Prague’s National Theatre

Prague’s National Theatre at Norodni, 1 in the New Town is a landmark. Not only is it a great beauty of Neo-Renaissance architecture, but it represents an important milestone in the evolution of a truly Czech culture.

Prague's National Theatre
Prague’s National Theatre

In the late 1900s, after almost two hundred years under the heel of the Habsburghs, a Czech Nationalist movement was born. With it came a renaissance in Czech culture and the establishment of some great institutions to celebrate it. The National Theatre  also embodies the spirit of Czech national pride and unity as the funds for the construction of the building were donated by the Czech people – rich and poor alike.

Although the foundation stone was laid in 1868, it was not until 1881, that the neo-Renaissance building was opened. Soon after its first performance, a concert in honour of the Crown Prince, Rudolf, a fire ravaged the building. Undeterred by the tragedy, the people of Prague set about raising more funds to reconstruct the theatre. In a mere 47 days one million florins had been collected. Under architect Josef Schulz, the magnificent theatre was re-built, this time incorporating electric lighting and a steel constructed stage. Its first performance, on the 18th of November, 1883 was Smetana’s opera Libuse, the story of Princess who founded the first Czech Dynasty – a fitting celebration of Czech nationalism and unity.

In 1977 the theatre was closed once again for reconstruction. A new glass wing, in the somewhat stark Communist Era style, was added to house administrative offices and the box office.

On 18th November 1983, the theatre’s 100th anniversary, it opened again with a performance of Smetana’s Libuše.

Two Prague Town Halls

Prague’s  Old Town Hall

Prague’s Old Town Hall was built in 1338, under King John of Luxembourg, to house Prague’s first city council. Later in the 14th century the 69.5 metre tower, with its extraordinary astronomical clock, were added. Along with the rest of Prague, the Old Town Hall was renovated in the Neo-Gothic Style when King Vladimir Jagellon took the throne in the 15th century.

Prague' Old Town Hall
Prague’ Old Town Hall

The building was partially destroyed by the bombings in the last days of World War II. Curiously, the reconstructed section looks older than the original.

The Old Town Hall is now open to tourists and visitors can make their own souvenir coins in the tower chamber or climb to the top to enjoy some of the best Prague vistas. Down on the street below Prague’s Old Town Hall, day and night, crowds gather to watch the amazing spectacle as the astronomical clock strikes the hour.

Prague’s New Town Hall

Prague’s first New Town Hall, in Charles Square, was built in 1377. However, little remains of the original building. At the beginning of the 15th century the high tower was added to house the bell and a chapel. In the 16th century, under the Hapsburgh Kings Ferdinand and Rudolph, the south wing was re-built in the Renaissance style.

In the 15th century the New Town Hall  was witness to a pivotal scene in the history of Prague. On 30th July 1419, Jan Zelivsky led a demonstration at the New Town Hall to demand the release of followers of the protestant dissident Jan Hus who were imprisoned there. When the City Councillors refused their demands were refused the outraged demonstrators stormed the building and threw them from of the windows. This action went down in history as The First Prague Defenestration. It was also the catalyst for the formation of the Hussite movement, a campaign for reform in the Catholic Church, which led eventually to the Hussite Wars. The practice of defenestration became Prague’s method of dealing with uncooperative administrators.

The New Town Hall served as the seat of the municipal administration until 1784 when the Emperor Josef II amalgamated the four Prague towns – Old Town, the Lesser Town, Hradcany and the New Town – under one town council. Thereafter it became a criminal courthouse, a torture chamber and a prison where many political prisoners and revolutionaries were incarcerated.

Now a national heritage centre, Prague’s New Town Hall is used for many cultural and social events.