A story of the Prague district called the Sun hill
Letná – today a hipster and posh district on the hill situated above the left bank of the Vltava river just opposite the Old Town of Prague – got its name most probably from its open position exposed to the sun rays – a sun or summer hill. And indeed, for many centuries it remained a free undeveloped area covered just by vineyards and gardens – and used many times as a strategic place for the siege of the city – even the Soviet helicopters where landing here during the Soviet occupation of the state in August 1968.
The oldest history and further
The whole grounds were originally a donation of the first Czech king Vratislav II. to the Vyšehrad convent chapter, used by the monks as one of their living sources. On its northern side it was bordered by the largest royal hounting ground – Stromovka. The hill was hardly accessible from the river and its integration into the city started as late as in the 19th century – after the first constructed road connected it to the Little Town of Prague in 1831. It quickly became a favourite place for Sunday trips of Prague inhabitants and was therefore at the end of the century – 1891 – linked with the city even via a funicular – the first one in Prague! Its upper station was built next to the first Prague electrified railway that transported the passengers as far as to Stromovka – converted into a large park with restaurants and different enterainment activities – caroussels, see-saws, rental boats – just like Prater in Vienna. The funicular was in function until 1916 – the WWI disrupted the common life in the country – and later in the 1920ies, there was a moving escalator built in the original line of the funicular, bringing the visitors up the hill! Functioning – how else – till the pre-war years. In the meantime, also many notches – ways into the slope were cut so that the access to the hill was enabled for all those, who could not have afforded using a funicular.
A posh residential area
At the end of the 19th century, the rich Prague citizens started building houses at the northern part of the area – and they saved neither time nor money to make their homes – the owners lived usually in the best appartments on the second floor of their houses, renting the other flats – the most striking buldings of the newly born quarter. They invited best artists and architects and many of their constructions decorate the city till nowadays. Art nouveau, constructivism, decorativism – all the different styles of the turn of the centuries were successfully used and applicated here.
The cradle of the football in the Czech countries
In the early 20th century, the Letná hill became the first – and for years the most favourite Prague´s football place – the first football matches in Prague were organised here, initially by students of Prague secondary grammar schools – the very first matches were allegedly organised by so called Lesehalle – which was a reader´s club of German students in Prague. All the then significant football teams constructed later their stadiums here: the two Czech teams – Sparta and Slavia, as well as the German team Deutscher Fußball Club Prague – the most successfull of those teams until the WWII (before it has been dismissed, as many of its members were of Jewish origin).
The very first British footballers venue in Europe
What is more: even the very first match of the British footballers on the European continent– the Oxford team – took place here! On March, 28th, 1899, the British team defeated the team of Slavia 3:0 – which was their worst result on the continent, as all the other teams they played with got many goals – e.g. they scored 15:0 against the team in Vienna. It was a huge social event, and many notable persons of the time were present and contributed financially to the success of the event – the owner and builder of our hotel Rott houses, Mr. V.J.Rott, provided free of charge wires for the fencing of the temporary stadium. 4 thousand spectators came to see the match!
The WWII has scarred the history of the Letná football immensely – during the last war days, on May, 6th, 1945, the stadium of Slavia burned to ashes after an intensive German shooting. The club moved later to another place, and so the history of football fields is today commemorated only by the last stadium that stayed on the spot: that one of Sparta Praha.
The Sokol and mass physical exercising
Not only footballers profited from the large open space above Prague – also the Czech Sokol – the national – and sometimes nationalistic – organisation of physical education – organised their large physical events – the Falcons flogged together here. Their largest and last meeting was organised here in 1920 – there were tribunes built for 110 thousands of vicitors and 16 000 people took part in the mass exercises!
The war and the communist putsch in 1948 brought an essential change into the life of the Letná hill and its inhabitants. It became a showing area of the triumphs of the communism régime. Each year, a large army parade took place here, as well as the mass and strictly organised and supervised festivities of the Labour Day – with hundreds of thousands of participants, tanks and canons, decorated trucks and children waving with little handflags with Lenin´s face. The Southern cliff of the hill served as a place of honour – a statue of Ivan Vissarionovič Stalin was erected here, being destructed a few years later as the demonstration of the end of the „Personality cult“. People in Prague used to call it Queueing for meat, as there were two lines of workers behind Stalin´s back – as if they were really waiting for something…
The presence of the district
Today´s life of Letná is much freer and calmer. The quarter – thanks to its architectural and natural beauty – became a favourite residential area where many open minded young people live and work – you will find here many colourful cafés and restaurants, small galleries and local art stores, yoga studios and theatres. And the adjoining plane is a popular free time area for many – as a park, sports grounds, children playgrounds etc. If you happen to have more time in Prague and a wish to see more then just its historical image, Letná is the best place to go to.
The author of the article and the manager of the hotel in one has many years experience with writing texts, she has been working as a free-lance journalist contributing to different Czech daily newspapers and other periodics of all kinds. She has spent a part of her career working as a city guide, and her articles are therefore providing a highly informed insight of a person, who was not only born in Prague, but who has crisscrossed the city streets countless times, has read hundreds pages of literature about Prague, and who constantly strives to contribute to the good reputation of the city from her todays workplace. Hopefully with a success…