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.

Polská 2400/1: Sokol building, Vinohrady


Thirty years before the foundation of the modern Olympic movement, the German-born art historian Miroslav Tyrš revived the ancient ideal of physical and spiritual improvement in the Czech lands. His brainchild, the Sokol ('Falcon') organization, proposed a strict regimen of marching, fencing, weightlifting and other activities designed to further the overall health of the population.

Despite its early idealism, Sokol became strongly associated with the struggle for independence from Austro-Hungary; and ensuing governments, fearful of the popularity of an unofficial Czech army, banned (or, in the case of both the Nazis and the Communists) forcibly suppressed membership of Sokol. Ironically, the famous Spartakiada, mass gymnastic displays that we associate with the communist years, were simply rebranded versions of existing displays mounted by Sokol.

Between 1863 and 1948, 1200 'sokolovny' were built throughout the country, to service a membership that before the Second World War numbered 630,000. There had been an early Sokol centre in Riegrovy sady in Vinohrady at the end of the nineteenth century, but it was in 1938 that František Marek, Václav Vejrych and Zbyněk Jirsák came up with the design for this extensive building in the functionalist style - its tall rectilinear columns giving a modernist twist to the ideal of a classical colonnade.

In 1941, the building was commandeered by the SS as a sports centre, and after the Second World War it became a military hospital and repatriation centre for returning Czech soldiers. Today the Vinohrady Sokol has reverted to its intended use, offering facilities for community sports and leisure activities.

Větrná ulička, Liberec: Waldstein houses


Houses with exposed timber frames (fachwerk) are a rare sight in the Czech Republic, but in towns where German influence was historically strong, there remain some good examples.

In Liberec, this narrow lane near the main square has three intact half-timbered facades. Built between 1678 and 1681, the so-called 'Waldstein houses' were at one time homes of textile workers. The name alludes to the fact that earlier houses on the same plan had been developed by Albrecht von Waldstein to supply his army with clothing during the Thirty Years' War.

An attempt to restore the buildings in the 1950s failed when the rears of the houses collapsed; and they were finally preserved only when the local school of engineering proposed retaining the frontages as part of a planned development of accommodation.

Liberec Town Hall


The north Bohemian town of Liberec may be only seventy miles from Prague but its origins as an important centre of the Flemish and German textile trade are evident everywhere - not least in the soaring opulence of the town hall, erected between 1888 and 1893 on the site of an earlier building dating from 1602.

A near-contemporary of the Rathaus in Vienna (and clearly influenced by its design) the neo-renaissance structure was the work of the Austrian architect Franz Neumann, who won the commission in open competition against eight other entries. Neumann's exuberant five-storey edifice, with its impressive loggia and balconies, was crowned by three pinnacles, the central spire bearing a statue of the mediaeval knight Roland bestowing his benediction on the deliberations of the town council below.

During Communism, the statue was replaced by the emblem of the red star - an ill omen, as it turned out. In 1968, Warsaw Pact tanks invaded the then Czechoslovakia in order to restore the iron rule of the Soviet Union. On 21 August, a convoy of tanks smashed into adjacent buildings and crushed to death nine citizens whose names are now memorialized on a plaque on the front of the hall. Protestors scaled the tower and hung a banner reading 'Russians go home - we want socialism without tanks and bayonets'.

It would take another twenty years for their dream to be realized, and for the red star to be replaced once more by the statue of the town's knightly protector.

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.