Timber rafting tradition
Get on the steamboat and let yourself be carried away with the old times atmosphere. „Ahoooooooooj,“ was the traditional rafters greeting resonating over Vltava and majestic rafts of south bohemian wood continued in their journey. For centuries there had been rafts of tied wood rafting from Vyšší Brod to Hamburg through Prague, and till these days we can see trails of this fascinating tradition in Prague. The first reliable reference of the timber rafting on Vltava dates back to 1316, the last raft ended its journey on unfinished Orlík Dam on the 12.9.1960. Prague swimmers inhabited ancient fishing settlement Podskalí, today called Výtoň, and that is why they were given name Podskaláci. The settlement existed since the close of 12th century and its inhabitants gained step by step monopoly rights for the trading in wood, which was rafted to Podskalí on Vltava. Výtoň used to be an ancient institution-collecting toll from the wood rafted on Vltava for the Prague market. Besides trading in wood, Podskaláci earned their living as swimmers on rafts and boats, in summer they were mining sand from the bottom of the river and in winter they earned some extra money as ice miners.
Unique object of Podskalsko customs Na Výtoni, that remained the only preserved building from the rafting settlement Podskalí, serves now as a museum and the Vltavan Guild, founded as a support for rafts men and others, keeps rafting traditions alive till today. Visit Museum of Prague and exhibition The History of vanished Podskalí – Rafts and Boats on the Vltava. You can see an authentic model of the rafts (raft or set of rafts), tools used by rafters, and an unique pair of original oars from a raft, that was found by chance in the attic of the customs during its recent reconstruction. The centre of the room occupies model of Podskalí, the ancient swimming settlement, as it looked in 1870.
Tradition of the cargo transport
Vltava used to be an important arterial road in the past. Habsburg monarchs, who supported a floatability of the river, were present at the birth of a long distance ship transport. The first ship, loaded with Austria salt, arrived to Prague from České Budějovice in 1550. Cargo ship transport on the middle Vltava cease to exist by the end of 4th decade of 20th century, as a result of dam constructions. Between Prague and Mělník — unlike the middle Vltava — the cargo ship transport survives till these days. The cargo transport was underway on wooden cargo ships, so-called šífy, that were drawn by horses up the river. Since the end of 19th century, steamboats were also used to draw the ships. Later motor tugboats and cargo ships followed.
Traditional way of livelihood, which used to be necessary for securing natural ice, with whose help not just the beer was cooled, but also groceries were stored. In Prague, ice miners mined the ice right from the frozen Vltava and stored it in the underground. During summer ice miners used to work also as rafts men. Later, innkeepers and restaurateurs in Prague founded Akciové ledárny (ice factories) company, which within 1909-1911 established an areal of Branické ledárny. There was the ice stored for the entire year and the next year distributed to single inns in the whole Prague and its neighbourhood. The former operation of ice factories was terminated in 1954 as a result of building of Vltavská vodní kaskáda (dam network), which practically became a reason, why Vltava nowadays doesn't get frozen at all.
Close your eyes and let yourself be carried away back to times, when there were lines of rafts sailing on Vltava and in the winter ice was mined for cooling the beer, and experience the unique magic of Prague.