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A Guide to Architecture in Prague

A history of the city's famous spires   |   June 2017

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From Romanesque buildings to Baroque structures, this is a guide to the best architecture in Prague

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Architectural Guide to Prague | Gothic Charles Bridge © QQ7/iStock/Thinkstock

From Romanesque buildings and Baroque structures to towering monuments of Communist Prague, this city’s historical buildings have been restored, renovated and revered for many, many years. Add to this a more modern crop of construction across the Czech capital and you have the dream destination for architecture aficionados. Take a look at our guide to architecture in Prague and discover everything from castles to crawling babies.

Romanesque Buildings

Begin your architectural tour of Prague by going back in time to the 10th century, when the city was home to many Romanesque buildings. See one of the finest existing examples of this period at St. George’s Basilica, hidden away within the historic Prague Castle complex. Considered something of a work in progress, the basilica has been reinvented and redeveloped many times over the years, resulting in a patchwork of different styles – luckily, its Romanesque twin steeples remain.
The oldest Romanesque rotunda in the city, St. Martin Rotunda is also worth stopping by. Having escaped demolition on a fair few occasions – and once used as a gunpowder store – this is the largest of its kind in the city.

Gothic Architecture

Skip forward to the Gothic period at the famed 14th century Charles Bridge, with its imposing statuary and views down the Vltava River. Best enjoyed at dawn, (before the crowds make a leisurely amble out of the question), the bridge also affords fantastic vistas of the “City of One Thousand Spires”.

And two of the most famous spires to look out for top the impressive Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, dominating one side of Old Town Square. Built on the bones of a Romanesque church, construction began for this particular building in the 14th century and its spiked towers, legend has it, gave Walt Disney the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
Another great example of Gothic architecture in Prague can be found at St. Vitus Cathedral, also within the Prague Castle complex. Built over six centuries, this vast Cathedral includes a richly decorated façade and high vaulted ceilings, typical of the Gothic style, as well as Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 20th century elements, incorporated over the many generations it took to build.

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Architectural Guide to Prague | Historicism National Museum © OnTheWind/iStock/Thinkstock
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Architectural Guide to Prague | Dancing House © CJ_Romas/iStock/Thinkstock

Baroque Structures

Speaking of cathedrals, St. Nicholas Cathedral is among the most famous Baroque structures in the city. Situated on Malá Strana and visible from the Charles Bridge (the iconic green Baroque dome makes it easy to spot), make sure to venture inside the cathedral to see the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling by Viennese artist Jan Lukas Kracker – as well as the organ, which Mozart himself played in the 18th century.

Historicism in Prague

All the rage in the 19th century, Historicism was a concept liberally applied to architecture in Prague. Channelling the architectural styles of bygone eras, the National Theatre building and the National Museum are quintessential examples of this period in building, both being highly decorated, grand Neo-Renaissance structures designed to evoke the Italianate designs of the Renaissance. Similarly, the State Opera building is another homage to history, but this time of the beautiful Neo-Classical persuasion – don’t miss the mythological figures in the triangular frieze on the outside of the building.

Art Nouveau and Cubism

For a touch of ornamental Art Nouveau on your architecture tour of Prague – and to take us swinging into the 20th century – make sure to stop off at the Municipal House to take in its colourful, opulent façade. And, for something a bit different, check out the concrete Cubist Lamp Post (think: Picasso made 3D), just around the corner from Wenceslas Square – the only such structure in existence.

Functionalism and Communist Prague

The Villa Müller, a house designed by Adolf Loos in the late 1920s, best typifies Functionalist architecture in Prague – the design of function and utility, not fancy – with its clean lines and bold, “modern” aesthetic. And, for a dose of Communist Prague, few buildings exemplify this era quite so vividly as the solid, unsentimental Former Parliament Building at the top of Wenceslas Square, which is now home to a wing of the National Museum.

Post-1980s

To conclude our tour of architecture in Prague, we move into the 1980s and ‘90s. Built in the “high-tech” architectural style, the TV Tower is now one of Prague’s “thousand towers”, albeit it a strikingly modern, metallic one – perhaps best known for its sinister crawling babies.
Also well worth a look is the award-winning mid-90s Dancing House, designed by Vlado Milunič and architect-extraordinaire Frank Gehry. This dynamic building is so named for its curved shape and sense of movement. Book a table at restaurant Ginger & Fred (get it?) for fine French fare and views over the Vltava River.

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