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Charles IV and His Love of Wine

on February 3, 2020

Charles IV

When you find yourself in the middle of Prague and look at a building you admire, there’s a good chance it was built by Charles IV, Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor.

Birth

He was born in 1316, probably in the Stone Bell House, located in the Old Town Square in Prague. His parents stayed there for a period of time prior to his birth. Prague castle was damaged by a fire at that time.

Father

His father, Jan Lucemburský, was a warrior and Charles joined him during several military campaigns. At Battle of Crécy, already blind Jan Lucemburský, decided to end his life in a king-like manner. He threw himself into the thick of the battle, dying instantly.

Knight

Despite this tragic event, Charles IV remained an active participant at knights’ tournaments after that. His hobby, however, turned out to be the cause of much pain for him. Close examination of Charles’s skeleton revealed that he suffered a bad injury at one such tournament. He was hit in the jaw by a spear, fell off the horse and hurt his spinal cord.

Holy Relics

When Charles IV recovered after a long treatment, he believed it was an act of god. That’s why he became passionate about collecting holy relics. He even got hold of St. Valentine’s shoulder blade. You can find it in The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul at Vyšehrad. No wonder they display it once a year, exactly on lovers’ day, February 14.

Grown Up

As the time went by, Charles IV became more moderate in his behavior and deployed his diplomatic skills to maintain power. He realized that the key for international success were good relationships with other countries. Therefore he often paid visits to European leaders and amazed them by his flawless command of multiple languages.

Fiesta

At one such visit, French king wanted to impress him and arranged a rich banquet in Charles’s honor. Some of the meals served that day in France, on 6th of January 1378, were for example:

1. Course: Leek Soup, Pea Pureé, Mutton and Beef Meat, Salted Geese, Ragout of Oyster, Capons, Ragout of Upland Game Birds.

2. Course: Roasted Breams, Salmon, Sea Fish and Pastry.

3. Course: Roasted Rabbits, Sweet Pies with Chaudeau, Almond Milk, Stuffed Shoulder of Mutton. Parma Cakes, Spiced Candies, Sweetened Pears, Apples and Nuts.

Symbols in Food

Apart from being delicious, this menu had also a symbolic value. Medieval people perceived the world from two major perspectives: practical and spiritual. They expressed the latter through symbols and applied them to food as well. What occurred “closer to god” was healthier and more valuable. Similarly, everything near the ground and “close to hell”, perceived as inferior. That’s why there were hardly any root vegetables on tables of medieval kings. On the other hand, meals from flying birds were more than desirable.

Wine

Luckily enough, the menu contained Charles’s favorite drink – wine. Probably thanks to the fact that he spent his young years in France and Italy. Charles IV loved wine so much that he ordered building of vineyards all around Prague in his decree from 1353. Vineyards spread as far as 15 km away from Prague’s walls. That way the city soon drowned in grape vine. Tradition of Prague vineyards remained alive for several centuries. It provided fantastic leisure opportunity for Prague residents as they could then enjoy long walks through the ‘grapy’ countryside. However, the vast area of vineyards had an undesirable side-effect. It became a perfect hideaway for criminals and other outcasts. Prague aldermen often prohibited young women from strolling in vineyards by themselves to avoid danger.

Prague Vineyards

Glory days of Prague vineyards are long gone, but there are still some to be found. Vineyard in Havlíčkovy Sady near Vila Grébovka is open to the public. It has beautiful summer house with great views of Prague. Moreover, it’s a place where locals like to have a glass of wine. However most tourists are not aware of it. Apart from you, you know it now.

So cheers and long live the king!

by Christian Szabo | Mar 26, 2018 |