Thursday, 22 July 2010

Přemysl and Libuše

This leafy park is home to four monumental statues by Josef Myslbek depicting characters from the story of the Czech tribe. One shows an allegorical couple, 'Lumír and Piseň' - singer and muse. The other three are historical pairings: Ctirad and Šárka, the temptress who lured him to his death in the 7th-century War of the Maidens;  Záboj and Slavoj, two warriors who fought off a Frankish incursion in the 9th century; and these two: Libuše and Přemysl, mythical founders of Prague.

According to legend, Libuše was one of the three daughters of old king Krok, who ruled over these lands from his fortress here at Vyšehrad. When she became queen, Libuše had no husband, but as luck would have it she had a dream in which her horse led her to her future consort. The next day the animal was sent off to the distant hills, where it came across a ploughman called 'Přemysl' (his name means thoughtful, or studious). The mystified peasant was swept back to Vyšehrad and became the father of the great Přemyslid dynasty. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, not quite. Inspired, no doubt, by her prophetic success, Libuše went into a further trance. This time her horse took her in a quite different direction, towards the area where Prague Castle now stands. 'Go until you reach a man making a lintel for his house', the vision had said, 'and on that spot you will found a city whose fame will reach the stars.' She did, and she named it 'Prah', the old Czech word for a lintel. The gesture with her arm in this statue refers to that seminal moment in the country's history.

These gargantuan sculptures (quite how gargantuan you can see from the smaller photo) once stood on the nearby Palacký Bridge, until 1945 when a US bomber whose crew had apparently mistaken Prague for Dresden managed to destroy two of them. 'Přemysl and Libuše' is one pair which has been reconstructed; all four were removed to Vyšehrad after the war.

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