Architecture of Czechia
The oldest still standing churches were built in the Romanesque style. The earliest preserved stone buildings in Czechia date back to the time of the Christianization in the 9th and 10th century. At the turn of the 8th and 9th century, the first Christian churches are formed in the first state formation in the area - Great Moravia - in the area of Velehrad, but the only foundation of them have remained partially preserved. Although later reconstructed, the first stone building is the church of St. Clement in Levý Hradec (Central Bohemia), founded by Prince Bořivoj in 884, while the oldest preserved building is the church of St.Peter and Paul in Budeč (Central Bohemia), founded between 885 and 895. After the transfer of the seat of Přemyslid rulers to Prague, they created several building in the area of the Prague castle. The first one was St. George’s Basilica in Prague, completed in 921, a few years later, during the reign of Wenceslas I (St. Wenceslaus) was constructed the initial form of the St. Vitus church with four apses in the shape of a cross. In Central Bohemia, they are preserved a lot of village churches in Romanesque style in more or less original form until today, predominantly of rotunda shape.
Czechia has been using the same architectural styles like most of Western and Central Europe. During the 13th century it was replaced by the Gothic style and was popular there until the early 16th century. The phases of the development of the Gothic architecture in Czechia are Early (13th and early 14th century), High (14th and early 15th century) and Late Gothic. The most significant Gothic architects who worked in Czechia (especially in Bohemia) were Peter Parler in High, Benedikt Rejt and Matěj Rejsek in the Late Gothic era.
A unique mixture of Romanesque and Gothic style represents St. Procopius Basilica in Třebíč, considered to be the most bizarre work of the European architecture of the second third of the 13th century.
The oldest Gothic church in Czechia seems to be the church of Teplá Abbey in West Bohemia, consecrated in 1232. Other important Early Gothic building is the Osek Monastery with its unique Chapter hall. In the Monastery Porta Coeli in Předklášteří u Tišnova near Brno with the portal built in the style of the French cathedrals, unique in Central Europe of that time. The examples of the peak of that time architecture are buildings found by the King Přemysl Ottokar II, e.g. Stone Bridge in Písek and Zvíkov Castle with a central court surrounded by arcades in two levels. Other important castles are the royal castles Bezděz and Křivoklát.
The greatest development of architecture came during the reign of Charles IV. He founded the most important High Gothic buildings in Czechia, the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle (the first architect was a Frenchman Matthias of Arras who designed the church in the French Gothic style, after his death continued Peter Parler, who built a net vault in the main nave, one of the first of that kind in continental Europe), Karlštejn Castle with the unique Chapel of the Holy Cross, Charles Bridge with its Old Town Bridge Tower, which is one of the largest and most beautiful Gothic gates in Europe. Other examples of High Gothic architecture in Czechia are St. Bartholomew Church in Kolín, Stone Bell House, Old Town Hall (both founded by John I of Bohemia) and St Giles's Church in Old Town of Prague, church of the Vyšší Brod Monastery, Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Brno and many others.
During the Hussite wars (1419-1434), many churches, monasteries and castles were damaged or destroyed, new buildings were left unfinished by the builders, such as the St Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. The fortification system of the Hussite town Tábor is probably the only precious architectural work of that time. The architectural rise slowly increased during the reign of King George Poděbradský after 1464, when was built the higher tower of the gate of the Charles Bridge in the Lesser Town of Prague and the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn in Old Town of Prague (used as the main Hussite church) was completed. The bad situation of the Czech architecture and art caused by wars and political instability improved after 1471 when a Polish prince Vladislaus Jagiellon (grandson of Czech Princess Elisabeth) became the king of Bohemia and especially after 1485 when the religious wars finally ended. Benedikt Rejt rebuilt the Prague Castle in the Late Gothic style, above all the Vladislav Hall in the Old Royal Palace using some Early Renaissance elements. At its time it was the largest secular vaulted space without inner supporting columns at least in Central Europe. Benedikt Rejt completed also St. Barbara's Church in Kutná Hora with typical Late Gothic tented roof and the Royal Oratory in St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. The interesting vault of this oratory has naturalistically executed dry cut branches. Matěj Rejsek who was of Czech origin, built the Powder Gate in Prague. Other examples of Late Gothic architecture in the Czech Lands are the church of St.Nicolas in South Moravian Znojmo, churches in Louny, Český Krumlov, Kájov, Soběslav, Chrudim and Čáslav, St. Bartholomeus church in Plzeň, the church of St. Mauritius in Olomouc and others.
While the Renaissance style flourished in Italy, Czech art still works with old Gothic style, partially due to the long-term stagnation caused by religious wars. But, Czechia was not the only country which did not accept the Renaissance art very early and tried to develop the older Gothic style into new forms – it was also the case of Austria, Germany or England. The Renaissance style penetrated Czechia (that time the Lands of Bohemian Crown) in the late 15th century when the older Gothic style started to be slowly mixed with Renaissance elements (architects Matěj Rejsek, Benedikt Rejt). Rejt built Louis' Wing of the Old Royal Palace of Prague Castle in the early 16th century, which is considered the oldest Renaissance palace building in Czechia, even though in some areas were used late Gothic arches.
An outstanding example of the pure Renaissance architecture in Czechia is the Royal Summer Palace (called Belvedere or the Villa of Queen Anne), which was situated in a newly established garden of Prague Castle. In the area of Prague castle, they are several palaces in Renaissance style, above all Lobkowicz (later Schwarzenberg) palace, Martinický palace or the Palace of Lords from Hradec.
