As political restrictions eased in the early 1860s, activities fostering the growth of a Czech national consciousness began to multiply. One of the forms this took was the effort to beautify and enhance the importance of the heights of Vyšehrad in Prague. The idea of establishing a national cemetery there took shape within Svatobor, a newly founded association of Czech writers whose members included a number of patriotic priests. The association began collecting money to erect tombs for the first authors writing in Czech. Aspecial committee headed by the leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger was given the task of deciding whether "a national Pantheon should be erected in some place of historical importance near Prague from the funds collected". The contenders for the site included such sites as Levý Hradec and Budeč - ancient Slavonic fortified settlements - and the romantic Liběchov, but in the end Vyšehrad emerged as location of choice. The site recalled ancient Czech glories: a Slavonic fortified settlement linked with mythical tales dating from the very beginnings of the nation's history, it was also the seat of the first Czech king, Vratislav II (1061-1092). The very limited financial resources at the disposal of the association meant that only a very few individual tombs could be erected. Pride of place went to a monument to the leading Slav scholar - and creator of falsified ancient manuscripts (this was only discovered years later) - Václav Hanka, who was interred at Vyšehrad in accordance with his own wishes in 1861. The monumental memorial, designed by the architect Vojtěch Ignác Ullmann in the shape of a slim pylon, was formally unveiled on St Wenceslas'Day, 28 September. Hanka's monument, like those of the others erected by Svatobor, is crowned with three hands joined in a circle, a visual expression of the association's motto "Help, Inspire, Remember". The erection of Hanka's monument marked the beginning of a process that saw the gradual transformation of the parish graveyard of the Capitular Church of Sts Peter and Paul into a national cemetery.
That same year also saw the interment here of the patriotic priest and Romantic archaeologist Václav Krolmus, followed in 1862 by the nation's first great woman writer, Božena Němcová. In 1868 the painter Karel Purkyně was buried here, and the following year his father, the doctor and world-famous physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkyně. That same year, 1869, also saw the interment of the teacher and writer P. J. Škoda, followed in 1870 by the sculptor Václav Levý, the teacher of Josef Václav Myslbek. The poet Vítězslav Hálek was buried at Vyšehrad in 1874. By this time the tradition of burying the great sons and daughters of the nation in the Vyšehrad cemetery was firmly established, and discussion began on expanding it. The leading proponent of this was a member of the Vyšehrad Chapter (and subsequently its second Czech Provost), Václav Štulc (1814- 1878), who saw it as part of the great architectural changes that were then underway in Prague. The very ambitious extension of the Vyšehrad cemetery, which brought it to the state we know today, was achieved in large part thanks to the commitment and concerted efforts of Štulc's successor, the fervently patriotic Vyšehrad Provost Mikuláš Karlach (1831-1911). The expansion was carried out in three stages, in 1891, 1894 and 1899. The final work on the western side was done from 1906 to 1908. Back in 1875 Antonín Barvitius had made public another proposal that has contributed to the unique architecture of the Vyšehrad cemetery. This began to be implemented along the cemetery wall on the southern side with the construction of tombs designed in a unified style. The eastern side was treated in a similar fashion. But most of the arcades lining the cemetery were designed and erected by a second representative of the Czech neo-Renaissance style, the architect and conservationist Antonín Wiehl (1846-1910). His designs were used for a whole group of tombs in the eastern part of the cemetery. The arcades on the northern and western sides were gradually completed. Barvitius's original concept of 1875 was largely derived from the architectural style of the typical Italian burial ground ("Campo Santo"), which he became familiar with during a long stay in that country. Before carrying out his proposal he studied tombs in Trent, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Munich.
This period also marked the completion of the tomb of the timber merchant and Mayor of Smíchov (a suburb of Prague) Petr Fischer, a friend of the Vyšehrad Provost Mikuláš Karlach. At the urging of the latter and on the basis of a document he had elaborated, Fischer proposed the construction of a monumental tomb "for men who had rendered the nation outstanding services, outshining those of others"; this was to be entitled "Slavín" and his wish was to entrust it to Svatobor. In 1887 Mikuláš Karlach turned to Antonín Wiehl with a request for a design; Petr Fischer promised to devote the sum of 30,000 florins to the project. The site chosen for the tomb was located at the highest part of the cemetery, on its eastern side. On 4 June 1889 Fischer presented Svatobor with a deed reflecting Karlach's original proposal. It explains in great detail the reasons for erecting a common tomb to hold the mortal remains of the country's great men, who "though dead, still continue to speak", and names Svatobor as its custodian. The cornerstone was laid on 7 September 1889, but work on the monument was only completed in 1893. The structure reflects Wiehl's great compositional skill and his ability to create a memorable work despite the relatively small area that it occupies. For the sculptural elements he chose Josef Mauder, who was known for his idealized compositions in the Czech Neo-Renaissance style. Mauder was responsible for the two statues flanking the monument, The Motherland Rejoicing and The Motherland Grieving, as well as for the winged figure of the Genius of the Motherland adorning a sarcophagus with a wreath that adorns the top of Slavín. The work was finished in 1893. Eight years later, in 1901, the first "immortal" was laid to rest in this tomb of honour, the poet Julius Zeyer. Up to the present, fifty-four leading figures in the country's cultural and scientific life have been interred here. A special section of the cemetery is reserved for composers; among the many buried there are Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák and Zdeněk Fibich. The winnner of the Nobel Prize for Physical Chemistry, Jaroslav Heyrovský, is also interred here. Important writers include Karel Čapek, Jan Neruda and Božena. Němcová. The National Cemetery at Vyšehrad is not only the final resting place for almost six hundred of the greatest figures in the cultural and scientific life of the country, but also a unique gallery of funerary monuments by some of its greatest sculptors, among them František Bílek, Bohumil Kafka, Otakar paniel, Karel Lidický, Josef Wagner, Břetislav Benda and many others. The cemetery at Vyšehrad is undoubtedly the most fascinating in Prague, not only as a reflection of the nation's past and present, but also as a uniquely harmonious artistic whole.Bořivoj Nechvátal Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences Photos: Vladimír Hyhlík Z časopisu The Heart of Europe
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