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.
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.