Pavilion Hall at Mšené-Lázně


The mineral springs of the north Bohemian village of Mšené-Lázně have enjoyed a long reputation, in particular for their effective treatment of bowel disorders and inflammations of the nervous system. Less famous than the thermal springs of Karlovy Vary, they nevertheless gained a wider commercial interest from the 1790s, when the first spa building was constructed.

In the century that followed, seven pavilions were added to accommodate up to 230 patients at a time. The last of these, now used as a restaurant, was the art nouveau Dvorana pavilon (Pavilion Hall) of 1905, designed by Jan Letzel.


A pupil of the influential Jan Kotěra, Letzel toured extensively in the Balkans before returning to complete the orientalist pavilion at Mšené-Lázně. Oddly, it remains the architect's only completed work in his native land, but its decoration, motifs and Chinese-style roof demonstrate his love of the East - a fascination that would eventually see Letzel founding his own practice in Tokyo in 1910.



Following his death in 1925 at the age of only 45, Letzel's reputation rested principally on a number of public buildings in Japan.

But one of them the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hiroshima was to achieve a fame that its young Czech designer could never have imagined. The building's steel skeleton became the sole surviving witness to the devastation of the city by the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare on 6 August 1945. Now known as the A-bomb Dome, it is a reminder of the hostility of the second world war, and is preserved today as a lasting memorial to peace.

Church of the Holy Trinity, Zahořany u Křešic

One of the earliest baroque buildings in Bohemia, the church of the Holy Trinity at Zahořany near Křešice was built between 1653 and 1657 by the Italian architect Bernardo Spineta from nearby Litoměřice.


The church and its campanile were commissioned by Jan de la Crone, a marshall of the Imperial forces during the Thirty Years' War. According to local tradition, the noisy crowing of a cockerel had alerted the marshall to the presence of opposiition Swedish forces crossing the Elbe under cover of darkness in the valley below.  Having successfully defended the position, the marshall ordered that the church be constructed in thanksgiving.


During the nineteenth century, large vertical cracks began to appear in the truncated nave of the church, and the subsequent century witnessed continued damage to the interior stucco and exterior plaster and stonework. Although funds have been raised for its repair, this beautiful and historic church remains in a state of terrible dilapidation.


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Okoř Castle


The ruins of this mid-fourteenth-century castle lie about seven miles northwest of Prague. The name Okoř is thought to be related to the word 'kořen', or 'root', and is the subject of a colourful tale in which Přemsyl the ploughman, founder of the Přemsylid dynasty, is said to have stumbled on a tree-root on the way to his stronghold at Vyšehrad.


In 1359 František Rokycanský, a wealthy alderman of Prague's Old Town, was granted the castle and surrounding lands by order of the emperor Charles IV. During the centuries that followed the castle was remodelled as a renaissance (and later, baroque) palace. These developments have since fallen into disrepair.  The original gothic chapel, however, is still preserved at the foot of the magnificent five-storey central tower.

Eventually the castle passed to the Jesuits, but was effectively abandoned following the dissolution of the order in the last quarter of the 18th century. Okoř today is popular with weekend tourists, and forms a suitably impressive backdrop to mediaeval festivals held in the surrounding fields.


Lány Chateau


The village of Lány, twenty miles from Prague, stands in a region of fields and forests used for hunting since at least the tenth century. But it was in 1587 that Emperor Rudolf II forged a powerful link between Prague Castle and Lány, when he had a hunting lodge built here and incorporated the land into the royal estates.

During the seventeenth century, Rudolf's comparatively small building was used to form the basis of a larger renaissance-style chateau. The Earls of Wallenstein purchased the property in 1685, and under their stewardship the chateau gained an extra storey and a separate chapel, before passing by marriage into the hands of the Fürstenberg family.


In 1921, three years after the foundation of the Czechoslovak state, Lány's connection with Prague was once more formally recognized when the chateau was selected as the official country residence for the President of the Republic - a duty which it retains to this day.

Between 1921 and 1924, the Slovene architect Jože Plečnik — who had already been hired by President Masaryk to modify the buildings and grounds of Prague Castle — was commissioned to develop the Lány estate. The most visible of his major contributions is the Lion Fountain, whose five proud heads symbolize the territories of Czechoslovakia.


