Petrin Hill (Petrínské Sady)

Petrin Hill (Petrínské Sady) (42)

To the west of Malá Strana, at 318 metres height, stands Petrin Hill. The origin of its name is the subject of debate with two possibilities: one says it comes from the Latin “Mons Petronius”, which means rocky hill, and another more sinister one relates it to the Slav god Perun, in whose honour some sacrifices were made here.

What was once a leafy wood was transformed in the 12th century into vineyards and later, in the 17th century, into gardens and orchards. Today it possesses several charming spots which are well worth strolling around, such as the Petrin Park, from where you will have marvellous views over Malá Strana, Hradcany and the Old Town. In its carefully-kept gardens is the monument in honour of the victims of communism, made by Olbram Zoubek in 2002.

Another much-visited spot is the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, the most important Czech romantic poet. His poem, “May”, an authentic ode to love, is recited by heart by young lovers who visit this spot to leave flowers and candles on the first of May.

Without doubt one of the most picturesque spots you will be able to visit during your stay in Prague is also here. The church of Saint Michael of Petrin, today placed on this hill, is a wooden 18th-century temple moved from the Ukraine in 1920. It is an orthodox church from High Tatras, in the Carpathians.

The Petrin Viewpoint is a curious homage to another grand European city, Paris, since it is an imitation of the Eiffel Tower built for the National Exhibition. This replica, of course, is much more modest in height: it is 60 metres high, a quarter of the original. Climbing its 299 steps will not disappoint you, above all if you do so on a clear day, because from here you can see the Snezka, the highest peak in Bohemia.

Another attraction of the National Exhibition of 1891 that still stands today is the Mirror Maze. It is inside a wooden pavilion that imitates the Spicka Doorway in Vysehrad. If you venture into its bends of warped mirrors, you will be able to see the diorama called “The defence of Prague against the Swedish”, which recreates these events that took place on Charles Bridge in 1648.

The Kinský mansion provides a distinguished touch to Petrin Hill. It was here where the archduke heirs Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg lived. Around it grow the Kinský Gardens. The mansion was built between 1827 and 1831 by Jindrich Koch, restored in 2005 and today it is the home of the Ethnographic Museum. 

A long way from the luxury of the Kinský mansion, you can visit what remains of what is known as the Wall of Hunger. Charles IV ordered it to be built between 1360 and 1362 to give work to those who were suffering a terrible famine that was destroying Bohemia. Today more than one kilometre is conserved that goes as far as the monastery of Strahov, and you can enter Petrin Park through the doorway of this wall.

Embedded in the Wall of Hunger is the church of Saint Lawrence, the origins of which date back to the 12th century, although in 1740 it was renovated in Baroque style with its grand cupola guarded by two towers. On the ceiling, a fresco dating from the 18th century recalls the legend of the founding of the church of Saint Lawrence.

As an aside, the scientific concerns of the Czech Astronomic Society led, in 1930, to the construction of the Observatory that still stands on this hill. It was restored in 1970 and, along with its exhibition of old astronomical instruments, has a large telescope which can also be used by amateur astronomers.

If you are thinking about how to climb to the top of Petrin Hill, the funicular is a good option. It will take you directly to the park or, of you prefer, you can get off at the panoramic restaurant of the midway station.

The funicular was built for transporting visitors at the National Exhibition of 1891 as far as the viewpoint. Its hydraulic propulsion mechanism worked until 1914, the year in which it began to be electrically powered. But due to the coal extraction excavations made on Petrin, part of the hill collapsed in 1965, so that the funicular service had to be suspended until twenty years later. Not to worry, though: the authorities state that it is completely safe so that you can go up in it without any misgiving.

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