Intrigued by the most beautiful buildings in Prague?

Interpret the language of Art Nouveau…

Some of us love cities with a past. For their narrow, wobbly cobbled roads and oil-lamp pedestals. For their charming places of worship, old wooden bridges, royal retreats and dark dungeons. For their imperfect half-timbered houses, impeccable tasteful mansions, vibrant tiled courtyards and rough red-brick tiled roofs. Because there’s more to brick, mortar and stone than mere eye candy. If you let them, buildings will whisper sweet-nothings in your ear. The wavelength needs a little more adjusting in a buzzing city like Prague, but you can still tune in to the fascinating narratives. As you trace the evolution of the ‘Mother of Cities’ from 9th-century Romanesque to 14th-century Gothic to 19th-century Art Nouveau and Cubist eras, you may find one of these styles particularly intriguing, as I did.

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 Down with the ugly

But first, flashback to late 1880s to early 1890s. Rapid industrialization and mass production of cheap goods. Depressing times for artists, designers, and architects. But the creative spirit always manages to break free. Revolution of the ‘We-Hate-Uglies’. And rise of Art Nouveau (French for ‘new art’). Craftsmanship and art push back with a sweet vengeance. This time, wiping out the boundaries between elite and public consumption. Whipping up a new fervour for all things beautiful and refined. Art seeps into everyday life, for the first time.

Taking huge inspiration from nature, Art Nouveau unfolds as the first real modern style ever. With themes revolving around elements like leaves, vines, flowers, birds, animals and insects. Asymmetrical shapes, elegant arches, graceful curves, colourful mosaics, dainty stained glass and Japanese motifs become central to design. Decorative and functional emerge as the twin mantras. Curiosity piqued yet? Wait for it…

Much ado about Mucha

Brilliant designer and prominent Czech artist Alphonse Mucha rises to fame, turning Prague into a centre for Art Nouveau. He adorns some of Prague’s finest buildings, including a painted ceiling in the Art Nouveau masterpiece, the Municipal House and the stained glass window of the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral. Mucha’s work is fresh, sinuous and elegant…each composition overflowing with delicate tendrils, swirling lines and gorgeous, bejewelled, flower-decked women in luxuriant gowns. Pale pastels and vibrant accents. Unrestricted celebration of femininity in a overtly masculine world. From textile, paintings, jewellery, clothing and promotional posters to architectural elements like grills, stairways, doors, tiles, window glass, wallpaper and furniture…everything acquires a new status. Anything can evolve into art! The demand for Art Nouveau mushrooms. And Prague neighbourhoods refine. Into eye candy. Go seek. And you shall find!

Mucha Prague 1

Mucha Prague 2

On the treasure hunt

The streets of Prague are a visual delight. Identifying Art Nouveau Baroque from among the plethora of Gothic, Neo-Classical, Neo-Renaissance, Cubist or Art Deco structures is a strain for the amateur eye, but the clues are fairly simple. The first and most obvious one is the trio of colours that define Art Nouveau…usually yellow, green and gold. Next look for the delicate, floral motifs and vine trails inspired by nature. Or the extravagant painted frescoes. Then train your eyes to spot the elements that are functional plus aesthetic. Like the iron statuettes supporting a balcony. But the real proof lies in the camouflaged ‘branding’. A snake motif on the doors of a chemist store, an ancient symbol of healing and medicine. Or a ship logo on the roof of a merchant trading house. Or a literary inscription on the front of a book store. Getting the drift?

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Kickstart your Art Nouveau course with the inimitable Prague ‘Pasaz’ experience. Wander through the woven network of ornamental, arcaded passageways belonging to the 20th-century. The epitome of the unconventional, indulgent, prosperous trading city that Prague once was. These temperature-resistant sheltered spaces or welcoming walkways are lined with snazzy shops, cute cafes and often house a Diavolo (theatre) and a fine restaurant or two. Treat yourself…discover a new route, stumble upon a delightful courtyard hideaway, take a break from the bustle of the rushed street outside in these hidden spaces. Or just admire the ornate glass ceilings, unusual sculptures and exquisite floor designs.

