Municipal House (Obecní Dum)

Municipal House (Obecní Dum) (12)

Visiting the Municipal House in Prague is like seeing an exhibition of Czech Art Nouveau in all its splendour. The best artists of the time worked on this building and they built a cultural centre that gave great prestige to the city. Names such as Mucha, Maratka or Ales follow one another on the list of those who worked here. 

The Municipal House is on the same site as where the Palace of the Royal Court once stood. The monarchs lived here between the 14th and 15th centuries, but abandoned it when they felt threatened by the masses’ uprisings. The remains of the palace were used as a seminary and later as a military school.

At the beginning of the 20th century, what remained of the building was demolished and the new cultural centre was built, which was completed in 1911.

The authorities came up against a problem, since the site they were going to build on was irregular in shape and they had to ensure that the architect chosen for the work would design a building taking this factor into account. Moreover, the members of the jury responsible for choosing him could not agree. In the end they took a Solomonic decision: they awarded the outside to Antonín Balsánek and the inside to Osval Polívka. The idea might not have worked... but it did, since experts consider that the building has quite a unitary style.

The façade of the Municipal House faces the Republic Square with a central rotunda. For the decoration traditional elements were used but they were adapted to the tastes of the time, leaving it with an air of neo-Baroque style. The façade is crowned by a semicircular mosaic by Karel Spillar, titled “Homage to Prague”.

The building houses municipal services and also events in Prague’s cultural life. It also has meeting rooms, exhibition rooms and concert halls. The real jewel of this lavish building is the Smetana Room, with its impressive glass cupola. It is the city’s main concert hall, although sometimes it has been used as a dance hall.

They did not skimp on materials or resources in the decoration and the authorities called upon the best of the time to ornament the interior. In the mayor’s office you can admire the touch of Alphonse Mucha in a work about Prague.

It was in fact the very character of Alphonse Mucha that gave the leaders of the project a great many headaches. After the success of his works in Paris, Mucha wanted to be given the full responsibility for the decoration of the Municipal House. His colleagues in the art world reproached him for his attitude and they ended up being involved too. Thus, as well as Mucha, we should add the names of others such as Mikulás Ales, Karel Spillar, Jan Preisler or Max Svabinsky and those of the sculptors Maratka, Bohumil Kafka, Frantisek Uprka or Ladislav Saloun to the list. Their distinct styles, which range from plant motifs to geometric lines, form a harmony throughout the building.

In the end all their effort was not given the credit that the artists had hoped for. The Municipal House was opened in 1912 and by then the Art Nouveau style that flooded the building had gone out of fashion, making way for cubism and rationalism.

This Centre experienced another critical moment in recent history, the new independent state of Czechoslovakia being proclaimed here in 1918.

To get a good idea of what the Municipal House is like, just stop off for a while in its historic café in Art Nouveau style. If you a fan of classical music, you will be able to buy tickets here to see the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

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