Photo: greg
Author: Carla C. Degen

Keyword: architecture

Known as the Golden City at the heart of Europe, Prague has not only survived the Second World War with minimal destruction, it was soon afterwards shut away for decades by the Iron Curtain of Communism.

Two factors which have been extraordinarily advantageous for architectonic preservation. After the red curtain was lifted in the late eighties, Prague rapidly strived towards Western standards entailing the erection of new buildings to complement the old core.  As a result century old treasures and salient (post-) modern gems make modern-day Prague an architectural haven. Nowadays its cityscape can be described as dominated by Gothic and Baroque style sprinkled with Art Nouveau, Renaissance and modernist architecture.

However, the oldest surviving buildings in Prague are in fact of Roman origin; the Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle is perhaps the finest example. Though hidden behind a baroque façade the Church’s interior still exhibits the characteristic unadorned columns, thick walls and round, barrel-vaulted arches that hold Romanesque simplicity and purity against the heavily ornamented, elaborated exterior.

Indeed, the castle is a model example for a brief history of architecture, as its buildings represent almost every architectural style of the last millennium. On a note, it is the one in Mission Impossible but Tom Cruise aside, truly fascinating in its combination of Romanesque, baroque and gothic elements. It is also the biggest ancient castle in the world according to a Guinness Book entry.

On to younger structures, symbols of an awakening Czech national pride – the so-called neo-Renaissance buildings constructed in the second half of the 19th century can be seen as manifests against the Habsburger ‘s cultural dominance, often associated with the syrupy Baroque style, which had “invaded” the land with a Czech defeat in the Thirty Years’ War. Examples of the Czech National Revival architecture are the National Museum and even more so the National Theatre.

With the fin de siècle, Art Nouveau twined its botanical lines and floral ornaments around Prague. Many up market hotels still bear the traces and entire buildings as for instance the Municipal House are silent witnesses of this adorning period. The Lord Mayor’s Hall was decorated by famous Czech artist Alfons Mucha.

On to a very intriguing style, which in its architectonic translation is quite unique to Prague – Cubism evolving as a predominantly artistic phenomenon in the rest of Europe found its stony, tangible expression in the Czech Republic. In the short period of ten years (1910 – 1920) Cubist buildings such as for instance the House of the Black Madonna appeared in Prague.

With an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, Functionalism captures Czech architecture. A fine example for the style of the time is a building erected for shoe mogul Bata in 1929 on Wenclas Square or the Villa Müller with its typical, functionalist, cubic form built in 1930.

Communism left Prague with mostly concrete buildings such as the Congress Center, mass-produced commonplace apartment blocks in the suburbs, the striking rocket-like, space-age television tower of Zizkov, as well as the famous Hotel Praha.

What holds true for post-modern architecture all over the world, holds true for post-1989 architecture in Prague, some is negligible, some is plain ugly and other is simply appealing.

Like The Dancing House, a wonderful example for intriguing and extra-ordinary architectural design made in the1990s. Fred and Ginger, its nick name in honour of the two dancers, was built on a spot where a US bomb had teared open the ground during the war. A circumstance which in addition to the buildings non-conservative design, provoked some discussion among the citizens of Prague.

Prague Castle
Prague 1
Link: Prague Castle…

National Theatre
Národní třída, Prague 1
Phone:  224 901 111
Link: National Theatre…

Municipal House
Namesti Republiky 5
Prague 1
Phone: 222 002 101
Link: Municipal House…

House of the Black Madonna
Celetná 34
Prague 1
Phone: 224 211 746
Link: House of the Black Madonna…

Mullerova Vila

Nad Hradním vodojemem 14
Prague 6 - Střešovice
Phone: 224 312 012
Link: Müller Villa…

Prague Television Tower  
Mahlerovy sady 1, Praha 3
Phone: 242 418 778 and 242 418 766
Link: Prague Television Tower…

The Dancing House

Rasinovo Nabrezi 80
Prague 2