Top Prague Attraction – Municipal House
At the turn of the 20th Century the Austro-Hungarian Empire was weakening. In Prague you could see this with different architectural projects that incorporated very Nationalist and in our case, Slavic designs. The name “Municipal House” might lead you to think that this was going to be some grand administration building for the city but that was to be a different building what is today known as the Nova Radnice. The Czech name “Obecni Dum” meaning the “main house or main house of the town” was built to be primarily a cultural centre.
Located right on the border between the Old Town and New Town it was built where part of the fortified defensive wall used to be (note the Powder Gate next to the building) and also on the area once occupied by the former Royal Court (where royalty stayed if they were not living at Prague Castle). Formerly an army barracks the area was redeveloped as part of the Czech National Revival celebrations at the turn of the 20th Century. Commissioned by the city, building began in 1906 and the Municipal House opened December 31st 1911. There was a tender to try and find a good design but no single architect was able to master the task. Instead the city gave the project to two Czech architects Osvald Polivka and Antonin Balsanek who then invited around 30 of the best designers, artists and sculptors to assist with the decorations.
Visiting the Municipal House to Eat or Drink
You are either coming here to eat or you are coming here for culture. Let’s look at the eating and drinking part first. The ground floor wings of the Municipal House are beautiful examples of Art Nouveau architecture so you just need to make a decision about which wing is best for you. On one side is the Municipal House Cafe which opens early, is mainly known for it’s coffee/cake/breakfast options but also does an all-day international light menu. On the other side is the Municipal House Restaurant which does NOT do breakfast. Instead it opens for lunch then closes and reopens later for dinner. I would describe the food here as modern Czech with a hint of French.
But that’s just the ground floor. If you go down to the basement you’ll find two more places. For lunch you’ll find the Municipal House Pivnice (kind of pub) open until late with Pilsner Urquell beer and classic Czech beer food. Or if you want something more refined then also in the basement is the Tretters American Bar (open 1900-0200 and only Tuesday-Saturday at the time of writing). For Tretters you may have to book a table.
Visiting the Municipal House for Culture
Culture here would be defined as either music, an exhibition or the official organised tour. The front upper floors of the building are divided into many “salons” or large rooms that will be hosting any exhibitions going on. You can also experience the salons by doing the Municipal House Tour (about 60 mins, it costs CZK290 for an adult or there’s a family ticket for up to 2+3 for CZK500) and I always recommend that people try and do that because not only do you visit the Lord Mayors Salon, you also get to see the Smetana Hall. Normally you can only get into the Smetana Hall if you are going to watch a performance in the largest indoor classical music venue in the city. It’s home to both the Czech National Symphony Orchestra (CNSO) and the Symphony Orchestra of the Capital City of Prague (FOK). This is also used a s a venue during the Prague Proms Festival. On October 28 1918, Smetana Hall was the scene of the proclamation of the independent state of Czechoslovakia. The annual Prague Spring (Prazske jaro) music festival opens here on May 12th each year as this is the anniversary of the composer Bedrich Smetana’s death. Basically the whole place is an historical, architectural and design gem.
Note that the Prague Visitor Pass includes the Municipal House tour but I don’t recommend using it for that because it’s unlikely there’ll be free places on the day. Best to book in advance here.
Municipal House Architecture
The main external features are the large ceramic half-dome mosaic above the entry called Homage to Prague and created by Karel Spillar. Either side of the dome are sculptures representing The Repression of the People and The Resurrection of the People both by Ladislav Šaloun (who was also commissioned for the Jan Hus monument). Inside you’ll find nationalist murals by Alfons Mucha, Jan Preisler, Max Svabinsky and others. Between 1990 and 1996 the building underwent an extensive 10 million pound renovation.
Their homepage is at www.obecnidum.cz/en/