An Architectural Tour of Prague

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The first thing I noticed when I emerged from the subway station at Můstek in Prague, was the incredible architecture.  The distinctive ‘cake-like’ buildings (as I began to describe them), the colours, and the marvellous detail.  Now, I must admit, I haven’t studied architecture or design in many years (c.1998), and I’m not going to give you an architecture lesson, but I did want to write about a few of my favourite buildings / areas in Prague.  So, for your visual delectation, here’s an architectural tour of Prague.

 

Art Nouveau

 

Hotel Grand Evropa - Art Nouveau - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

Our luck was to emerge from the Můstek subway station across the road from this Art Nouveau beauty, the Grand Hotel Evropa on Wenceslas Square.  It is currently closed, so I didn’t get to go inside to see the characteristic ‘total artwork’ ideals (the application of style to all areas of the building) of the Art Nouveau movement.  There are Art Nouveau gems all around Prague, and don’t miss the Alphonse Mucha Museum on 

 

Renaissance

 

Vodickova School - Neo Renaissance - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

On our way to our hotel, we spotted this delicious Neo-Renaissance elementary school building.  Built in 1866, it is covered in sgraffitoes and alegorical figures in plaster.  Sgraffito is when you scratch away plaster to reveal a contrasting layer of plaster or stucco.  The detail on this building was incredible.

 

House of the Minute - Renaissance - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

One of the more famous Renaissance buildings in Prague is the striking The House at the Minute which sits in between the Old Town Square and Little Square.  At the beginning of the 1900s, this house and the neighbouring house were due to be demolished to open up the gap between the Old and Little Squares, but when sgraffitoes were discovered in the neighbouring building, they were both kept and restored.  The striking features are relatively unusual for a house that wasn’t built for famous people.  It’s true, Franz Kafka was a resident as a child… but he wasn’t famous yet 😉

 

Baroque

 

St Nicholas Old Town - Baroque - An Architectural Tour of Prague

St Nicholas Lesser Town - Baroque - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

To make things super confusing, there are two Baroque St Nicholas’ churches in Prague – one in the Old Town off the main square, and one over in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana).  But, if you want to see a Baroque masterpiece by the famed architects, Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, head to Malá Strana (you should spend a lot of time here anyway) to the St Nicholas with the big green dome and bell tower (lower photo).

 

The Jewish Quarter

 

Jewish Quarter - Regeneration - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

Due to overcrowding and bad sanitation, the Jewish slums were demolished and regenerated between 1896 to 1912.  Only 6 synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall remained as evidence of the old Jewish town.  The new buildings do show the diversity of styles of architecture being produced at that time though – in the below picture you can see Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Renaissance influences; as well as some elements of Classicism in the columns on the white building at the end.

 

Jewish Quarter - Art Nouveau and Renaissance - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

Gothic

 

When I was looking back through my photos of Prague, this one particular building kept showing up in the skyline.  The Church of our Lady before Týn is a Gothic church on the Old Town Square.  Like something out of a fairytale, the two imposing (and probably a little intimidating on a foggy night) bell towers aren’t identical in size; and were finished about 20 years apart.  Odd to think of this well-balanced building ever being without one tower!

 

Church of our Lady before Tyn - Gothic - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

Neo-Baroque (Reconstructivist)

 

In amongst the Art Nouveau buildings of the New Town, and the Classicist grandeur of the Smetana waterfront, sitting on the edge of the Vltava river, is the modern masterpiece The Dancing House.  Designed by Vlado Milunić, with cooperation from Frank Gehry, this building was finished in 1996 and was designed to remind you of a dancing couple.  Frank Gehry nicknamed it ‘Fred & Ginger’ after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; but after seeing it come together decided that such a kitsch American nickname wasn’t befitting such a stunning building.  I dunno, I kinda like the name! It is a sultry and dynamic addition to Prague’s rich architecture.

