“Architecture & Avantgarde” is one of the titles of my new series of walking Seminars. Why?
Something that most of the vistors of this incredible city might not be too familiar with is the enormous variety of architecture in this city. Why should one see here more than elsewhere? A few facts: The city is very old, first citations date back to around the year 960 A.D., when the Jewish merchant and diplomat Ibrahim ibn Yaqub from the then Arabic Spain wrote about a city whose houses were built from stone and chalk, i.e. privileged compared to most settlements consisting of wooden buildings.
In the 12. century Prague became a capital, much earlier than later rival Vienna. Despite many fires and wars the city has always had a continuous development. During the reigns of emperors Charles IV. and later Rudolf II. Prague experiences enormous construction activities. During and after the 30 Years’ War the victorious Catholic Habsburgs cover the city with a dense network of Baroque churches and monasteries as a strong sign of Catholic supremacy over the largely Protestant country. At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish quarter adjacent to Old Town, Josefov, was demolished for hygienic reasons but also speculation, but a citizens’ initiative stopped further demolition, which e.g. totally changed the city centres of Paris and Vienna in the late 19th century. After becoming the capital of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, there was, contrary to most other European countries, enough money to build and to develop new styles. Whereas Vienna in the 1920ies concentrated on large housing projects for workers, Prague prospered and rich people built their villas. During WW II the city was never bombed (except for a mislead US fighter plane at the end of the war) and thus offers a bandwidth in architecture from Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque to a bit of Empire, Klassicism, Historism, Art Nouveau, Cubism (A uniquely Czech phenomenon), Functionalism, post war Modernism and todays various trends, sometimes even side by side.
Traditional sightseeing concentrates on downtown Prague, consisting of the clichoid and picturesque fronts dating back mostly to the time span between the 15th and the 18th centuries, which underwent, however, many changes during the 19th century which might look genuine, but aren’t. I am far from depreciating this aspect of Prague, as this original kernel is full of history – visible history, not just hidden in books. My point is, however, that there is much more, which is usually neglected by both the tourist industry as well as the tourists themselves (not necessarily their fault – not everybody speaks Czech…)
During my ramblings across the city I tried to find the things I read about during my studies of the city’s history and culture and very often was surprised that the results, so to say, were better than anything I expected. And I found lots of interesting things that were actually neglected or hardly mentioned, even in expert literature. (To be continued)
I’d like to show people what an architectural paradise this city is. Interested? Click here…