Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tomb of Antonín Dvořák

Between Vršovice and the river lies the broad Nusle valley, through which the Botič flows until it emerges into the Vltava from under the rock of Vyšehrad, or 'High Castle'. According to legend, this fortified hilltop was the seat of the Přemysls (the first ruling dynasty of Prague) until the time when the present citadel was constructed on the hill to the north, two miles downstream.

Such was the enduring power of the myth that, at the time of the Czech National Revival in the 1800s, the church of SS Peter and Paul was re-constructed here in grand neo-gothic style, and a colonnaded cemetery built to house the remains of the greatest Czechs. At its east end a mighty tomb called the Slavín (The Glorious Dead) was erected in honour of artists, musicians and others whose words 'continue to speak even though their lips are sealed'.

Many of the gravestones are decorated in the Secessionist or Art Nouveau style popularized by Alfons Mucha, who is one of those buried here. Opposite him rests Bedřich Smetana, whose tone poem 'Vltava' rings out from the church's carillon on the hour, and whose opera 'Libuše' tells the legend of the princess who once lived here.

But the most visited tomb is probably that of fellow-musician, and composer of the 'New World' symphony, Antonín Dvořák. He was born in 1841 in Nelahozeves, a small village half an hour north of Prague, and died in 1904 on 1 May, the Czech 'Day of Love'. He was laid to rest here four days later, following a procession through the city (see smaller picture) in this tomb designed by Ladislav Šaloun.

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