Prague showcases a myriad of architectural styles ranging from the 10th century to modern day. The wide variety of structural design that the Czech capital features truly reflects the storied history of this enchanting city — so, whether you’re an architecture aficionado or just a lover of beautiful facades, Prague is waiting to be explored.
Begin your architectural tour of Prague by going back to the 10th century. Romanesque architecture was the primary structural style of Europe in the Middle Ages and literally refers to architecture descended from Roman times. Characteristics of Romanesque architecture include rounded arches, high towers, ornate colonnades, solid piers, cross vaults, and a blend of Roman and Byzantine styles. Buildings that were constructed during this era appear minimalistic and symmetrical.
Noteworthy Romanesque architecture in Prague: St. Cross Rotunda, St. Longin Rotunda, St. Martin Rotunda, the Basilica of St. George
Gothic architecture originated in 12th-century France and spread throughout Europe until the 16th century, though it had a slight resurgence in 18th-century England. Gothic structures were first built to instill fear and awe in the congregation, make one feel small in comparison to the Church, ward off evil, and bridge the divide between heaven and Earth. This style is characterized by richly decorated facades, vaulted ceilings, pointed arches, towering spires, flying buttresses, and massive stained glass windows.
Noteworthy Gothic architecture in Prague: Charles Bridge, Church of our Lady before Tyn, Powder Tower, St. Vitus, the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, the House at the Stone Bell
The architecture of the Renaissance period was defined by Filippo Brunelleschi when he constructed the massive dome of the Florence Cathedral. This architectural era spanned from the early 15th century to the 17th century, and spread across Italy, France, Germany, England, Russia, and, of course, the current Czech Republic. Renaissance designs revived elements of classical Greek and Roman cultures and prioritized symmetry, proportion, and geometry through the use of columns, domes, and niches. Another notable characteristic of Renaissance architecture is sgraffito, a technique produced by applying layers of colored plaster to the surfaces of walls.
Noteworthy Renaissance architecture in Prague: Ball Game Hall, Schwarzenberg Palace, Star Summer Palace, the House at the Minute, the Royal Summer Palace
BAROQUE AND ROCOCO
Baroque architecture was born in early 17th-century Italy and grew to be an expression of the Catholic Church and State. The primary characteristics of Baroque architecture are the use of light, contrast, colored frescoes, florid sculptures, trompe l’oeil paintings, and gilded detailing. Baroque architecture showcased the power and wealth of the Church and was viewed as a sort of Counter-Reformation attack. This style first appeared in churches, but by the mid-17th century, it was also seen in stately homes and palaces throughout Europe.
Rococo, on the other hand, which fused Baroque and French design, came about in the early 18th century and originated in Paris. Rococo architecture is characterized by ornate decorations featuring motifs and asymmetrical scrollwork, sculptures, tapestries, decorative mirrors, reliefs, and wall paintings.
Noteworthy Baroque architecture in Prague: St. Nicolas Church, Strahov Monastery, the Church of Our Lady of Victory, the Loreta, the Sternberg Palace, Troja Chateau
Noteworthy Rococo architecture in Prague: Kinsky Palace, Palace of the Archbishop
In the realms of art and architecture, 19th-century Historicism represented a deliberate regression to the past and a revival of historical styles. Historicism is often referred to as the finale of classic architecture, as it exaggerates a mixture of different styles from the past, which makes for chaotic-looking buildings. The highly decorated structures of this era rekindled a sense of romanticism and stepped away from what was considered modern at the time.
Noteworthy Historicist architecture in Prague: Hanavský Pavilion, Interior of the State Opera House, National Museum, National Theater, St. Ludmila, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Ludmila
The movement of Art Nouveau ushered in a new style of architecture in Europe, and specifically in Prague. Shaped by Czech artist Alfons Mucha, 20th-century Art Nouveau was an energetic movement of design that encouraged artistic harmony and the creation of an overarching work of art in all buildings, textiles, and furniture. Art Nouveau architecture is primarily characterized by flower and leaf motifs, and colorful, opulent facades.
Noteworthy Art Nouveau buildings in Prague: Bílek’s Villa (City Gallery Prague), Hotel Evropa, Hotel Paris, Industrial Palace, Koruna Passage, Municipal House, Saloun’s Villa, the Wilsonova Building at the Main Railway Station, Topic House, Vinohrady Theater, Vyšehrad Train Station
The term Cubism was coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1908, who described the works he saw as geometric schemas and cubes. Cubism gained popularity and social status in Europe during this era, with Pablo Picasso being the most recognized Cubist artist, but there was one specific country known for its Cubist architecture. You guessed it — the current Czech Republic. To this day, it’s the only place where you can find Cubist architecture. Well-known Cubist Czech architects include Pavel Janak, Josef Gocar, Josef Chochol, and Vlastislav Hofman, who all left a prominent architectural and artistic legacy in the country.
Noteworthy Cubist architecture in Prague: Adria Palace, Kovarovic Villa, Lamp Post (the only Cubist lamp post in the world), Legio Bank Building, the House at the Black Madonna
FUNCTIONALISM AND COMMUNIST ERA
By definition, Functionalism is the idea that architects must design structures solely based on their purpose or use. Functionalists believed that if the functional aspects of a building were fulfilled, then its natural architectural beauty would be visible. This type of architecture is characterized by practical design, clean lines, and a bold, “modern” aesthetic. Functionalism flourished in the Czech Republic thanks to Adolf Loos, architect of the Muller Villa, and Mies van der Rohe, architect of the famous Tugendhat Villa in Brno. This mindset then filtered into the Communist Era.
Architecture from the Communist Era is most commonly described as concrete and gray. Few buildings exemplify this time quite so vividly as the unsentimental Panelák housing project on the outskirts of Prague. Although this time did give way to extravagant palaces built for politicians, these concrete jungles stand as the primary reminder of the bygone era.
Noteworthy Functionalist architecture in Prague: Barrandov Terrace, Manes, Muller Villa, Saint Wenceslas Church, Veletrzni Palace
Noteworthy Communist Era architecture in Prague: Expo 58 Restaurant, Hotel Crowne Plaza, Kotva Department Store, the Former Parliament Building, the Panelaks, the Zizkov Television Tower
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, a construction boom began in the Czech Republic, which continues to this day. Along with numerous malls and business headquarters, a handful of daring and controversial designs have been added to the Prague skyline. Strikingly modern with a sense of movement, these architectural gems are only a sign of what’s to come.
Noteworthy Post 1989 architecture in Prague: The Dancing House, Zlatý Anděl
Header Image by Alejandro Cruz.