 

The Dancing House - Modern - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

What I Missed

 

I would have loved to spend more time looking at the Art Nouveau buildings and communing with Alphonse Mucha.  Prague is lucky to have a hugely rich surviving collection of Art Nouveau style buildings, as it avoided the bombs of WWII (unlike poor Dresden).  I would also like to visit Vienna and learn more about the Secessionist movement too.  In opposition to the conservative err towards Historicism which had seen many Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings in the Old Town demolished and rebuilt in the Historicist style; Secessionist buildings focussed on geometric forms and decoration.  Overall, I was far more drawn to the Renaissance and Baroque ‘cake’ buildings than I thought I would be.  Although I didn’t get to see the ultimate cake-like building, the pink and curly Kinsky Palace!

 

I found Prague has suffered somewhat from its own popularity, with overwhelming tourist numbers during our December visit.  So I would definitely love to visit in a quieter month, so I can stare at buildings uninterrupted!

 

Renaissance and Baroque Frontages on Small Square - An Architectural Tour of Prague

 

All photos © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 III; and an iPhone6s.

 



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An Architectural Tour of Prague - HH Lifestyle Travel

14 Comments

  • Elisa says:

    These pics are amazing! I love the color and details on all these buildings! Great job with the photos.

  • Unta says:

    Prague is magic, I had a chance to explore it last year. I found a cubist building, with a caffe designed in a same style. I think that was my favourite building. 🙂 Your post brings back good memories.

  • I have only been to Prague a couple of times. The popular areas are intense and hard to get a feel for – even if you get up early. But there are some parts of the city which are really quite special and worth exploring and which are off the beaten track.

    I love this guide, with such a clear write up of what to look for in terms of architecture – definitely something for me to check out before I go next time.

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      Thanks Fiona. Yes, some parts were overwhelming due to the crowds. But we enjoyed over the bridge in Malá Strana and will definitely spend more time away from the Old Town on our next visit.

  • Prague is an art student’s dream come true! I wish I could remember my own studies better so I could impressively rattle off the various architectural styles, but you actually gave me a good refresher course. And truly, what a gorgeous city! Beautiful photos too.

  • Indrani says:

    The architecture of the buildings is a mix of several styles. Initially it took time for me to distinguish one from another.The modern architecture too is very interesting.

  • Nisha says:

    You have captured the essence of the architectural types of Prague. I was there this summer and was mesmerized by the number of historical buildings and most of it survived WW2. I would love to visit Prague sometime in winter too 🙂

  • Lucy says:

    the architecture is beautiful, the new and the old. I would love to go to Prague as it is so interesting. Thank you for the tip about it being busy in December, I will avoid that month!

  • Lydia Smith says:

    I’m yet to explore Prague solely for its architecture but I bet every moment spent in Prague for me is no regret. I intend to visit again, this time to do more of architecture. I’ve seen many of its buildings and I also want to have some shots myself. I love all shots you have here

  • I love how you have categorized the architecture. Exactly what I would do! Prague is on my bucket list for so long! Hopefully will tick it off in 2018. I love renaissance and baroque architecture. As an artist, I would love to sketch these beauties! Will try to visit it in a quieter month.

  • Elisa says:

    I am an architect too but it seems I was more interested in the city’s beer than its architectural wonders! But i could see the dancing house and that counts double, i guess, because it is not that central! next time i go to prague i would like to see something of Alphonse Mucha me too. he must have interesting works there. Thanks for the architectural walk!

  • Rosemary says:

    Wow, what incredible design and architecture. love the gothic and baroque styles. while i have not made it to prague yet, I’m looking forward to one day seeing this amazing architecture for myself. great job with the photos!

  • Meg Jerrard says:

    I also fell in love with the architecture in Prague – the colors, and the different styles, though the Renaissance buildings really captured my heart! The House at the Minute is so beautiful – I’m so glad that it was kept and restored – it would have otherwise been a tragedy!

    What I really love about prague is how it so effortlessly blends these different styles – it’s like a walking tour through the ages as architecture evolved!

  • Alessia says:

    Prague is really really nice, I’ve been there last year during Christmas time, and it was so impressed by the architecture.
    Nice post I really like it.

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