Venice of Prague10.02.2012
Maybe you are saying to yourself: What a lot of rubbish that is, Prague is not on the water. Most of it is not, but a small part of the ancient centre is. Although you won’t find any gondolas here or singing gondoliers, viewing Prague from the surface of the Vltava can be interesting. You will get to see places which are inaccessible on land. You will discover the genius loci of ancient Prague and investigate the mystery of the watery underground here.
Boat trips along the Vltava and the adjacent Čertovka canal are operated by První všeobecná člunovací společnost, thus preserving a tradition dating back to the end of the nineteenth century, when these trips were first organised by enthusiasts of the time. You will take a trip in period boats and receive expert commentary on the monuments and points of interest, which can only be seen from the surface of the river. You will also learn a lot about the history of the Czech Republic and Prague from the guides.
The company has a flotilla comprising two types of boat. The first type, the Venice of Prague river boat, is smaller, measures 6 metres in length and 2 metres in width, carrying up to 11 people. It is built after the fashion of the boats of the Vltava navigators, and because the design is a simple one, it was known as a “Naháč” (Naked Boat). Thanks to the low draught, it can also navigate shallows without any difficulties. The second type of boat is known as “Vodouch”. This is ten metres long, three metres wide and carries up to 35 passengers. It has a flat bottom the same as the “Naháč”. The equipment and appearance of the boats is a faithful replica of the period craft and corresponds to those in service at the end of the 19th century. Refreshments are served on board as part of the cruise and are included in the price of the ticket. And because the cruise takes place whatever the weather and any time of the year, covered boats are also available.
The crowning glory of the flotilla is the Nepomuk fast pleasure cruiser. This really is a jewel among boats. It was built by the Belgian shipbuilding yards in 1933 and has had an unsettled history. It first served as a pleasure cruiser in various parts of Europe. It was built with a length of 31.4 m and over the course of time, extended to 38.5 metres. The drive mechanism was also different at the very start. The boat used to be a twin-propeller craft for navigating a very strong current. When the boat was modified, it was equipped with one older engine dating back to 1929, which propels it to this very day. Not even the boat’s name was a simple affair – it has had three in total. But the fundamental thing is that it has proudly borne the name of our saint, John of Nepomuk, for three decades now.
In 2001, the Nepomuk anchored in Düsseldorf and was used as a restaurant. Luckily it did not escape the attention of the current owners there, who bought it and transported it back to the Czech Republic. The boat is now again used for its original purpose. You can set out in it as far as Mělník and admire the beauty of the countryside along the Labe on the way. This fast pleasure cruiser is fitted comfortably and its interiors are original.
Where to embark
There are four docks on the route - Judita, Čertovka, Four Seasons and Mánes. You can get on at any of them which suit you at the time. But don’t worry, you will not miss out on anything important because you will always see everything there is to be seen on the route.
The Judita dock is the largest and is located by the last preserved arch of the Judith Bridge, right under Křižovnické náměstí in the Old Town. Čertovka is a dock which you will find under an arch of Charles Bridge in the Lesser Quarter, where Čertovka canal flows into the Vltava. While you are waiting for the boat to arrive, you can feast your eyes on the mill wheel of the Velkopřevorský Mill on Kampa. If you get on at the Four Seasons dock, a panorama will open up for you of the whole Charles Bridge from the surface of the Vltava. You will find this on the extended section of Platnéřská. And the last, not however in terms of importance, is the Mánes dock. This is located on the Lesser Quarter side of Mánes Bridge, there is a sandy beach by it and from there, you can see the Rudolfinum and Dvořákovo nábřeží.
Which monuments will you see on the way?
Let us start our description at the Judita dock. Most passengers usually board the boat here.
The tower of the Judith Bridge was part of the oldest stone bridge in the Kingdom of Bohemia. It was the second Czech King, Vladislav, who was responsible for its construction in 1259. The bridge was named after the second of Vladislav’s wives, Judith of Thuringia, who supervised construction work in person. It was 514 metres long and almost seven metres wide. Unfortunately it was destroyed several times by flooding over the course of the next century and was washed away for good in 1342. This was replaced in time by the Charles Bridge. The remnants of pillars under the waterline and the bridge towers on both banks of the river have been preserved until this very day.
The Charles Bridge, construction of which began in 1357 and which in time replaced the destroyed Judith Bridge, has a stronger construction and is higher. King Charles IV did not unfortunately live to see completion of the construction work. This was taken over after the death of Charles IV by his son, Wenceslas IV, who only managed to complete construction of the framework construction of the bridge floor. Work was then interrupted by the Hussite Wars and the flooding in 1432. A lack of money was to blame for the fact that the bridge was not completed until 1502.
The statues on the Charles Bridge are a unique gallery in the open air. Thirty statues, most of which were created in the 18th century, look down on tourists. The last statue was installed on the bridge in 1938. The very first statue for the Charles Bridge was however created as far back as 1683 and depicted Saint John of Nepomuk. At the beginning of the 18th century, he was joined by the Patron Saint of the Czech Lands, Saint Wenceslas, and over the course of the century another 26 monuments to saints gradually appeared on the bridge. The most eminent of Central European sculptors of the time such as Matyáš Bernard Braun and Ferdinand Maxmilian Brokoff participated in this decoration.
Čertovka is a canal 740 metres long, which the Knights of Malta allegedly had excavated as far back as the 12th century. Through the ages, the canal has served to drive the mill wheels on Kampa. There were supposed to have been as many as nine of these in a row. Nowadays we can only make out three of them. The last working Velkopřevorský Mill did not cease its activity until 1936. Čertovka gained its name in the 19th century and there are various stories about its origin. Maybe a belligerent old woman was to blame, somebody having drawn six devils on the wall of her house and adding the words “at the SEVEN devils”. Or the name could be attributed to the different speeds of flow in the river and in the race (the water in the race flowed “devilishly” fast). And the third version, not a very poetic one, tells of domestic waste having been poured into the race, sometimes smelling “like the devil”.
Although the Straka Academy was not created until the end of the 19th century, the idea to establish it was born back in 1710. At that time, the imperial privy counsellor, Jan Petr Straka from Nedabylice, wrote his last will and testament, in which he bequeathed all his worldly goods towards establishment of student halls of residence for the sons of poor Czech noblemen. His idea had to wait to become reality for almost two hundred years. The design was elaborated by the architect Václav Roštlapil and the building was equipped in a modern manner for that time. It had central heating, a fencing room, its own hospital and even a swimming pool and spa. The students did not however warm themselves here for long. A hospital was housed in the academy during World War One. After the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia, state administration authorities moved into the building and the civil servants have not budged from there since. The Office of the Government of the Czech Republic is housed here nowadays.
Charles Bridge Museum
The ticket includes entry into the Charles Bridge Museum. Here, you can learn about construction of the bridge, repair to it and its history in general. And not only about the Charles Bridge. The knowledge of the guides here reaches deep into the past in general. They will tell you about ancient Prague, the Kingdom of Bohemia or the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. Simply put, they will tell you all you wish to know about our ancestors.