Hybernská 11 and Havlíčkova 1: Lannův dům


Built on the site of the fifteenth-century House of the Black Hare, this neo-renaissance palace in the Venetian style was erected in 1857 for Vojtěch Lanna, founder of the Kladno steelworks.

At one time thought to be the work of Lanna's friend Josef Kranner, the architect is now considered to have been Ignác Vojtěch Ullmann. Later reconstruction was carried out in the 1870s by Josef Schulz, with interior decoration by Viktor Barvitius.

Václavské náměstí 846/1: Koruna building


This landmark tower at the lower end of Wenceslas Square was designed by the architects Antonín Pfeiffer and Matěj Blecha and constructed between 1912 and 1914 on the site of the former Vienna Cafe.

Typically for its period, the building abandons many of the more florid aspects of art nouveau in favour of bold, clean, geometric shapes that anticipate Art Deco. The most striking feature of this largely commercial building is undoubtedly its tiara-like crown ('koruna' in Czech), which playfully combines the name of the country's currency with the fact that the building was paid for by a life insurance company.

Originally the building also housed a cinema and automated fast-food canteen - one of the first in the world. The designer of both, Ladislav Machouň (like Pfeiffer a pupil of the architect Jan Kotěra) had his studio in the turret of this building. In 1938 he repeated the success of his automatic canteen with a version in London's Regent Street.

Liliová 17 and Karlova 18: The Golden Snake


By popular consent, the first coffee-seller appeared in Prague in 1714. Originally from Damascus, the lively Armenian entrepreneur Gorgos Hatalah worked the streets of Malá Strana selling 'Turkish' coffee heated on a portable brazier, and building a reputation which brought him great wealth.

As his fame grew, he opened two coffee houses, one at the House of the Three Ostriches, and one not far away at the sign of the Golden Snake ('U zlatého hada'). The allegorical sign, this version of which dates from the late 18th century, may have something to do with the fact that the house was at one time owned by a gold merchant.

Towards the end of his life Hatalah became a Catholic; now named Georgius Deodatus, he penned a number of Jesuitical tracts which alienated the Jewish community and led him into disputes which ate into his considerable fortune.

After a brief sojourn in Leipzig as a tea-seller, he returned to Prague where he died in poverty at the age of 90. This colourful character is said to be buried in the cloister of St Thomas's church.

Karlova 189/2: Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace


Between 1736 and 1737 the original renaissance palace by Giovanni Battista Alliprandi was rebuilt in the high baroque style for Prince Paul Henry of Mansfeld, probably by the architect Franz Ignaz Prée. Despite late rococo styling throughout the rest of the palace, the remarkable ballroom remained untouched. Its elliptical ceiling, depicting a gathering of the gods on Olympus, is by Pietro Scotti, with architectural details by Giovanni Battista Zeist.

A later prince of Mansfeld, Hieronymus V, was the last prince-archbishop of Salzburg, and in this capacity can be said to have 'discovered' the young Mozart. It was no doubt this connection, as well as the fact that Mozart played here on his visits to Prague, that encouraged Milos Forman to include the palace as a location in his film version of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus.

Křižovnické náměstí 191/3: Monastery and church of St Francis


Agnes of Bohemia, sister of King Wenceslas I, was responsible for founding the very first Franciscan institutions in Bohemia. Her personal friendship with St Clare of Assisi - they corresponded with each other for twenty years although they never met in person - gave her mission a direct link with St Francis, and in 1231 she established a convent to house nuns sent from Italy by St Clare (now part of the National Gallery).

Twenty years later, in 1252, Agnes founded the order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star 'in latere (pede) pontis (Pragenis)' at one end of the then main river-crossing the Judith Bridge. As well as devoting themselves to the tending of the sick, the order was also in charge of the upkeep of the bridge. All their holy work was not enough to save that structure from the flood of 1342, however, and in 1357 the bridge was replaced with the much stronger and narrower Charles Bridge. A sandstone arch of the Judith bridge survives in the foundations of the building.

Its location at one end of what was then the most strategic bridge in Europe meant that the monastery became an obvious target for Swedish artillery-fire during the final engagement of the Thirty Years' War in 1648; and it was completely rebuilt between 1661 and 1731.

At the same time the Church of the Holy Spirit was rebuilt by the Dijon-born architect Jean Baptiste Mathey in baroque style with an impressive brick dome; it was rededicated to St Francis by the archbishop of Prague in 1688.

Petrohradská 141/52: Vila Jitřenka

This villa by the banks of the Botič - currently home to the Prague Gentlemen's Fly Fishing Club - dates from 1738, and is therefore only slightly younger than the nearby Church of St Nicholas, the oldest extant building in the southern suburb of Vršovice.

The house was originally a hunting lodge built among the extensive forested land which had once belonged to the estate of the Silesian nobleman Jan of Vrbno. In 1880 it became the property of a certain Baron Popper, a great Prague benefactor, who undertook its repair and that of the neighbouring streets.

With its low-hipped roof and neo-classical detailing, it's a remarkable survival of domestic architecture - particularly when you see it nestled among the more modern (and far less colourful) suburban housing that has since sprung up around it.

The Vila Jitřenka, or 'Villa Aurora' (from 'jitro'='morning') has been restored appear as it would have done in the nineteenth century, with an appropriately sunny colour-scheme pointing up delightful architectural features such as the pilasters which divide the bays of the first floor.


The text of this article first appeared in my earlier 'Vršovice Photo Diary'

Chodov Fortress (Chodovská tvrz)


Deep in the southern suburbs of Prague - an area now dominated by highways and housing estates -  this thirteenth-century gothic fortress is an unexpected witness to a much older history, dating from the time when Chodov was little more than a collection of farms.

At one time the property of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, the unusual round building was constructed in the late 1200s. Later it became a private residence, modified by successive owners, including Francois Rousseau of Happencourt, who had the exterior restyled in its current baroque form when he took over the property in 1812.

The circular floorplan has been preserved, as has the original gothic doorway in the western wall. A footbridge indicates the location of the original drawbridge, passing over what was once a much more impressive moat.