Petřín in May


Though the weather has been quite miserable lately, that doesn’t take away from the fact Prague is at its loveliest in May. And one of the loveliest spots in the city at this time of year is Petřín Hill on the left bank of the Vltava.

Indeed the great view of Petřín from the other side of the river, from the National Theatre for instance, is, I think, part of what makes the city so beautiful in general. In what other European capital is there such a large and visible expanse of lush greenery so close to the centre?

But it’s more than just a pretty place. Petřín also has an interesting history. Traitors were hanged there for hundreds of years, until the city’s gallows were moved following the building in the 1360s of the Hunger Wall, a project by which Charles IV created work for the poor.

Petřín also had a number of names over the centuries. It was apparently called Hora (Mountain) at one time, before later being more accurately designated Kopec (Hill). Another name was Vrch sv. Vavřince, St Lawrence’s Peak, following the consecration of a church of the same name. On its peak.

Today a cable car carries residents and visitors to that peak, where as well as the church they will find a smaller copy of Paris’s Eiffel Tower with a lookout platform that creaks scarily in the wind, the Štefánik Observatory and a carnival-style hall of distorted mirrors guaranteed to send children into fits of laughter.

Near the first of two stops on the funicular, half way up the hill, there are a couple of restaurants. One, the relatively affordable Petřínské terasy, has outdoor seating that offers one of the most spectacular views in Prague.

At a wedding reception there about a decade ago I witnessed the most amusing musical performance I’ve ever seen: a Romany guy playing a Casio keyboard and singing phonetic imitations of English-language power ballads he clearly couldn’t understand. Some parts of the choruses sounded close to the original actual lyrics, but the verses were sheer gibberish.

Petřín was perhaps a suitable choice of location for a wedding party, as for many Czechs it is associated with love. It is particularly popular with canoodling couples at this time of year, with many rendezvousing there on May 1 at a statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, author of the epic poem Máj.