Another vivid reminder of the turbulent history of this part of Europe and this city
Petrin Hill is another hill in Prague adjoining the Little Quarter (Mala Strana). A funicular takes you up to the top and many locals consider this a great place for a date, especially on May Day. On the top is a replica of the Eiffel Tower, called the Petrin Tower, a fifth the size of the real Eiffel Tower. Close to the base of the funicular is a Hunger Wall, a medieval defense wall, built by Charles IV as a work-for-food project. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see that.
But, way more interesting is a very unusual and moving—some might say disturbing—piece of outdoor art, right at the base of the hill on Ujezd Street at the start of the steps up.
Called The Memorial to Victims of Communism (Pomnik Obetem Komunismu), it’s a series of seven bronze male statues going up the steps. The sculpted figures of this memorial represent and commemorate victims of the totalitarian regime. The figures gradually disintegrate as they range up the hillside steps. They do not die, but slowly break open and almost disappear, one limb at a time; a powerful metaphor for how political prisoners were affected by Communism.
The statistics inscribed on a bronze strip that runs along the steps say it all:
From 1948-1989 in Czechoslovakia, 205,486 people were imprisoned; 248 executed; 4,500 died in prison; 327 shot while trying to cross the border; 170,938 forced into exile.
A bronze plaque nearby reads: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism”
We found this especially interesting as when we lived in South Africa we became friends with a young Czech man who’d escaped from Czechoslovakia with his family in the mid-1970s and came to South Africa as refugees. He had told us some horror stories about his life in that country at that time. Visiting Prague, the Museum of Communism, and this Memorial helped make his story so much more real and immediate, and helped us visualize a little of what it must have been like then.
The memorial was done by well-known Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek, with help from architects Jan Kerel and Zdenek Holzel and was unveiled in May 2002. It was financed by the city council and the Confederation of Political Prisoners.