Czech Republic: Where romance meets misery

By Kate Roff

Prague is nice to visit, but - as Kate Roff finds - you wouldn't want to die there

The romantic city of Prague. Photo / Thinkstock
The romantic city of Prague. Photo / Thinkstock

With sweeping gothic architecture, cobblestone paths and lantern-lit alleyways, Prague is a very romantic city. But it has a darker side. The flower-potted street corners have been scenes of violent executions, acts of revenge and political persecution. Tourists today can ponder the grisly fates of those who went before.

Being thrown off a bridge
Wenceslaus IV had a priest, John of Nepomuk, thrown from the famous Charles Bridge for refusing to reveal the Queen's confessions. A plaque on the bridge serves as a reminder of Saint Nepomuk's untimely end.

Family feuds
Wenceslaus I (of Christmas carol fame) met a gruesome death at the hands of his own sibling. In 935, he was invited to a feast by his younger brother, Boleslav the Cruel, where he was murdered on his way to church. An equestrian statue of the "Good King" now looms over Wenceslaus Square.

Being thrown out a window
This method of execution - "defenestration" - is practically a national sport in Czech history.

In the early 1400s, the town mayor and other officials were hoisted out a window (onto spears below for good measure), sparking the Hussite, or Bohemian, war. In the 1600s, two Catholic councillors received the same treatment and despite miraculously surviving, marked the beginning of Europe's Thirty Years' War.

Blinded for brilliance
The medieval astronomical clock in Prague's Old Town Square draws thousands of tourists. Legend has it the city authorities had the great clockmaker Hanu Jan Re's eyes burnet out to prevent him from replicating his masterpiece elsewhere.

Locked in a tower
The knight Dalibor was imprisoned in the Tower of Daliborka for giving shelter to rebellious peasants. While waiting for execution, Dalibor would play his violin, winning over the hearts of passers-by.

According to the legend, authorities didn't dare announce the execution date, and citizens only knew of his death when the violin fell silent.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies to London, from where a range of budget airlines connect to Prague.

Accommodation: Try the Domus Henrici.

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