Evidence of the general reception of the Renaissance in Bohemia, involving a massive influx of Italian architects, can be found in spacious chateaux with elegant arcade courtyards and geometrically arranged gardens. Emphasis was placed on comfort, and buildings that were built for entertainment purposes also appeared. In the 16th century, Renaissance penetrated into cities and towns as a burgess architecture as well as representative chateaux and other seats of the aristocracy. They are several very well preserved Renaissance towns in South Bohemia and Moravia, which became treasures of city architecture of that time. The most significant from them, South Moravian Telč is the town with Renaissance castle and a unique complex of a long urban plaza with well-conserved houses with high gables and arcades; since 1992 all of this has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other examples of Renaissance architecture in Czechia, that should be mentioned are the town centre of South Bohemian Slavonice, castles Opočno, Litomyšl, Velké Losiny, Kratochvíle, Náměšť nad Oslavou, Jindřichův Hradec, Dačice, Častolovice, Libochovice, Oslavany and many others.
Czech Baroque architecture is considered to be a unique part of the European cultural heritage thanks to its extensiveness and extraordinariness. This style started spread to spread throughout Czechia in the 17th century, but due to Thirty-Years War and inner instability in the country, its wider expansion started in the second half of 17th century with an enormous florescence and peak in the first half of 18th century, in the Crowning Baroque era. All religious conflicts in the past, leading to the devastation of many churches, castles and agglomerations became spurs of the effort to renovate them. The majority of churches in Czech countryside were rebuilt in Baroque shape and also decorations of interiors of sacred architecture of other styles got definitely Baroque form.
Czech Baroque architecture due to its complexity and uniqueness became an independent concept art history and is considered an integral part of the European cultural heritage. Czechia was one of the leading artistic centers of the Baroque style, which was masterfully accomplished in the first third of the 18th century during High Baroque period by the so called Dynamic and Radical Baroque of Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini in a very original way of architects Jean-Baptiste Mathey, František M.Kaňka, Dientzenhofers (Christopher and his son Kilián) and Jan Blažej Santini.
Czechia produced an architectural singleton – the Baroque Gothic style, a synthesis of the Gothic and Baroque styles. This was not a simple return to Gothic details, but rather an original Baroque transformation. The originator and the main representative of this style was Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, who used it predominantly in renovating medieval monastic buildings. To the most important works of him are St.John Nepomuk church at Zelená Hora in Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist in Sedlec u Kutné Hory, Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and Cistercian Provost Office in Mariánská Týnice, Monastery Church in Kladruby and the Church of the Name of Virgin Mary in Křtiny u Brna.
An important secular monument of the early Baroque is Wallenstein Palace in Prague, considered the oldest baroque palace in Central Europe by Giovanni Pieroni and Andrea Spezza, the oldest baroque church in Prague is considered the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Lesser Town. From many, to the most important buildings of the Czech Baroque belong St.Nicolas church in Prague Lesser Town, the Column of Holy Trinity in North Moravian city Olomouc, St.John Nepomuk church "on the Small Rock" in New Town of Prague and Loreta Monastery church in Prague by Dientzenhofers, Clementinum college and the church of Holy Saviour or St.Franciscus of Assisi churches in Old Town of Prague, chateaux Vranov nad Dyjí, Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou and Kroměříž Archbishop's Palace in Moravia, Troja chateau in Prague, etc..
Baroque style penetrated in Czechia (as first of all) even also into rural architecture, much as later, outgoing from both Baroque and Classicist style and becoming absolutely original style called "Czech Rural Baroque". This kind of buildings we can find predominantly in South Bohemia, in several cases as an integrated complex (Holašovice, Mazelov etc.).
From Classicism to Modern architecture
Starting slowly with Classicism, European architecture has been losing gradually its general character in basic features of some universal style of arts and began to separate as a special category. In Czechia, the revival architectural styles were very popular during the 19th century, Many buildings - predominantly churches - were restored to their presumed medieval appearance and many new buildings there were constructed in the Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the new art style appeared in Czechia – Art Nouveau, last style with obvious importance or emphasis to detail. The best-known representatives of Czech Art Nouveau architecture were Osvald Polívka, who designed the Municipal House in Prague, Josef Fanta, the architect of the Prague Main Railway Station, and Jan Kotěra.
With a peak in Modernism, the work with detail has been decreased and the importance of basic shape or pattern principals increased. The approach of the Modernist architecture was to reduce buildings to pure forms, removing historical references and ornament in favor of functionalist details. Czechia contributed an unusual style to the world's architectural heritage when Czech architects attempted to transpose the Cubism of painting and sculpture into architecture. During the first years of independent Czechoslovakia (after 1918), a specifically Czech architectural style, called ‘Rondo-Cubism’, came into existence. Together with the pre-war Czech Cubist architecture it is unparalleled elsewhere in the world. The first Czechoslovak president T. G. Masaryk invited the prominent Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik to Prague, where he modernized the Castle and built some other buildings. Between World Wars I and II, Functionalism, with its sober, progressive forms, took over as the main architectural style in the newly established Czechoslovakia. In the city of Brno, one of the most impressive functionalist works has been preserved – Villa Tugendhat, designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The most significant Czech architects of this era were Adolf Loos, Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár.
After the World War II and the Communist coup in 1948 the art in Czechoslovakia came under the strong Soviet influence. Hotel International in Prague is a brilliant example of the so-called Socialist realism, the Stalinist art style of the 1950s. In the 1960s, the Czechoslovak avant-garde artistic movement, called after the Brussels World's Fair Expo 58 and known as the Brussels style, became popular in the time of the political liberalization of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
Even today, Czechia is not shying away from the most modern trends of international architecture. This fact is attested to by a number of projects by world-renowned architects (Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Ricardo Bofill, and John Pawson). There are also contemporary Czech architects whose works can be found all over the world, e.g.Jan Kaplický and more.
Compiled by Vladimír Hirsch
PR & CC by
Jan Blažej Santini : Interior of
the Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist in Sedlec u Kutné Hory