The imposing building at the top of the Wenceslas Square in Prague New Town is the National Museum. It was built in the 19 th century as an important symbol of the Czech nation, struggling for independence at the time. It was decorated by the best Czech artists and the collections kept there are of great value.
Predecessors of the National Museum
The National Museum as an institution was founded in 1818. It was a private scientific organisation called “The Patriotic Museum Institute in Bohemia”. The founders were two Enlightenment aristocrats Kaspar Maria Count of Sternberg and Frantisek Antonin Count of Kolowrat – Libstein. The institute became an important factor in the National Revival and a centre of the national cultural life. It focused on natural sciences and history. The institute was renamed “The Museum of the Czech Kingdom” in 1854.
The Sternberg Palace in the Prague Castle District, where the collections were placed, became too small for such a purpose. The Nostitz situated in Prague New Town was bought instead, but the same problem appeared again soon. That´s why the organization decided to build a large new building for the museum. The area at the top of the Wenceslas Square was chosen for it.
Monumental building at the Wenceslas Square
Josef Schulz won the architectural competition for the new building and it was built between 1885 and 1890. The monumental Neo-Renaissance National Museum has a 104 metres long frontage, it is 74 metres wide and over 70 metres high. The main hall is called Panteon and it is 400 square metres large. There are statues and busts of important Czech personalities there. It is decorated with paintings depicting scenes from Czech history.
You can see statues on the ramp of the National Museum, representing countries of the Czech Kingdom – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and also the main Czech rivers Vltava and Labe (Elbe). The mighty allegorical statues of virtues (willingness to sacrifice, enthusiasm, love of the truth and love of the past) are situated by the main dome.
During the World War II., the Nazi army settled in the National Museum for some time and there were military vehicles parking in the courtyards. Most of the collections were evacuated, but three statues had to be given to Nazis immediately: the statues of the reformer Jan Hus, the first Czechoslovakian president T. G. Masaryk and the writer Alois Jirasek.
Damage in 1945 and 1968
The National Museum was damaged by a bomb attack in 1945. The offices and zoological collections were demolished then. Another attack came in 1968, when the armies of the Warsaw pact occupied Prague. The occupying armies started a fire from machine-guns, allegedly because of shooting from the National Museum. There are still some traces of the shooting visible on the building.
Departments of the National Museum
The National Museum has five main departments: the scientific museum, the historical museum, the museum of Asian, African and American culture, the museum of Czech music and the Library of the National Museum with the Book Museum exhibition. Apart from the main building of the National Museum, you can see its collections in various buildings around Prague, such as the Exhibition Area in Holesovice, and also outside Prague.