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Enrol in the ultimate ‘tutorial’ at the Municipal House, the most spectacular icon of Art Nouveau in the city of a hundred spires. Setting the stage for a grand entry is an imposing green-copper dome, filigree metalwork and flamboyant reliefs representing history, literature, painting, music and architecture. Certainly, nothing less majestic would have fit the bill for its former avatar as the Royal Court from 1383 to 1483. Inside is abundant proof of a fabulous 20th-century revival…vivid coloured glasswork, stylised light scone fittings, gilded decorations, gorgeous ceramics and super-sized murals. The Mucha stamp too…but of course! Leave supremely educated. Come back for a sumptuous evening…a classical concert at Smetana Hall, Prague’s biggest concert hall beneath an exquisite glass dome or a fine meal at one of the formal restaurants, maybe.

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Craving more? Challenge yourself with a refresher module, hunting for the endless jewels scattered all over the Old Town and Wenceslas Square. Venture into Vinohrady, a posh residential neighbourhood with an artsy, hip vibe where leafy tree-lined streets, lined with graceful villas embody the essence of Art Nouveau. No less impressive is the 13-century old Jewish Quarter, where a crumbling cemetery crowded with 10,000 tombs and six stunning synagogues fight for attention with hundreds of splendid specimens of Art Nouveau.

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Once you get a hang of it, you’ll be hooked, so stop keeping count. A giant flower medallion studded on a wall, pillars wrapped up with leafy creepers, elaborately framed windows, gold painted frescoes, curvy iron grill balconies and a plethora of symbolic emblems. You know you’ve reached breaking point when you start hallucinating…no, those are not vine trails, its your sauerkraut!

 

We explored Prague’s modern architectural wonders on a fabulous ‘Art Nouveau and Modernism’ tour with Riccardo Cacciotti of Context Travel. They deliver what they promise: ‘Tours for the intellectually curious’. All opinions are my own.

 

Pin this post for later!!

Learn how to identify Art Nouveau architecture. The clues are fairly simple.

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86 thoughts on “Intrigued by the most beautiful buildings in Prague?

  1. Have heard so many things about Prague and everything seems to be true. EVen mere balconies look so delightful in your pictures! These people just know how to modernize without destroying the old-world charm, a sense which is sorely lacking in India.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Prague is on my bucket list and after reading your post, I’ll have to plan my visit soon. Being a history and art lover, I would love to visit these fascinating buildings. The intriguing sculptors, beguiling paintings, the courtyards and balconies, everything looks incredibly beautiful. Thanks for sharing this splendid experience. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was only once in Prague, but it’s full of beautiful buildings! It must be great to be able to go back in time, and see the city some hundreds of years ago, when many of these buildings where actually built… Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is very interesting! I always love exploring cities and admiring the architecture, but I don’t typically take the time to learn the history of it. I’ve heard of Art Nouveau but I didn’t realize what it was — it turns out I’m a long time fan! Your photos are gorgeous, but as always, you painted an equally vivid image with your words!

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  5. It’s so good to see the art community of Prague withstood the onslaught of industrialization to preserve their place in architecture. The world would be a duller place if beauty like this was allowed to be plowed over for “modernization”. Mucho gusto Mucha

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Prague has some of the best architecture in terms of old buildings, that I have ever seen! It was quite interesting to read your article about the Art Nouveau, the streets of Prague are truly very charming and each building is more intriguing than the next. Thanks for sharing this interesting story!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Prague is one of the cities I visit several times a year and yet I had no idea that there are so many Art Nouveau structures there! Next time I am there I will look out for the trio of yellow, green and gold, as well as the motifs to see if my amateur eye can spot them.

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  8. I haven’t visited Prague yet tho it’s been on my list for ages! I hadn’t realised the link with Mucha and now I want to go there even more. Thanks for this insight into your tour of the Art Nouveau, I’ve heard lots of good things about Context Travel and will definitely remember your recommendation.

