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.

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.

In 2012, the statue below was unveiled just outside the Vinohrady building to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Sokol movement.

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.