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'.

Hospital and Church of the Holy Trinity, Kuks

Almost exactly halfway between the cities of Hradec Králové and Trutnov in the north of the Czech Republic, the river Elbe flows through the pleasant wooded valley of Kuks, from which the land rises gently away on both sides. Kuks was known for its mineral springs, and in the late seventeenth century the local landowner, Count František Antonín Špork, chose the spot for an extraordinary project: an entire summer resort which in its time would rival the great spa towns of Western Bohemia.

Building commenced on the left bank, occupied today only by a range of domestic buildings and a surviving grand staircase in the baroque style.  The original bathhouse went up in 1694, and this was followed in rapid succession by guesthouses, a theatre, a racetrack and bowling alley. A chateau was built for Špork's own use, with beautiful colonnades, mazes, and fountains that flowed with wine.

But within a generation, it was all over. A devastating flood in 1740 destroyed the count's elaborate fantasy; even the chateau was abandoned, eventually succumbing to fire before being demolished in 1901.

What remains on the opposite bank, however, is truly astonishing: the whole north-facing slope is still crowned by a monumental range of buildings constructed between 1707 and 1715 by the Milanese architect Giovanni Battista Aliprandi, the builder Antonio Pietro Netola and the stonemason Giovanni Pietro della Torre. This was to be Špork's greatest achievement: a hospital for war veterans, and at its centre a great octagonal church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, complete with his own family vault.

The church alone, with its floorplan modelled on a Greek cross, constitutes a remarkable overview of baroque style; but Aliprandi's plan offered more: a unique collection of 22 allegorical statues by the renowned Czech sculptor Matyáš Bernard Braun, eleven portraying personifications of virtue, eleven of vice. Originally placed on the terrace fronting the chapel, the originals have now been removed to a special gallery, and the outdoor statues replaced by copies.

A final remarkable survival of the baroque period is the original pharmacy attached to the hospital dating from 1743, now administered by Charles University.

Veltrusy Chateau

Situated on the banks of the river Vltava about twenty miles north of Prague, the chateau of Veltrusy was commissioned in 1704 for the counts of Chotek. Work began around the year 1706 to a tightly symmetrical plan by the Italian-born baroque architect Giovanni Battista Aliprandi. A number of other architects, among them Jan Blažej Santini, participated in the design.

The north side of the chateau is enclosed by a colonnade of classical statues by Matyáš Bernard Braun, while a double staircase by the Bavarian sculptor Franz Anton Kuen ascends to the first floor, decked out with lively groups of horses and hunting dogs. Among many later developments, the four wings which radiate diagonally from the central rotunda were extended in the 1750s.

The first owner, Václav Antonín Chotek, had hoped that the grounds would rival those of Versailles, but their proximity to the river meant that the French-style gardens frequently flooded, and so the decision was taken to adopt a less formal design in the fashion of an English park. In the late 1700s further flooding caused the stream to be diverted through the park, providing a pleasant meander between statues and temples for visiting dignitaries.

These included the Empress Maria Theresa, who in 1754 attended the Great Trade Fair of the Czech Kingdom - the first of its kind in the world - held at Veltrusy to show off the workmanship of Bohemia to an international clientele.

Pilgrimage Church of Our Lady Victorious, Bílá Hora

The high ground to the west of Prague called Bílá Hora was the scene of one of the earliest engagements of the Thirty Years' War. The short but significant 'Battle of the White Mountain' of 1620 ended in a victory for the Catholic League, who forced the already demoralized Bohemian Estates to retreat half a mile to the former hunting lodge known as the Star House.

Initially, a small memorial chapel was erected near the battlefield, but it was badly damaged during the invasion of the Protestant Swedes in 1634, and by the end of the reign of Leopold I was already dilapidated.

In 1704 the chapel was rebuilt by the Bavarian mason Michael Hagen. Subsequently, Hagen's son-in-law Heinrich Klinegleitner, aided by the local Prague painter and architect Christian Luna, conceived a much grander plan involving further side chapels linked with a series of cloisters and interconnecting wings.

This church (one of two in Prague dedicated to Our Lady of Victory) was developed between 1704 and 1714. A second phase of construction from 1715 to 1729 saw the original dome replaced by a taller structure, and the cloisters and corner chapels completed: both undertakings were almost certainly directed by the baroque master Jan Blažej Santini. Finally, an entrance portal on the theme of the Annunciation was added to mark the end of construction in 1730. In design and composition it strongly reflects the influence of the prolific Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer.

In 1785, the pilgrimage site was abolished as part of Joseph II's political balancing act the Edict of Tolerance; it was restored again only at the start of the 19th century. The mid-twentieth century led to several changes of use: the complex was used by the Luftwaffe to house an anti-aircraft battery; later the communists used the neighbouring farm-buildings - though not the church - as a base for wire-tapping. Since 1989 the church has been under the care of the local Benedictine order, with a community of nuns living there since 2007.