Tag Archives: National Museum

Prague’s National Museum

From its lofty seat at the top of the rise, the National Museum looks down like a grand old dame on Prague’s busy Wenceslas Square. Its gold dome and magnificent neo-Renaissance façade dominate the skyline.

The entrance to Prague's National Museum
The entrance to Prague’s National Museum

Although the Museum collection was established in 1818, it did not have a dedicated home until the present National Museum opened on May 18, 1881. Designed by the Czech Technical University’s Professor Josef Schultz, who was also the architect of the Rudolphinum and the National theatre, the National Museum was born of the Czech National Revival movement. It soon became an important symbol of Czech culture, science and learning.

The interior, which was not completed until 1903, is the product of the genius of 19th century Bohemia’s foremost artists and craftsmen. The pillared entrance hall is peopled with sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler’s statues of Princess Libuse and her ploughman husband Premysl, King Wenceslas and Premysyl Otakar II. Dual staircases, flanked by paintings of Czech Castles and landscapes, lead up to the main gallery. The beautiful glass domed Pantheon displays busts and statues of famous Czech writers, artists and scholars. Its walls are lined with paintings depicting important Czech historical events.

The National Museum collection, which is the Czech Republic’s largest and oldest, is fascinating. It traces the evolution of the country and its people. It also includes a vast collection of minerals, fossils and animals, both skeletal and stuffed.

Today, the building across the road, which was once the seat of Parliament and then home to Radio Free Europe, is part of the museum complex. State-of- the- art exhibition spaces and 21st century displays have replaced the old vast echoing, halls with their polished wood and glass-fronted cabinets where once I lost myself for hours on a quiet, contemplative journey of discovery.

Still, the grand old gold-domed dame, survivor of World War II, when its central staircase was hit by a bomb and of the 1968 Soviet intervention when it was peppered with machine gun fire, will always be the mainstay of the institution, as strong a symbol of Czech culture, science and education as it was over a century ago.

A History of Prague, Part 1, Ancient times

With its spectacular architecture, fascinating cultural heritage and vibrant nightlife, Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe. It is often hailed as the mother of all cities.

Prague, a view across the river
Prague, a view across the river

So, who created this beautiful city? What forces shaped this rich culture? How has it survived for over 1100 years? How has it emerged as one the most exhilarating party places on the planet? The answers lie in its history.

The first known inhabitants of this highly advantageous riverbank site at the heart of Europe were the Celtic Boii, who arrived in around 500 BC. They named the area Bohemia and the river Vltava. Trade routes were established, following the course of the river through the region to connect northern and southern Europe. These opened Bohemia to other influences and, more importantly, to the successive waves of migration which began in the 2nd century AD and continued until the 10th. The first arrivals were the Germanic Marcomanni with their King, Maroboduus. Next came the Lombards. Many of these first settlers assimilated with the Celts and remained here. In the 6th century, the West Slavs invaded. Then, finally, in the 7th century, the Czech Slavs settled in Bohemia and the Czech nation was founded.

Prehistoric and very early Prague can be explored in the National Museum at the top end of Wenceslas Square. There is a wonderful collection of artefacts, including tools, weapons, pots, jewellery and even bones, along with re-constructions of early tribal life.

The museum also houses the nation’s natural history collection with vast rooms full of crystals, fossils, shells, skeletons and stuffed animals.

The building is a grand, neo-classical wonder with gleaming marble halls, majestic pillars and sweeping staircases. It is a dark, heavy, echoing, awe-inspiring place which is worth visiting just for its architecture and its ambience.