appreciation for this city.