Monday, January 7, 2008

Defenestrating in Prague leads to war

—By Katy Devlin, e-newsletter editor

When I set out to write a glassblog during my New Year’s vacation to Prague, I assumed I would focus on the few iconic glass buildings that rise up in the famed City of 1,000 Spires—perhaps Frank Gehry’s Dancing House with its dramatic curved all glass façade on the banks of the Vltava River. However, after I learned of the city’s rich—and unbelievable—history of defenestration during my audio tour of Prague Castle, I chose to use that for my window-centric Prague blog (try to say that five times fast!).

I suppose I should begin with a definition of defenestration. (Apparently, it's neither a four-letter word, nor a tawdry form of deglazing.) My friend Merriam-Webster’s Online clarifies that defenestration is:

  1. a throwing of a person or thing out of a window
  2. a usually swift dismissal or expulsion

Prague’s history of defenestration concerns the former definition—specifically the throwing of many persons out of windows.

The First Defenestration of Prague, so deemed by Frommer’s and several other handy travel guides, occurred in 1419 when a crowd of Hussites—a radical segment of the early Protestants—tossed the town council members from the third-story windows of the New Town Hall on Charles Square for refusing to release Hussite prisoners. The incident served as a catalyst for the 15-year Hussite Wars that ended in the defeat of the radical Protestants.

Prague’s next, and more famous, defenestration—simply called the Defenestration of Prague—occurred at Prague Castle in 1618 when two Imperial governors were found guilty of violating the right to religious freedom and thus thrown—along with their innocent scribe—out a window 16 meters above the ground. All three miraculously survived the fall thanks to a large pile of manure in the dry moat below (at least according to my occasionally less-reliable Web friend Wikipedia). This defenestration led to the uprising of the Czech estates and eventually the Thirty Years’ War.

Let that be a lesson to you: Don’t pick fights around windows in Prague.

If you know of any other fantastic tales of defenestration, please comment below.


Dennis Ragan said...

Prague's a beautiful city, isn't it? There's one more defenestration you missed. Ironically, I knew about this one, but not about the first two.

Jan Masaryk, a non-communist Czech political figure, was probably thrown from a window in Prague by communist agents seeking to remove him from the polical scene after WW II.

Dennis Ragan
Gorell Windows & Doors

Katy Devlin said...

Thanks for the addition! A third high-profile Prague defenestration, it seems. After some quick Google searching I found this 2006 Radio Praha article about the Masaryk murder mystery:
- Katy

Werner said...

Here is a "self-defenestration" story from 1996 laden with irony; how could the "brightest" take a run at a window so high up????


1996, Toronto

A lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a Toronto skyscraper crashed through a pane of glass when he charged it with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death. A police spokesman said the 39-year-old man, called Garry, fell into the courtyard of the Dominion Bank Tower as he was explaining the strength of the building's windows to visiting law students. Garry had previously conducted the same demonstration of window strength without mishap, according to police reports. The managing partner of the law firm that employed the deceased told the Toronto Sun newspaper that Garry was "one of the best and brightest" members of the 200-man association."

Located this at:

Victor said...

Very interesting article. Prague is a very popular tourist destination receiving over 3 million visitors per year. It offers the contrasts of the past with bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and church domes, and that of a modern metropolis full of energy, music, and art. The architecture of Prague property includes Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque as well as classical buildings and Art Nouveau. Prague is also a city of bridges, 14 alone crossing the river Vltava. Prague is also a ‘Green City’ with numerous parks and forest areas.