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  9. OMG! I literally just came back from Prague (like yesterday) and I fell in love with the architecture. I can kick myself for not visiting the Municipal House. The Grand Hotel Europa reminds of the hotel I stayed in the Art Nouveau Palace. Just beautiful

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  10. Prague is such a beautiful city, and I have always loved its architecture. It is great to go on tours like these that provide some much information and history about a subject. I did a Context Tour in Venice with a local guide, and I learned an incredible amount, and not just things that are in guide books.

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  11. I love tracing the evolution of buildings, and Prague is a great city for it! Such a rich (and well preserved) heritage. I love the diversity and mixture of architecture present throughout Prague, and agree that it’s a fun treasure hunt tracking down the examples of Art Nouveau throughout the city streets. My favorite section of Prague is Old Town, and favorite thing to do getting lost to appreciate the buildings by wandering aimlessly and seeing what you stumble across!

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  12. Prague is on our “must do” list. Although I’m not schooled in these various styles of architecture, I do look for those “brandings” you mention in theses historic cities. We love wandering the narrow streets in old neighborhoods.

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  13. Prague was the first city in Europe that I visited, and it left an impression. In the US, we don’t have buildings as old as in Europe, and the only way we can get personally exposed to such architectural history is either from media or traveling abroad. I remember being completely enthralled by the various building styles, themes, and of course, the culture and history!

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  14. It is true that the streets of Prague are a visual delight. I went to Prague twice, visited the main sights, took many pictures, drank good beer but I never wondered about the stories all those nice buildings were telling. Saw Frank Gehry famous ballerina, yes, but had no idea that there was so much Art Nouveau tradition in the city and this is a shame coming from an architect (and Art Nouveau lover) like me. Next time I go to Prague I will drink less beer.

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  15. I saw your pinned picture on Instagram and was like wow! And now after seeing the others, I am saying Super Wow. These buildings in Prague are really heart winning. Those ornate designs, balconies, sculptures, creepers everything is perfect. I will be actually counting them and at last, will be confused which one is more heart winning.

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  16. What a fascinating post this is. You have traced the rise of Art Nouveau and the evolution of the charming beauty of Prague with a finesse worthy of Mucha! Loved reading about the subtle branding that is evident in the buildings like the motif of a snake on a chemist’s shop and others. Will keep a look out for this when in Prague. You sure have an eye for detail and have unearthed some valuable information.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love gorgeous buildings, and for that reason, Prague is one of my favorite cities. But I had no idea some of the architectural details on stores were subtle ads for the store. Or that Mucha was from Prague. Your post makes me want to return to Prague for an architectural tour. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. When I think of Art Nouveau, I first think of Spain & Belgium. Prague doesn’t come to my mind immediately. But looks like Prague has so much to offer. Such gorgeous architecture. Hope I’ll get to see the places myself.

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  19. Very interesting way to see this city as there is indeed so much beautiful architecture but also such striking differences in the styles and having a tour where the reasons for this could be explained would be great. I remember when I first came to the Czech Republic. We drove in from Germany and we were greeted with some of the most horrendous, concrete, ugly buildings I’d ever seen. Clearly remnants of their communist era. It came as a surprise and I don’t know that I really got over it because even for all the beauty in Prague, I couldn’t quite take to the city. I think it’s time for me to revisit it with fresh eyes.

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    1. I agree with what you said about ugly buildings in Prague. The juxtaposition of so many different architectural styles can actually confuse the eye at first glance, but then…as you say, its all about ‘new eyes.

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  20. I love Art Nouveau architecture, and I’m absolutely mad about Mucha! I had no idea that Prague had this much of an Art Nouveau vibe to it…so I feel like I have to go now, and soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. It’s been many many years since I went to Prague but I still remember the feeling of stepping back in time. It was a different city in some ways though, back in late 1990s, and I’d love to go back and see it today. Like you, I loved the art nouveau and other period architecture and art, Mucha was a favourite of mine as a student.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. WOWWW! As an architecture and art lover Prague is so high on my list! 🙂 You have described the charm of old cities so brilliantly. They are so perfect in their imperfections! 🙂 Love exploring heritage cities with someone who knows the place inside out so thanks so much for your recommendation of Context! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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