Down Celetná to the Powder Tower

1-2 2009 Kultura English
obálka čísla

Celetná is one of the oldest and most significant streets of Prague. From early Medieval times, it linked the road from Eastern Bohemia with Old Town Square, the main market in Prague. It takes its name from plaited yeast bread rolls or sweetmeats called ‘calty’ that were sold by numerous bakers resident along the thoroughfare. Both sides of the street were lined by rows of stone houses dating from the Romanesque period. Remnants of their foundations and walls are still preserved within the buildings of today. Unarguably, one of the most artistically important is the Palace of the Lords of Hrzán of Harasov, built to the design of Italian architect G. B. Alliprandi in the Baroque style at the beginning of the 18th century.

The History of the House of Sixta

Another remarkable building is the socalled House of Sixta, named after the renowned 16th century author, lawyer and politician, Jan Sixta of Ottersdorf. At the time of the uprising against Ferdinand I, Sixta had been Chancellor of the City of Prague and spokesperson for the city guild. As a participant in the uprising, Sixta also found himself in a position to counter the distorted report of events. His treatise ‘The History of Those Two Unsettled Years in Bohemia 1546-47’ and defence of the guild is thus a valuable document of the time. On his return to public life, Sixta took part in formulating the ‘Czech Confession’ - one of the earliest and best proposals for the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and nonCatholics. In 1622, the house was bought by Filip Fabricius. Fabricius was a clerk, who in 1618 had been defenestrated alongside several office bearers from Prague Castle and granted the title of Hohenfeld for his trouble.

University Houses and their Surrounds

Proceeding from Old Town Square, approximately half-way down the street we find two houses that belong to Charles University, the Houses of Buquoyský and Stockhaus. The former housed the Royal Czech Association for Curricula in the 19th century, while the latter bears a beautiful classicist portal. Next to them we find the restaurant ‘U supa’/ ‘The Vulture’, designed by J. Fragner in the 1950’s. From 14th century onward, university masters, like the Jesuit history professor Ignác Cornova, lived in the row of houses leading all the way to Ovocný trh / Fruit Market.

Opposite, Menhartovský House with its early Baroque facade, hides some fascinating treasures. A small Gothic portal may be found in its passage, while the courtyard displays a wooden statue of Hercules and the Lion and a stone copy of an allegory of Patience by M. B. Braun from Kuks Castle. Theatre and numerous concert performances were held in the beautifully decorated hall in 18th century, until a Piarist College led by the German priest Gelasius Dobner was established there at a later date. In time, the house became municipal property and the bar restaurant now known as ‘U pavouka’ / The Spider was established in its premises.

Coffee Houses and their Origin

The era of the nationalist revival was the heyday of coffee houses, providing meeting venues for famous patriots, scientists, poets and actors. In Celetná they frequented the Melitsch Café‚ at the Red Eagle. Here, renovation revealed richly decorated Renaissance wooden ceilings. A Baroque statue of Madonna from the atelier of M. B. Braun adorns the front of the adjacent building ‘U Schönfluků’. We have nearly arrived at Powder Tower. On our left is the intriguing ‘U zlatého anděla’ / The Golden Angel, marked by a decorative statue. This used

to be one of the most famous Prague hotels, whose guests included the Danish and Greek Queens, The Kings of Saxony and of Hanover, their families and entourage.

The neighbouring building ‘V templu’ / In the Temple contains remnants of the ‘Obrácení sv. Pavla’ / Conversion of St. Paul church, demolished in 1784 on the order of Josef II. And finally, on the corner of Celetná and the Fruit Market, we find the house called after the statue on its façade, ‘U Černé Matky Boží’ / The Black Mother of God. This building is one of Prague’s Cubist gems. The work of architect J. Gočár, the building is testimony that it is possible to seamlessly blend styles distant in time, in this instance the Cubist and Gothic. Today, it displays a permanent collection of Czech Cubist art. It is worth visiting the attractive Cubist period café on the 1st floor.

The café looks out onto the historically interesting Prague Mint Palace. The mint operated from 1539 to 1784 and the present building was built in the 18th century by mint master, Count Fr. J. Pachta of Rájov, on the site of three Mediaeval houses. In later years, the building was converted into the Prague army command. And it was in one of its windows that the wife of the army commander-in-chief, General Windischgrätz, happened to be looking at a crowd leaving a ceremonial mass at Koňský trh / Horse Market on one June day of the turbulent year 1848, when soldiers, posted in Celetná simply to keep guard, fired on the crowd without any apparent cause. By unfortunate mishap, the first shots fatally wounded the General’s wife and injured another 50 people. This event culminated in the building of barricades, an uprising and its consequent harsh suppression.

Next: "The Powder Tower and the Municipal House"

Jana Volfová, historian
Translated by Alena Jirasek

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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