PRAGUE   Impressions of…..


Charles Bridge Prague

The story of Prague is complicated. The city's architecture is equally complex. Power, Politics and Prayer have shaped the city's evolution and style. Prestige and validation pursued through ever grander and more distinctive buildings has bestowed an enviable catalogue of interesting architecture from Medieval, Gothic, and Neo-classical, through Art Nouveau and Art Deco, to Cubism, Functionalism and Modernism.

Occasionally all seem visible within a single vista. A melange in which architectural language is unusually accessible and easily read. Grand buildings evoke pomp and decadence of Imperial times with elaborate gold leaf detail and fine decoration. Flamboyance and abundant colour celebrates international 'fin de siecle' influences of sophistication, escapism, and aestheticism, while rich variants of modernism and functionalism declare intellectual harmony with Germany's Bauhaus, before the inevitable later 'dilution' by communism and totalitarianism.

Municipal house

Prague stimulates all the senses. Individual buildings too challenge visual sensibility and perceptions. From the outside the Trade Fair Palace (Veletrzni Palace) is unrecognisable as a 'Palace' yet it provides truly palatial exhibition space. Opened in 1928 this was the first building in the new style – Functionalism - in Prague. The huge rectangular block with integral 15-metre high hall, bright atrium and 8 gallery floors was originally designed by Architects Oldřich Tyl and Josef Fuchs to display trade products and Czech heavy engineering using a reinforced concrete frame and uncluttered elevations.

During Nazi occupation the Palace was used as a gathering place for Jews before deportation to concentration camps. Following its chequered history and a devastating fire in 1974 the palace was finally listed in the State Register of Immovable Cultural Monuments and was reconstructed to a design by architect Miroslav Masák, before re-opening as the spectacular National Gallery of Modern Art in December 1995.             

Elegant spires and chisel topped towers define Prague's skyline. The Old Town is still accessed through Gothic towers on both sides of Charles Bridge and beside Municipal House, while The Old Town Hall Tower, built in 1338, remains the tourist's centre piece. In 1364 this Tower was joined to private houses to became the 'Old Town Hall' which in 1470 was extensively enlarged and remodelled.

Wencleslas Square

Today only one bay survives of this grand seven bay Gothic facade onto the Old Town Square as the eastern and northern wings were completely destroyed in a tank bombardment in May 1945. Unhappily terminal indecision continues to prevent rebuilding or replacement in modern or any style - leaving an unfortunate void across the Square facing the much loved Disney-esque landmark of the Church of Our Lady of Tyn.  

Tyn Church's spiky twin bell towers were built at different times and defy possible symmetrical intentions for the elevation. The 15th century north tower is larger than the 16th century partner earning them the names "Adam and Eve" with local legend convinced that Adam protects Eve from all the elements.

The most significant recent addition to Prague's distinguished architectural landscape - "dancing house" by architects, Frank O Ghery and V. Milunic -  was reputedly inspired by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Perhaps the Old Town Square should simply seek a fairy tale couple to inspire rebuilding at the Old Town Hall.

© stuart campbell 2021