150 years since formation of “Vltavan” Association in Prague

Prague’s Vltava river has been used to transport wood on rafts for centuries. On June 11, 1871, local raft traders formed their own association.

Timber rafting on Vltava | Photo: Antonín Cuc,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Earliest sources show that already in 1088, during the rule of Duke Vratislav II., a toll was extracted from raftsmen crossing through Prague. The tax was called a “výton” and was extracted under the Vyšehrad hill, in an area known until this day as Podskalí, which means “under the Vyšehrad rock”. It was the timber trade along the river that gave this Prague neighbourhood a specific character.

It was not easy to be a raft trader. Aside from hard physical labour, the job required raftsmen to know the exact times at which it was safe to navigate the Vltava river. During winter, when the river froze over, they would earn a living by chopping the ice and selling it to the city’s local breweries and inns.

Podskalí Customs House at Výtoň | Photo: VitVit,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED
Vltavan members | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

A year after Austria was defeated in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the empire undertook significant changes and the dualist Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Monarchy was formed. A new federal law was introduced which enabled the gradual formation of workers associations and co-operatives. This included the “Vltavan” association, whose preparatory committee included members of the Czech nobility, such as Adolf and Karl Schwarzenberg, or Jiří Kristián Lobkowitz. These Bohemian aristocrats traditionally did business in the river’s raft timber trade.

A costume design, inspired by the uniform of sailors of the French merchant navy,  was presented at the association’s first inaugural meeting. It is still worn by “Vltavan” members at various festivities to this day.

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