The Origin of Prague
The origin of Prague goes back to the 7th century and the Slavic princess Libuše,
a woman of great beauty and wisdom who possessed prophetic powers. Libuše
and her husband, prince Premysl, ruled peacefully over the Czech lands from
the hill of Vyšehrad. A legend says that one day Libuše had a vision.
She stood on a cliff overlooking the Vltava, pointed to a forested hill across
the river, and proclaimed: "I see a great city whose glory will touch the
stars." ("Vidím mesto veliké, jehoz sláva hvezd
se dotýkati bude."). She instructed her people to go and build a
castle where a man was building the threshold (in Czech práh) of a house.
"And because even the great noblemen must bow low before a threshold, you
shall give it the name Praha". Her words were obeyed and some two hundred
years later, the city of Prague became the seat of the Premyslid dynasty.
The Story of Horymír and Šemík
When the Czech lands were ruled by prince Kresomysl, a farmer named Horymír
lived in the village of Neumetely. He had a white horse of extraordinary intelligence
called Šemík. Due to Kresomysl's obsession to find treasures that
were said to be hidden underground, people were encouraged to abandon farming
and to become miners. Horymír was unhappy with Kresomysl's rule and warned
that neglecting farming would result in famine. His protests were not liked
by the miners who one day set Horymír's property on fire. Horymír
and his followers in turn burned down the miners' village. Horymír was
punished and sentenced for execution. When he was asked his last wish, he requested
one last ride around the castle grounds on his beloved horse Šemík.
His wish was granted. When Horymír got on his white horse, he whispered
something in his ear. Šemík ran to the ramparts, jumped over them
and slid down the cliff. When the on-lookers got to the ramparts, they were
astonished to see Horymír and Šemík on the other side of
the Vltava, galloping towards Neumetely.
The miraculous jump exhausted Šemík. The dying horse spoke to Horymír
in a human voice and asked for a tomb to be built for him. Horymír did
as the horse wished. The tomb has since disappeared but Šemík is
said to be sleeping in the Vyšehrad rock, ready to come out when his help
is needed again.
The ruins of Vysehrad and the Vltava river (Prague)
The Golem of Prague
In the 16th century, during the reign of Rudolf II, an old Jewish man named
Rabbi Judah Loew lived in Prague. During that time, the Jewish people of Prague
were being attacked and lived their lives in fear. Rabbi Loew decided to protect
the Jews against pogroms by creating the Golem, a giant who according to the
Cabala could be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava. Following the prescribed
rituals, the Rabbi built the Golem and made him come to life by reciting a special
incantation in Hebrew. The word "emet", meaning "truth",
was placed on the Golem's forehead.
The Golem would obey the Rabbi's every order and would help and protect the
people of the Jewish Ghetto. However, as he grew bigger, he also became more
violent and started killing people and spreading fear. Rabbi Loew was promised
that the violence against the Jews would stop if the Golem was destroyed. The
Rabbi agreed. By removing the first letter from the word "emet", thus
changing it to "met" (meaning "death"), life was taken out
of the Golem. According to legend, the Golem was brought back to life by Rabbi
Loew's son, and may still be protecting Prague today.
Prophecies of the Clock
One day a prisoner, looking at the famous astronomical clock, noticed that
a sparrow was caught in the mouth of Death. The unlucky man believed that sight
to be a bad omen and thought that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
But, as the next hour stroke, the clock started moving again, the jaw of Death
opened and, to the prisoner's great relief, the sparrow set itself free and
flew away. A few days later the convict was released from prison and was free
The Legend of Dalibor (Dalibor's Violin)
The name of the Tower of Dalibor (Daliborka) at the Prague Castle is connected
to one of Prague's best-known legends, which was also made into an opera by
Bedrich Smetana in 1868.
According to this legend, a man called Dalibor from Kozojedy, a small town
near Litomerice, was sentenced to death and imprisoned in this tower for giving
shelter to some rebellious peasants. While waiting for the fatal day, Dalibor
would play his violin and his music was so beautiful that all the people of
Prague were moved and enchanted and the local authorities didn't dare announce
the date of the execution. People knew that the generous Dalibor was dead when
his violin fell forever silent.
The Silver Fish
A legend says that a wealthy man called Myslík was forced to run away
from Prague after the battle of the White Mountain. He gathered all his precious
silver and melted it in a fish-shaped clay mould. Before leaving his beloved
Prague, Myslík hid the silver fish inside a wall of his house. Many years
later a new tenant was living in that house. One day, this man was ordered by
the city counselors to tear down the old building and build a new one. The poor
man fell into despair at the news as he didn't have the money to do that. He
was about to leave his house when Myslík's silver fish fell out of a
broken wall. The precious object allowed the man to restore his old house. This
legend is still well known in Prague and the moral of this story is that someone's
misfortune may always turn into someone else's good luck and so we should never
lose our hope.