President Masaryk himself was a keen horseman, as testified by the chateau's splendid stables. And although the chateau itself is closed to the public, it is the natural surroundings —  beautifully tended trees and formal avenues leading away into the Bohemian forests — which best define the spirit of Lány today, just as they once must have done for Rudolf II.

Church of Saint Joseph, and Na Poříčí 1077/1

Alongside the refurbished barracks that now form the Palladium shopping centre in Prague's New Town sits the unassuming single-gabled church of St Joseph.

It was built between 1636 and 1653 by Melichar Mayer for the order of Capuchin Friars, whose monastery had been founded here in 1630 by Gerard of Questenberk. The plain exterior, decorated only with a fresco of St Joseph and the infant Jesus, reflects the simple life of solitude and penance embraced by this particular branch of Franciscans.

Outside the church, facing the street, are two alcoves containing eighteenth-century statues, one of Saint Francis and the other of Saint John Nepomuk. The inscription below the latter reads 'Hoc syncerus Amor struxit tibi, dive Joannes' ('Love sincere erected this [statue] to you, Blessed John'), with a chronogram giving the year 1732.

The building immediately to the right, dating from 1833, replaced an earlier hospice belonging to the monastery, and today serves as a branch of the local Elementary Art School.


Apolinářská 441/18: Provincial Maternity Hospital


Completed in 1875, the Provincial Maternity Hospital in Prague represented the state of the art in nineteenth-century obstetrics. At that time, many young mothers died in childbirth; so in 1867, on the orders of Count Franz Thun-Hohenstein, construction began on the new hospital and dormitory complex. The choice of site was no doubt influenced by its proximity to the nearby church of St Apollinaris, in whose grounds there had been a hospital for poor and destitute women since 1789.


The architect was Josef Hlávka, who had already made his name with his designs for the quite extraordinary Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans in Chernivtsi, Ukraine - nowadays a listed UNESCO building. Hlávka worked principally in a combination of the byzantine and neo-gothic styles. In Prague, he employed the same distinctive stepped gables as in the Ukrainian seminary, and made similar use of red brick for the exterior facades. The building's six accommodation wings are set around a central garden court, while the steeply-gabled gothic tower surmounts an exquisite oriel-windowed chapel.


Unusually for Prague architecture, the brickwork remained unplastered at the insistence of the hospital committee, whose belief was that such a surface would lessen the transmission of infection. The consequent darkening of the original red brick today lends the facade a somewhat forbidding appearance. Inside, however, the hospital remains one of the most impressive and up-to-date facilities of its kind. With 4500 deliveries annually, it was one of the first in Europe to receive accredited status from the professional body EBCOG (European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology).


2015 saw the 140th anniversary of the completion of the building (now the National Maternity Hospital). On 28 April, a commemorative plaque to the architect also noting his philanthropic efforts was unveiled by the family foundation which Hlávka had the foresight to establish in 1904.


Praha-Bubny Railway Station


The first trains passed through this northern suburb of Prague in 1850, but it was not until 1873 that a station was constructed to service the coal industry that had grown up in the loop of the Vltava. Originally part of a much larger complex comprising workshops and a locomotive maintenance depot, Bubny station has now been relegated to a minor local stop en route to the west and north of the city.

During the years of the Second World War, however, Bubny represented the last view of home for the tens of thousands of victims of Nazi oppression who were deported to the concentration camp at Terezin (Theresienstadt), and thence in many cases to Auschwitz.



As this nearby plaque reminds us, between November 1941 and the end of the war, over 45,000 Czech Jews were taken from the mustering ground at the Veletržní Palace (today Prague's main modern art gallery), and made to walk the short distance to the trains waiting for them at Bubny.


Urban development plans for the area drawn up in the mid-2000s could have resulted in the demolition of the station. But in late 2012, a group led by documentary film maker Pavel Štingl proposed a scheme currently being realized to transform the building into a centre for contemporary history called the Memorial of Silence.

The first element of the project has already been put in place: a 60-foot section of railway track reaching to the skies by sculptor Aleš Veselý recalls the biblical story in which Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching to Heaven with 'angels of God ascending and descending on it'. Opened on 9 March 2015, the 71st anniversary of the last executions of Czech Jews at Auschwitz, it is also a potent symbol of the tragedy of the death camps.

In English, the sculpture is called 'The Gate of Infinity'. Its Czech name, 'Brána nenávratna', is much more telling: it means 'The Gate of No Return'.