The Czech Republic, also known as Czechia, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. Historically known as Bohemia, it is bordered by Austria to the south, Germany to the west, Poland to the northeast, and Slovakia to the southeast. The Czech Republic has a hilly landscape that covers an area of 78,871 square kilometers (30,452 sq mi) with a mostly temperate continental and oceanic climate. The capital and largest city is Prague; other major cities and urban areas include Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň and Liberec. The traditional English name “Bohemia” derives from Latin: Boiohaemum, which means “home of the Boii” (Gallic tribe). The current English name comes from the Polish ethnonym associated with the area, which ultimately comes from the Czech word Čech.
The history of the Czech lands – an area roughly corresponding to the present-day Czech Republic – starts approximately 800,000 years BCE. A simple chopper from that age was discovered at the archeological site of Red Hill in Brno. Many different primitive cultures left their traces throughout the Stone Age, which lasted approximately until 2000 BCE. The most widely known culture present in the Czech lands during the pre-historical era is the Únětice Culture, leaving traces for about five centuries from the end of the Stone Age to the start of the Bronze Age. Celts – who came during the 5th century BCE – are the first people known by name. One of the Celtic tribes were the Boii (plural), who gave the Czech lands their first name Boiohaemum – Latin for the Land of Boii.
Few realise that the English word sorcerer in fact originated from the word ‘source’, the term used to denote someone who understood the great universal force (i.e. spirit matter) and could manipulate it. The origins of the Slovak word chary, Polish czary, are still shrouded in mystery, but one theory bases it on the Slavic word for line – the lay lines of the earth that demark her electromagnetic currents. Witches, sorcerers and healers, otherwise known as the priests and priestesses of the old world, were those who had a profound understanding of nature and the natural laws that govern the world. They were familiar with the elements, as well as the earth’s electromagnetic field and knew how to channel, harness and direct these subtle energies to achieve their desired outcome, some for good, some not.
One of the best known Prague legends is the one about Faust, who made a pact with the devil. In exchange for all the knowledge and pleasure of the world for a period of 24 years, Faust sold his soul to the devil. When the time was up, the devil took Faust straight through the roof. To this very day, legend has it that the hole in the roof in Faust’s house in the New Town was visible for years after. Nowadays you can see alchemical symbols on the walls and frescoes depicting for example the mythical phoenix and the solar system. When you are walking through the romantic park on Petřín, you probably won’t believe that a sacrificial altar once stood here, on which pagan priests burned beautiful young virgins in sacrifice to the pagan gods. During the reign of Prince Boleslav, the altar was destroyed and the Church of St. Lawrence, which still stands today, built there. Legend tells us to this very day that the pagan gods appear here in the form of mysterious fires. But you needn’t worry, these fires allegedly have magical power and are even able to cure rheumatism.
The ancestors of the Czechs arrived 1500 years ago. They came from the Black Sea and Carpathian, bringing Slavic language and pagan religion with them. Because they were illiterate, their beliefs and culture are shrouded in mystery. “Let us not not dwell on the history of a people whose recollections are lost in the forgetfulness of centuries,” said the chronicler Gallus Anonymous. “And whom mistaken idolatry has condemned.” But the first chapter in Czech history shaped what came after. The footprints of the early Slavs are visible in every part of Czech culture. If we look carefully we can still see them.
LIBUSE AND THE FOUNDATION OF PRAGUE
Libuše was a legendary woman who ruled the Czech people back in the day. She had quite a unique ruling style, basing a lot of decisions on prophecies. For example, when she was pressured into marriage, she didn’t select any old prince. And she could hardly consult the personals. Instead, she insisted on marrying a man in her vision. He was a ploughman, named Přemysl, who would be found in the fields near the village Stadice. Now, that is picky. Her decision to found Prague was based on the same mystical approach. Libuše had a vision a city “whose fame would reach to the stars.” She said the place would be near the river Vltava about 30 hons (4.5 kms) from where they were. Having trusted her method of selecting a husband, the people went to where she said and found a man making a threshold for a house. Threshold in Czech is práh, hence Praha. The site is what we now know as Vyšehrad.
WHY CZECHS ARE CALLED CZECHS AND NOT ANYTHING ELSE?
