Overlooking the Defenestration of Prague

March 1, 2015

If you’re like me – American, with a minimum of a high school education – then your knowledge of Prague in history class may have been limited to three facts:

1. The Velvet Revolution. As communism was slowly dying out across eastern and central Europe, Czechoslovakia ended Soviet control in their country with a 10-day show of resistance, namely thousands lining up in Wenceslas Square.
2. The breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, resulting in many maps and globes needing to be redone 😛

The last, and for me, the most amusing tidbit was the multiple Defenestrations of Prague. One of my favorite words in the English language next to petrichor, defenestration means to throw someone out of the window. Though I’m sure it had been used prior to 1419, when the first Defenestration of Prague was recorded, the history surrounding Prague made the word and the events all too easy to write in school textbooks.

The first Defenestration of Prague happened in 1419 and is probably the lesser known of the two (or three, if you include Jan Masaryk). An angry mob threw councilmen and a judge out of the second floor window of the New Town Hall; this was merely an exacerbation to the start of the Hussite Wars. Today, the New Town Hall is a short walk from Můstek Station.

Prague New Town Hall

The second Defenestration of Prague helped start the Thirty Years’ War. Essentially, it was a clash between Catholics and Protestants. Two Catholic regents were thrown out of the second window in the chancellory of the Old Royal Palace. Today, you can pay ~300 crowns to view the chancellory between 10 AM and 4 PM as part of Prague Castle.

Prague Chancellory

There have been other later unofficial instances in which someone was defenestrated in Prague, but the two mentioned remain the most commonly cited. As such, I was curious as to how big a role these played in Czech history according to its citizens. My Couchsurfing host based in the old Soviet-era apartments had obviously heard of the defenestration (defenestrace in Czech), but wasn’t aware exactly where it occurred.

Fortunately, a simple Google search clued me in on the right windows at the New Town Hall and Prague Castle. Not finding any information, plaques, or information cards at the New Town Hall was hardly surprising: it was a minor tourist site and the second defenestration is the most well known anyway. However, I was a little perturbed to find even the pamphlets and website of Prague Castle lacked information on the subject.

I’ll grant you, I’m a little weird when deciding what I want to see in a foreign city, but I would have thought one of the most famous events in Prague history (at least, as viewed through the eyes of an American high school history student), would be noted at the place it occurred. Not so much. Like my search for kolach, my expectations exceeded reality, but I still learned from the experience.

So, if you happen to be in Prague and looking to throw someone out the window, go right ahead. In five hundred years, only crazy Americans with frequent flier miles will try to track down that particular window.

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