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.


Orloj: Astronomical Clock


The exact authorship of the mediaeval clock ('orloj') in Prague's Old Town Square is confused, but it seems to have been the result of a collaboration between Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, an astronomer and vice-chancellor of Charles University. The upper dial, showing the relative position of the sun and moon along the ecliptic, was completed in 1410 and attached to the wall of the Old Town Hall tower (itself completed in 1364, with later stonework by Peter Parler).

A lower dial - a calendar of the months and seasons - was added in 1490, probably by one Jan Růže, also known as Master Hanuš. He may also have been responsible for the automated allegorical figure of Death ringing a bell and turning an hourglass.


For many years, a colourful story (perpetuated by the writer Alois Jirásek, an inveterate collector of Prague legends) told that Master Hanuš was the originator of the clock as a whole, and that he was blinded with a hot poker in order to prevent him from making a copy for any other city. Like many of the tales associated with the clock, the story is compelling but entirely fictional.

In 1866, at the height of the Czech National Revival, the clock underwent significant modifications. A modern chronometer was installed to drive the original mechanism. The calendar plate was redesigned with folkloric elements by the celebrated Czech painter Josef Mánes, based on a concept by the poet Karel Jaromír Erben. But Mánes's work was deemed too precious to be exposed to the elements and in 1880 it was removed for safekeeping and replaced with the copy we see today by Emanuel Krescenc Liška.

Every hour, a rotating parade of apostles appears at two windows to offer their benediction to the crowds who gather at the foot of the tower. Disappointingly, these too are modern copies - replacing those burnt during the Nazi retreat from Prague in May 1945 - but we learn that the originals themselves date only from the mid-nineteenth century. Even the golden cockerel, whose squawk signals the end of the show, was added only in 1882.

Despite its multiple renovations and additions, however, Prague's astronomical clock remains in essence a quintessential part of the city's heritage. It continues to delight and fascinate its thousands of visitors, and to tell the time (since 1948 corrected to Central European Time) as it has always done.

Vinohradská 1200/50: Vinohradská tržnice


The distinctive russet-coloured Vinohradská tržnice (Vinohrady market hall) was constructed on the site of a former machine factory in 1902, one of several new covered marketplaces built at that time to serve Prague's rapidly expanding population.

The neo-renaissance detail of the exterior is typical of its architect, Antonín Turek, who designed a number of neighbouring buildings including the Národní dům (National House) in Namesti Miru, and the Vinohrady water tower.  The original steel-framed interior and glazed roof have been preserved; and though the hundred-or-so fruit and vegetable stalls have now given way to boutique furniture shops and cafes, the statues of two market traders above the entrance remind us of the building's original function.




Hellichova 553/18


Between the left bank of the river Vltava and Petřín Hill stand two churches dedicated to St Lawrence (Svatý Vavřinec). The more substantial of the two, on the hill itself, is a baroque structure built on the site of an earlier Romanesque church dating from 1135. Below the hill, on Hellichova street, is a smaller church, dating - along with its interior frescoes - from the mid-thirteenth century, when the building stood in the heart of the now extinct village of Nebovidy.

Emperor Joseph II's Edict of Tolerance, whose purpose was to reduce the power of the Catholic church, was introduced in 1782, and two years later part of the church was converted for use as a residential building. Today the church is hidden away, a little-known survivor in the centre of Prague's Malá Strana district. Its house sign depicts the third-century Roman martyr Saint Lawrence holding a representation of the the gridiron on which he was condemned to a fiery death.

Havlíčkovo náměstí


Karel Havlíček Borovský (1821 to 1856) was a free-thinking writer and journalist whose liberal views were strongly influential in the debate regarding Czech independence in the mid-nineteenth century. A critic equally of the Austrian regime and of Russian-advocated Pan-Slavism, he founded the newspaper Národni noviny ('National News') as a platform for his own views on constitutional reform and universal suffrage.

In the years following the failed revolution of 1848, Havlíček was tried several times for his dissenting opinion and ultimately exiled for four years to Austria. He died of tuberculosis aged only 34, but two decades later this natural critic of authority became the inspiration for the progressive Young Czech Party, who fought for independence based on the historical and natural rights of the people.

The statue of Karel Havlíček Borovský in the pose of a Roman orator is by the sculptor Josef Strachovský. A reworking of the original 1883 piece by the same sculptor in Kutná Hora, it was erected in May 1911 in the Žižkov square that still bears the writer's name. Two months later the Czech community in Chicago unveiled a copy in that city's Douglas Park. An evident symbol of nationalism, the Nazis wanted the Prague version to be melted down; fearing the worst, patriotic Czechs removed the statue and hid it until after the war, when it was re-cast and replaced as a reminder to all of this enlightened thinker.

Church of St Procopius, Žižkov


Josef Mocker and František Mikš were at the forefront of the Gothic revival in the Czech lands. The former was the architect of the Church of Saint Ludmila in Vinohrady (1888-92) while the latter designed the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in Holešovice (1906-11). The church of Saint Procopius in Žižkov came in between: commissioned in 1898 on the jubilee of the accession of Franz Josef I, the church was completed by Mikš in 1903, four years after the death of his collaborator.

Although these neo-gothic masterpieces differ considerably in scale, their decorative west ends, triple-aisled floorplans and exquisitely-painted interiors illustrate a unified artistic and religious vision. Any visitor with the time to explore explore them all is warmly encouraged to do so.

Saint Procopius was a tenth-century hermit and abbot of the monastery of Sázava, who according to tradition was personally responsible for setting down the Cyrillic and Slavonic texts of the so-called 'Gospel of Reims'. Along with Wenceslas, Agnes and Adalbert, Procopius is venerated as one of the four principal saints of Bohemia.