History is, without any doubt, an important aspect of any nation and it’s self-awareness. And historical myths have even better impact because they are often better known than the facts. So let’s retell the two most popular Czech legends narrating how it all began. Once upon a time… There were three brothers named Czech, Lech and Rus. One day, they decided to find for their tribes and themselves a new place to live, and so they all set out for a long journey across the Europe. After some days had passed, the brother Rus suddenly said. „This is the new home for me and my tribe!“ and so they stayed and founded Russia. The two brothers and their tribes walked for many days, when they climbed up a hill that is now called Rip (Říp). There they had a wonderful view of the land that the forefather Czech called the „land of milk and honey“, and decided to settle here with his tribe. To honor this great man, the people of his tribe started to call themselves Czechs. And they still do now. And brother Lech? He continued his journey with his people and settled in present-day Poland. The Rip Hill is about 50 km north of Prague and you can see it from the Petrin tower at Petrin Hill. Here, you get to see not only Rip Hill but also the entire city and it’s surroundings.
LEGEND OF DALIBOR’S VIOLIN
Located in the magnificent Prague Castle complex is the Daliborka Tower (part of the castle’s late Gothic fortifications), one of Prague’s most famous sites concerning myths and ghosts. Daliborka Tower was originally used as a prison until the end of the 18th century. Initially the prison was designed to hold only noble prisoners but towards the end it became a prison for commoners as well. The tower is named after its first prisoner, a man called Dalibor from the village of Kozojedy. Dalibor, a young and brave knight was sentenced to death and kept in the dungeon of the tower for the crime of sheltering naughty serfs in his home making him in a sense, a sort of Robin Hood. According to legend, Dalibor learned how to play the violin while imprisoned in the dark tower. The dulcet sounds of the violin would drift through the air and awake touching sympathy in the citizens of Prague who would in turn gather by the tower to listen to Dalibor play and give him food and drink. Dalibor was so popular that his execution date was never announced. The citizens merely knew that Dalibor was no longer once the sweet notes of the violin ceased. Visit Prague Castle in the evening to capture a truly creepy feeling!
In the Old Town district of Prague you will find a monument to the Iron Man. The Iron Man is a true ghost of Prague and one of the only ghosts in the world to have a monument built for him! The name of the Iron Man in question is Jáchym Berka, a man in ghost form that has been waiting for his freedom from his ghostly servitude for over four hundred years! The story goes a little something like this: Jáchym Berka was engaged to be married to his sweetheart when he left to defend his country. Upon his return he heard evil rumors regarding his betrothed’s fidelity and without an explanation he married a different girl from his neighborhood. Jáchym Berka’s former finace was so heartbroken, rejected and unwanted that she drowned herself in the Vltava River and her father was so ashamed that he flung himself from a high tower. After hearing this horrible news, Jáchym Berka realized what he had done and promptly strangled his drunk wife and hung himself in his cellar on Good Friday. His death was not a peaceful one and he has continuously wandered Platnéřská Street simply waiting for his freedom. Freedom however does not come at an easy cost and Jáchym Berka gets only one chance every one hundred years. In order to be freed, he must find a pure virgin girl and have a friendly chat with her for one hour, a task that seems so very simple, yet not many good girls wish to chat with a ghostly murderer, nor are there many virgins still around! Sadly enough the Iron Man lost his chance once again in 2009, now he must wait another hundred years.
A legend says that a wealthy man called Myslík was forced to run away from Prague after the battle of the White Mountain. He gathered all his precious silver and melted it in a fish-shaped clay mold. Before leaving his beloved Prague, Myslík hid the silver fish inside a wall of his house. Many years later a new tenant was living in that house. One day, this man was ordered by the city counselors to tear down the old building and build a new one. The poor man fell into despair at the news as he didn’t have the money to do that. He was about to leave his house when Myslík’s silver fish fell out of a broken wall. The precious object allowed the man to restore his old house. This legend is still well known in Prague and the moral of this story is that someone’s misfortune may always turn into someone else’s good luck and so we should never lose our hope.
The Lomie is a beast found within the forests of Bohemia. It has a sac-like bladder under its neck. If pursued by hunters, it pauses at a nearby body of water to drink and fill up its neck-bladder. Then it runs, heating the water to boiling. When cornered by hunters and their dogs, it vomits the boiling water onto them, scalding them and making good its escape. Heylyn merely refers to the water as boiling-hot. The Book of Marvels adds that the boiling water is incredibly toxic, causing incurable wounds and making skin and flesh slough off. The name is derived from the Polish Lossie, the plural form of moose, while Los is singular. It is probably a typographical error on Heylyn’s part. Topsell lists Los and Lossie as synonyms for the elk or moose, and also ascribes the regurgitation of scalding water to the moose.