Once part of the realm of Bohemia, Czech lands are riddled with ancient myths and legends of yore. Tales of nefarious princes, of heroic knights, alchemy and wizardry shroud the 7th century city in an alluring enigma, while folklore and mystery infuse every cobbled alleyway and Gothic spire. At the heart of Prague’s rich history is its legendary castle, the source of these spellbinding myths. Here are just some of the legends of Prague Castle.
Part of Prague Castle complex, the haunting Daliborka Tower was primarily a prison. In fact, this mysterious edifice takes its name from its very first captive, the brave knight Dalibor. Somewhat unjustly imprisoned for allowing rebellious peasants take shelter in his home, Dalibor was sentenced to death. Over the course of his incarceration, the noble knight learnt how to play the violin. As he practised, beautiful melodies would drift from the tower, carried across the city and capturing the hearts of citizens who’d gather to listen. So enraptured were they by Dalibor’s skill, they’d send him food and drink. Legend has it he was so popular that his execution was never publicly announced, but when the notes of his violin fell silent, the citizens of Prague were made all too aware of his fate.
Defenestration is the act of throwing someone from the window, a radical punishment taken centuries ago when mutinous citizens were furious with their leaders. While it’s certainly not a technique sanctioned today, legend has it that the injurious action began in Prague in the 15th century. Prague’s first defenestration occurred in 1419 at the Town Hall. However, its most notable one followed at Prague Castle in 1618 when two imperial governors and their secretary were thrown from a window, prompting the start of the Thirty Years’ War.
Lined with a colourful row of cottages seemingly plucked from the pages of Harry Potter, Golden Lane is a quaint, cobbled street within the Prague Castle grounds. It takes its name from the tales of alchemists that resided there during the reign of Rudolf II. Prague Castle legend has it that they were attempting to make the Philosopher’s Stone—the elixir of youth—and to transform base metals into gold. Curiously enough, in the 19th century, a house on Golden Lane was inhabited by an old doctor of philosophy, Uhle, who had a collection of books on magic. After undertaking secret experiments in his lab, a thundering explosion occurred. Uhle was found dead with a yellow nugget in his hand. Later, it was proved to be gold. Perhaps he achieved the dream of those ancient alchemists?
Legend has it that Prague Castle used to be located at Vyšehrad, a high hilltop on the opposite side of the Vltava River from the current castle. It was from here the greedy Prince Křesomysl reigned over the land, forcing locals to abandon their farms and villages to pan for gold and mine silver for him. As the fields lay abandoned, famine loomed. A brave farmer, Horymír, stood up to the prince only to face execution. Granted one final wish, he chose to ride his beloved steed Šemík around the castle grounds for one last time.
Once seated on Šemík’s back, Horymír whispered instructions in the horse’s ear. The stallion gathered all its strength and took an almighty leap over the castle ramparts, landing safely on the other side of the Vltava River and so rescuing his owner from his death sentence. The incredible jump took all of Šemík’s strength and, sensing the end was nigh, the talking steed asked Horymír for a tomb to be built to honour him. Today a statue of Horymír and his beloved horse stands proud at Vyšehrad park.