Built on 7 hills and intersected by the winding Vltava River, Prague offers surprisingly rich architecture. From Romanticism and Gothic to Cubism and Functionalism, the capital of the Czech Republic is one of several cities where many different forms of architectural expression coexist. Each era of the city’s history is reflected in its buildings
The center of the Old Town is near Prague Castle. Romantic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo facades are combined to create a magnificent result. The structure dates back to the 9th century, with many modifications over the years. The largest was made in the 20th century by the Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik, a student of Otto Wagner.
The Roman emperor Charles IV founded the New City in the early years of the 14th century on the basis of a project by the German architect Peter Parler. This emperor proved to be very influential in Prague architecture, he built the University of Prague and Charles Bridge. A new city was planned around Wenceslas Square, and when completed it doubled the size of the city.
From Gothic to Baroque
The Gothic influence that came from France in the early years of the 13th century brought taller, more spacious and gentler buildings. The most conspicuous in Prague is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, built inside the castle walls. Work on the cathedral began in 1344, first in the Gothic revision style. However, due to the 1000 years it was supposed to be completed, it provides its own history of the city’s architectural styles and influences.
Take, for example, the bell tower, originally designed as Gothic by Parler in 1392. It was completed 100 years later in the Renaissance style, with a brick in mortar and a dome covered with copper. When lightning damaged the dome in 1760, it was replaced by a three-part baroque structure.
Examples of Renaissance architecture can be found in the part of Mala Strana (a small quarter of the Old Town), located on a hill between the castle and the Vltava River. Small streets, renaissance palaces and baroque churches give Mala Strana its present-day charm.
Charles Bridge, designed by Parler, built in 1357, is the most famous tourist attraction in Prague. But the baroque statues for which he is famous were added only in the 17th century.
The old town was the heart of Prague even during the 10th century. Many buildings have Gothic interiors and romantic foundations. Many of them got baroque facades during the renovation in the 17th and 18th centuries after the fire that engulfed the city.
A wonderful example is the baroque Sitkovsky mill covered with an arched dome that has remained to this day although other works have been replaced by functionalist galleries by the Czech architect Otakar Novotny.
Revivalism and Art Nouveau
The National Theater was originally designed by Josef Zitek in the late years of the 19th century. After that, a few more spaces were added; the most lavish originated from Karel Prager in 1980. It consists of a rectangular auditorium dressed in glass, soundproof blocks.
In 1905, architect Jan Koula opened a new era with the design of the Svatopluk Cech bridge over the Vltava. Light steel construction is important when bridging two banks of unequal heights. It has delicate lace details.
The Grand Hotel Europa in Wenceslas Square has one of the best preserved ar nuvo facades in Prague. It was designed by Bedrich Bendelmayer, Alois Dryak and Bedrich Ohmann. The hotel has an abundance of extravagant details, including mosaics, metal ornaments and more.
Czech modernism and functionalism
Jan Kotera sowed the seeds of Czech modernism with his house Urbanek Publishing, designed using flat bricks that created a geometric facade.
In a quiet suburb of Prague is Villa Muller, designed by Austrian architect Adolf Los together with Karel Lhota in 1928. This almost minimalist project is simple, in contrast to the bourgeois interiors from Prague’s past. Considered one of Los’s best works, she illustrates her belief that space is something to experience. “The building should be silent on the outside and reveal its wealth only on the inside.”
Giving away a combination of modernist and cubist influence, Joze Plecnik designed the Church of the Sacrificed Heart in 1922. It is a single-nave building with a massive tower in which there is a glass clock that creates a surprising and extraordinary effect.
Simplicity and design are the key to functionalism, of which there are numerous examples in Prague. the L-shaped school on the outskirts of the city, by the Czech architect Evzen Linhart, is a classic example of the efficient use of space depending on the purpose of the building.
Milan Babuska designed the ARA textile warehouse in the Old Town in the New Town. This smooth, white, steel structure was one of the first to exclude the tower with curved corners from the upper floors.
Around the corner of Wenceslas Square is the avant-garde Bat’a store, which was built to sell shoes in the 1930s. The massive expansion of glass plates allowed the company to advertise its products.
Communism and Cubism
The beautiful Hotel Praha, in a residential suburb of the city, was built for leading members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party to promote Czech industry. The building adapts to the contours of the terrain. She still carries cold warnings from the past, like electric fencing, which is now off.
A prominent part of the contour of Prague is the TV tower Zizkov, which is considered a masterpiece of the communist style. This tower, supported by three pillars, was modeled on a Soviet space rocket. It is not popular because it was planned under communist rule. They desecrated the nearby Jewish cemetery to make their way.
Prague seems to be the only city in which Picasso’s cubist ideas have been applied in architecture. This radical form of expressionism can be seen scattered around, mostly in apartment blocks. The only cubist street lamp is also located here. It was designed by architect Vladislav Hoffman in 1913.
Modern to this day
In 1990, the mayor of Prague, Jan Hasl, an architect by education, formed a committee for architecture, planning and protection to propose a solution to the conflicting ideas of the future movements of modern Prague. An extensive master plan proposed a new commercial core in the Kalin and Smichkov areas, which are slightly off-center.
Based on that plan, Jean Nouvel designed the Andel Center, a shopping center and office complex with a glass facade that is in the shape of an angel.
The Dutch company ING Real Estate, which hired Nouvel to design the Andel Center, commissioned Frank Gehry to build the corner of Jiraskuv Bridge in 1990. Gehry’s Rasin building, which caused a torrent of outrage in Prague, has two cylindrical elements, one with two levels of shiny glass and one massive bearing a wavy façade. This building is nicknamed Fred and Ginger because its shape resembles two dancers.
Frank Gehry and his Czech co-architect Vladimir Milunic, this building covered the space that remained empty after the bombing in World War II. Although in contrast to its historical environment, it is a cheerful presentation of modern bohemians.
Equally controversial is the Myslbek Center, a commercial building next to Wenceslas Square. It was designed by the French architect Claude Parent on the site where the city walls once stood, which are symbolically shown in the project. However, he blocked the view of Tyn Church in the Old Town.
The unique character of Prague is reflected in its rich architectural heritage. New buildings, regardless of style, will be unfairly lenient among the large selection of those that already exist here.