Polská 1283/18: 'The Assyrian Kings'

Prague's well-heeled residential district of Vinohrady is renowned for its grand apartment blocks, built at the turn of the 20th century in a variety of historicist styles. Their monumental entrances and lavish facades present a panoply of historical, mythological and allegorical subjects, reflecting the learning and intellectual aspirations of the increasingly affluent bourgeoisie of that period.

This extraordinary example, constructed in 1904, mimics the entrance to an ancient temple, flanked by the massy reliefs of a pair of Assyrian kings ('U Assyrských králů').

Hroznová 82/14, Brno: Vila Stiassni

Predating Mies van der Rohe's nearby Vila Tugendhat by two years, this house — commissioned by textile manufacturer Alfred Stiassni and his wife Hermine — was built to the design of local architect Ernst Wiesner between 1927 and 1929.

Like the Tugendhat villa, the house's long low rectilinear form reflects the contemporary fad for functionalist architecture; but its deeply-corniced roof and open portico give the structure a Roman feel, as if the house and its tree-lined garden had been transposed from the Italian countryside to the sloping hills of the Moravian capital.

In 1939, the occupying Nazis expropriated the villa and its grounds; Wiesner fled to Britain, and two years later the Stiassni family escaped to California. After the war, the house became the property of the state, and hosted a number of eminent guests, including the president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, in 1946, and the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Kruschev, in 1964.

Since the return of democracy in 1990, the villa's guestlist has grown to include tennis players Arantxa Sanchez and Monica Seles, industrialist Bill Gates, and the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

Slezská 100/7: House of Agricultural Education

Agriculture had been studied as an academic discipline since the 1780s in Prague, but it was the emergence of the fledgling state of Czechoslovakia in 1918 that prompted widescale practical reforms to the agricultural economy. These included the 1919 Land Redistribution Act (which saw the transfer of farmland from the bourgeois estates to small and medium-sized landowners); as well as the foundation, in 1924, of the Czechoslovak Academy of Agriculture.

Between 1924 and 1926 on a triangle of land in Prague's Vinohrady district, Josef Gočár's monumental seven-storey 'Dům zemědělské osvěty' arose as the home of the new academy. Designed to impress, the building echoes the surrounding historicist apartment blocks in terms of height and grandeur.

Unlike them, however, its exposed brick facade is notable for its plain surfaces and complete absence of ornamentation - except, that is, for the two allegorical bas-reliefs in the architrave.

They were designed by the sculptor Otto Gutfreund (who also created the frieze for Gočár's Bank of the Legions) and installed in 1927. The sculpture on the south-facing side presents an allegory of abundance in the form of a head surrounded by ears of wheat; while that above the north entrance represents the cultivation of wine, with a head surrounded by vines and hops.

Church of Saint Stephen, Štěpánská

The 14th-century church of Saint Stephen was one of two ecclesiastical foundations built specifically to serve the parish of Charles IV’s New Town. Construction took place between 1351 and 1392, close to the existing rotunda originally dedicated to the same saint. The tower, completed in 1401, became a significant element of the skyline of the mediaeval city.

Not long after its completion, the preacher Jan Želivský led a procession of Hussite reformers from St Stephen’s as far as the New Town hall. When the protestant priest was pelted with stones, his enraged followers bodily threw members of the town council from the windows of the hall in the so-called ‘First Defenestration of Prague’, an action that helped to spark the long-anticipated Hussite wars.

The church as we see it today was developed with neo-gothic additions and extensions by Josef Mocker in the late nineteenth century. These included a mock-gothic entrance hall, additional window tracery, and an ornate multi-turreted spire for the tower. This phase of the church's reconstruction was concluded in 1879, thirty years after one of Bohemia's most famous sons, the composer Antonín Dvořák, was married there.

The neo-gothic interior contains furnishings from the baroque period, including the 1738 tomb of Matyáš Bernard Braun, the most prolific sculptor of the period.

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.


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.