LISTEN TO THE PODCAST ON SPOTIFY:
Visiting Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is like traveling back in time. You encounter history at every step you take and around every corner you turn. The whole city thrives in folk stories, historical legends and myths. The houses, the churches, the palaces, the squares, even a road or a pavement, are all related to a fascinating past. In two articles (Part A and Part B) we will try to approach famous attractions and streets of Prague, through the stories and myths that are related to them. According to the book “77 Prague Legends” by Alena Jezkova (a well-known Czech writer and historian), there are 77 legends related to locations around the city. We will focus only on 17 locations from those we came across during our visit to Prague and try to present the real magic of this unique city. This is the second article with the rest 8 stories.
1. The Remains of Prince Wenceslas (location: Lesser Town Square) : The centre of the Lesser Town in Prague is the Lesser Town Square, which has been created at the location of an old prison. According to the story of Prince Wenceslas, three years after his murder in Stara Boseslav, the king gave an order to transfer his body to Prague Castle. The ox-drawn wagon that was carrying him, when it passed in front of the prison, suddenly stopped and didn’t move despite the efforts of the driver. Someone then suggested that it was possible, Prince Wenceslas who had always been rightful and just, had stopped the wagon because someone was incarcerated in prison unjustly. The prison guards led all the prisoners in front of the oxen and the shackles from the arms of a prisoner dropped down. Everyone was amazed by the miracle and a judge who reviewed the man’s case found him innocent. After that incident, a chapel of St Wenceslas was built there, which was later demolished to make way for the Church of St Nicholas.
2. The Monk with his Head under his arm (location: Uvoz Street) : In a monastery in Lesser Town, once lived a monk who passionately played dice every night. After dark he sneaked out of the monastery and ran to the taverns of the area to play dice until morning. One rainy night a man found him in a tavern and begged him to give rites to his dying sick brother at a house in Uvoz Street. The monk said he would go, but preoccupied with playing, he remembered the dying man a few hours later. He then mounted a horse and rode up the hill. Suddenly, as he was riding along Uvoz Street, he saw in front of him a light and the soul of the sick man, who had died without rites. The horse frightened and threw the monk on the road, who hit his head and died. Ever since, the monk wanders along Uvoz on rainy nights, with his head under his arm. Nowadays Uvoz is among Prague’s most intriguing and oldest streets. If you follow its steep route, you will come across many wonderful historic buildings and houses.
3. The Bell at St Vitus’s Cathedral (location: St Vitus’s Cathedral) : The Tower of St Vitus’s Cathedral, the most sacred place in Prague, is 99 meters high and contains the largest bell in Bohemia, which weighs 18 tons. Thirty two horses were required to drag the bell to the Castle but all the attempts to hang it on a rope and pull it up to the tower were unsuccessful, because even the thickest ropes could not hold the weight. The king was frustrated, when his daughter told him that she could accomplish the task in just a few days. The king was happy to entrust his daughter but at the same time curious as to how she would manage it. The princess gathered all her women friends to her chambers, they cut off each other’s long hair and wove it into a strong rope. Meanwhile, the princess designed an original mechanism that would lift the bell. On the appointed day, all the citizens of Prague had been gathered to watch the lift of the bell and when the mechanism with the strong rope finally accomplished the task, people burst into cheers. The princess then gave an order to destroy the mechanism, so nobody could use it again. The bell since then has been hanging from the tower of the Cathedral.
4. The Chateau in Golden Lane (location: Golden Lane) : Golden Lane is probably the most famous street in Prague. The small houses in Golden Lane were built initially for the archers of the Castle. In the 18th century they were sold cheap and apart from the poor, they became home to all kinds of eccentrics and fortune tellers, who gave to the alley an air of mystery. It is called Gold, because King Rudolf, who was obsessed to master the art of making gold, lodged here various alchemists and scientists. According to a tale an old man had moved into the smallest house and rarely went out. One day the old man burst out of the house and started yelling that he had found the way to produce gold, but the very next moment he fell dead on the street. The authorities who entered the house after his death found out that he was a nobleman, obsessed with the making of gold, who had left his family and his chateau in South Bohemia to come here and undisturbed carry on his experiments. However, they could not find any evidence about his discovery. Since then the smallest house in Golden Lane has been called “The Chateau”.
