A visit to Skalka in Prague's Smíchov

Photo: Lukyn.v, CC 3.0 license

In this week's Spotlight, Dominik Jun visits Skalka in Prague's Smíchov district, and discovers baroque-era ruins, and forests and meadows galore...

Photo: Lukyn.v,  CC 3.0 license
I’m in Prague 5 in the Smíchov district and I’m with Helena Kašová, who is the managing director of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre, an NGO which archives samizdat publications from the communist era. And she is also a resident of this area, so she very kindly agreed to take me to a place that is called Skalka, which translates as “mountain” or “rock”. And were just walking up a hill. So tell me Helena, why is this place so interesting?

“I have to say that I really enjoy coming here because, for example, right now we are passing through an old marlite wall, which chestnut tree roots are completely growing through. And the whole place looks like a primeval forest; here among the leaves we can see the torso of a once beautiful building peeking through. The top windows are gone, the bottom ones have been sealed with concrete, grass is growing out of the gutters, and the chimneys have also long since gone. And the whole place is being guarded, if you will, by high nettles.”

It’s a very interesting area, this. You get off at Kavalírka tram station, walk a while and there’s a sort of derelict building falling to pieces surrounded by trees.

Photo: Lukyn.v,  CC 3.0 license
“The first mentions of this farmstead come from roughly the 14th century. Vineyards once grew here, as they did on much of the slopes in Smíchov. One of these was called ‘Skálovská’ and this was either the name then taken by the owner Dorota Skálová or the other way round – that the vineyards were named after her, and then the farmstead subsequently also took that name. This was built in the form we see before us at the end of the 18th century. And the ruins here to the right and the wall around that were agricultural farmsteads.”

Helena is pointing to what are really little more than ruins. What exactly were these buildings?

“What I mean by agricultural farmsteads is an average farm where cattle were raised and as we walk on we’ll see that to this also belonged a number of fields. But right now we are still walking through an overgrown garden, and to our left we see the ruins of several more buildings. Now we are arriving at a beautiful and monumental gate, which naturally is in a ruinous state too and is covered in ivy and protected by two huge trees.”

So this is the gate to Skalka?

Photo: Aktron,  CC 3.0 license
“Yes. Here we can see the remnants of the arch – it was a semi-circle shape, obviously.”

So it’s basically just two brick pillars, which are in quite a ruined state. This park is more of a time capsule really.

“It think it was about two years ago when a sign appeared here informing of the intentions of a developer to build three large villas here. But the locals here became so angry that they kicked the sign to pieces before I could return home for a pen to make a note of the company registration number in order to find out who exactly was behind this developer. So till this day it remains a mystery. And no-one knows if this wilderness of sorts, full of wonderful ancient trees, old trees, bizarre trees, will remain or if it will be wiped away and replaced by asphalt paths…”

Why don’t you know this? Is this public land? Is it protected in any way?

“Anyone living in Prague who keeps up with local affairs just a little will know that such ideas from developers will never pass muster. Why do people love Prague 5? They love it because there are these and many more farmsteads dotted around the place – some have since completely vanished and only their names remain – and there are also countless similar parks and forests, which are a little rough around the edges.”

So there’s a lot of pressure here from developers, you’re saying?

Photo: Aktron,  CC 3.0 license
“I would say definitely because on the Strahov hill, the first luxury villas were already built a number of years ago. And I think that it is the most beautiful location in Prague because all around is greenery, at least for the moment, and there is also a great view. This park in Skalka is a paradise for walking your dog but also for parents and children as there are rock formations above Plzeňská Street, which are something of an indication of the Barrandov rocks. Various rock layers can be seen so schoolchildren are often taken here to learn about geology. The protected nature reserves begin a little further up while this is all still part of the Skalka farmstead plot.”

So the place is dotted with different natural reservations. It’s funny to think that we are in Prague as right now we are completely surrounded by trees, fields and meadows. Let’s just have a listen to some of the nature…we are continuing to walk up the paths and to our right are a series of forested hills, but we can also see some new flats?

"That is Strahov. The hill above that luxury quarter is Strahov.”

Walking up, up, up the hill along the grass... And just at the summit of the hill emerges an amazing view of Prague. We’re facing west looking out in the direction of Plzeň.

“That is actually the Smíchov valley. And over there we can see the Strahov television tower and beyond that hill is Břevnov.”

Photo: Aktron,  CC 3.0 license
So now we are going to Skalka.

“The meadow which we are now traversing, we can see the remains of a former children’s playground, all kinds of climbing constructions, and here in the middle we see underpinnings where once there was a wooden arbour or summer house and that’s where we always used to picnic with the children. Not just us but many other families too. And as you can see from the terrain, in winter when all this is covered in snow, many families continue to come here in order to sleigh. This is a very beloved place.”

This is a football-pitch-sized clearing with cut grass. It’s not really a meadow but more of a field – a park-like area. And it looks perfect for that sort of thing: skiing and sleighing in winter time.

We’ve just turned left and to our left now is a kind of crater where you can see that some people have created a campsite with a fireplace.

And now we’re walking up a rather steep hill, which again looks to be another peak. And I believe this will be our destination. This is the Skalka after which this whole area is named. So here we are at the peak. There are rock structures and quite a steep cliff. If we look down, we see trees and another wonderful view of Prague in front of us. We can see down towards Smíchov. Helena is stepping right out to the very edge. Oh wow, it really is a very steep cliff.

“Here is a cave.”

Photo: Aktron,  CC 3.0 license
There’s a cave there, says Helena, which we probably can’t get into because it is underneath. We would have to climb down.

So, Helena tells me that children love to play here and often play at Cowboys and Indians. And it is a perfect place to play – I can see that. Thank you very much for taking us here, Helena.

“It’s been a pleasure.”