Prague Minos Guide

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19. století


Blending architectural aspects and forms from various historical eras
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This is possibly the most significant phenomenon of 19th century European architecture. It is based on the belief that each past era had its own style which could be used to design new buildings whenever the relevant style had reached its peak within the given historical period. Following that theory, religious constructions should be built in the Romanesque or top Gothic style (which best represent the "golden age" of Christianity), parliaments in the Ancient Classic style ( recalling Greek Democracy), public buildings such as theatres or museums in the Renaissance style ( the Renaissance period allowed the formation of the modern understanding of art and culture), etc. This can be best observed on the Ringstrasse in Vienna, a street that surrounds the historical core.
Vienna, the Habsburg Monarchy capital, used buildings in the Historical style to symbolize the rise of the empire and Austrian culture. In Prague, the historical capital of the Czech Kingdom, buildings in the Historical style symbolised the rise of Czech society. The Prague environment didn´t allow for "semicircular avenues" as in Vienna. Buildings such as the National Museum or the National Theatre were embedded into the historical urban context which they enhanced. The National Theatre or the Rudolfinum by architects Josef Zítek and Josef Schulz were erected on the bank of the Vltava River and thus helped creating a new and more impressive waterfront. The National Museum by architect Schulz crowned the Wenceslas Square and thus

symbolically transformed this originally medieval marketplace into a modern thoroughfare. At the same time, construction work began on the St. Vitus Cathedral so as to finish it. It was supposed to become the most visible symbol of the "resurrected" Czech nation. But Historicism has its limits. The so called purism, the goal of which was to "purify" medieval structures from all later Renaissance or Baroque periods, the enthusiasm of many architects who helped to rescue many Gothic or Romanesque buildings also led to their harm and a certain sterilization.
Thanks to cultural and entrepreneurial activity in the second half of the 19th century, Prague transformed itself into the Czech Kingdom true capital. But there was a price to be paid which is the loss of many historical houses pulled down to free space for new larger and more profitable developments. There was an avalanche of apartment buildings built in place of 600 medieval, Baroque or Renaissance structures mainly in the Old Town and Josefov. Those new buildings show how Historicism Architecture could go to far, mixing up different styles from different periods leading to rather kitsch results. It is this practice that was most criticized by modern architects, who, on the other hand, wanted a purer, more truthful and genuinely contemporary architecture. The mass vulgarization of the Historical style thus paradoxically accelerated the rise of the new architecture that came to Prague and Europe around 1900.


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