5. Gold in a Dirty Rag (location: Maisel Synagogue) : If you are walking along Maiselova Street in Josefov, you will come across the impressive Maisel Synagogue. According to the myth, the Synagogue was built by the money its founder Mordechai Maisel gained in a magic way. One night the Jewish Mayor was walking in the woods, when he saw a group of dwarfs gathered around a treasure. One of the dwarfs came to him and told that the treasure did not belong to him. However, the Mayor convinced the dwarfs to exchange three golden coins from the treasure with three of his own. The next day the Mayor put in a dirty rag one of the coins and placed it in front of his house. After a while, he saw a young boy picking up the rag and disappearing. The next two days he did the same with the other two coins and the same boy picked them up both. The Mayor tracked down the boy and asked him how he knew about the coins. The boy replied that he saw them in his dream. The Mayor was sure that the boy, Mordechai Maisel, was the owner of the treasure. He took the boy under his protection, raised him and finally Maisel married his daughter. Years passed and Maisel became a rich merchant who always helped the poor. One day a peasant came to him and gave him a silver crate as security for a debt. Maisel denied keeping it but the peasant insisted. Time passed but the peasant, who was one of the dwarfs, never came to claim the crate. Maisel finally opened it and found inside a treasure of golden coins, which he used in order to build the Synagogue, a town hall, baths and a refuge for orphans. Maisel Synagogue was reconstructed in the 19th century after a fire that destroyed a large part of Josefov and now hosts the Jewish Museum.
6. The Golem (location: Old New Synagogue) : The Old New Synagogue in Josefov is Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270 in gothic style, it was one of Prague’s first gothic buildings. The Synagogue is related to the most famous myth about the Golem. In the late 16th century the Rabbi of Prague created the Golem out of clay from the banks of Moldava River and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew prayers to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. The Rabbi could deactivate the Golem by removing the shem (Godʼs Name, written on a piece of paper) from his mouth. The Golem unfortunately fell in love with a girl, was rejected and eventually went on a murderous rampage. The Rabbi managed to pull the shem out of his mouth and the Golem collapsed into pieces. His body from that day has been kept in the attic, where it would be restored to life again if needed. When the attic was renovated in 1883, no evidence of the Golem was found. However, nowadays the attic is not open to the general public and the only thing you can see is the external ladder that leads to the attic and was used by the Golem.
7. Lokytek (location: New Town Hall) : The New Town Hall is the most important building of the New Town and played a significant role in many historical events. Apart from its historical importance, it also related to the famous tale of Lokytek. Fixed in the masonry of the tower is an iron “loket” (elbow) which was used as an official measure of length and could be used by anyone who wanted to check the length of a fabric he had bought from the drapers. Because the measure was set high, the officials hired a tall man to do the job. People called him Loket and after his death, they called his son, who inherited the job, Lokytek (which means small loket). Lokytek was dishonest and was bribed by the drapers to tell the people that the measurements were right although they were always stealing. One of the drapers, who was honest and refused to participate in the scam, decided to uncover Lokytek. He took a piece of cloth and went disguised to Lokytek to measure it. Lokytek asked him what was the name of the merchant he bought the cloth from and when he heard the name of the honest one, he said that the length was wrong. At that moment, the merchant revealed his identity and measured the cloth himself so anyone could see that it was right. The crowd realised what had happened and began to chase Lokytek, who disappeared. Since that day, every year on the date of the honest merchant’s death, the ghost of Lokytek comes to the New Town Hall to ask for forgiveness.
8. Nekazanka (location: Na Prikope) : If you are shopping in Na Prikope, one of the most famous commercial streets in New Town, you will see the narrow Nakazanka street. It is said to acquire its name at the time the New Town was created under the personal supervision of King Charles IV. During the construction of the town, the King had to leave Prague for a few days and when he returned, he realised that the builders had created a road that was not on the official plans. The King laughed and gave the order the road to stay and to be called “Nekazalka”, which means “not ordered”. As time went the people started to call it “Nekazanka” instead of “Nekazalka” and this name has remained until today.
These are the rest of the 17 legends of Prague we wanted to present. We hope to find these stories interesting and take them with you if you are planning a visit to Prague. Sometimes the stories behind the places we visit could make us see things in a different way. Leave logic aside and indulge in the magic of Prague.