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.

Václavské náměstí 846/1: Koruna building


This landmark tower at the lower end of Wenceslas Square was designed by the architects Antonín Pfeiffer and Matěj Blecha and constructed between 1912 and 1914 on the site of the former Vienna Cafe.

Typically for its period, the building abandons many of the more florid aspects of art nouveau in favour of bold, clean, geometric shapes that anticipate Art Deco. The most striking feature of this largely commercial building is undoubtedly its tiara-like crown ('koruna' in Czech), which playfully combines the name of the country's currency with the fact that the building was paid for by a life insurance company.

Originally the building also housed a cinema and automated fast-food canteen - one of the first in the world. The designer of both, Ladislav Machouň (like Pfeiffer a pupil of the architect Jan Kotěra) had his studio in the turret of this building. In 1938 he repeated the success of his automatic canteen with a version in London's Regent Street.

Liliová 17 and Karlova 18: The Golden Snake


By popular consent, the first coffee-seller appeared in Prague in 1714. Originally from Damascus, the lively Armenian entrepreneur Gorgos Hatalah worked the streets of Malá Strana selling 'Turkish' coffee heated on a portable brazier, and building a reputation which brought him great wealth.

As his fame grew, he opened two coffee houses, one at the House of the Three Ostriches, and one not far away at the sign of the Golden Snake ('U zlatého hada'). The allegorical sign, this version of which dates from the late 18th century, may have something to do with the fact that the house was at one time owned by a gold merchant.

Towards the end of his life Hatalah became a Catholic; now named Georgius Deodatus, he penned a number of Jesuitical tracts which alienated the Jewish community and led him into disputes which ate into his considerable fortune.

After a brief sojourn in Leipzig as a tea-seller, he returned to Prague where he died in poverty at the age of 90. This colourful character is said to be buried in the cloister of St Thomas's church.

Karlova 189/2: Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace


Between 1736 and 1737 the original renaissance palace by Giovanni Battista Alliprandi was rebuilt in the high baroque style for Prince Paul Henry of Mansfeld, probably by the architect Franz Ignaz Prée. Despite late rococo styling throughout the rest of the palace, the remarkable ballroom remained untouched. Its elliptical ceiling, depicting a gathering of the gods on Olympus, is by Pietro Scotti, with architectural details by Giovanni Battista Zeist.

A later prince of Mansfeld, Hieronymus V, was the last prince-archbishop of Salzburg, and in this capacity can be said to have 'discovered' the young Mozart. It was no doubt this connection, as well as the fact that Mozart played here on his visits to Prague, that encouraged Milos Forman to include the palace as a location in his film version of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus.