Alongside the building of the National Theatre, National Museum and Rudolfinum, the National House of Vinohrady is a beautiful and eloquent reflection of the cultural efforts of the late nineteenth century. Just like the National Theatre, the National House is a manifestation of national liberation efforts typical of nineteenth century society. In the nineteenth century the Czech lands were under a fourth century of Austrian rule, with increasingly intensified efforts to regain national freedom, not only in a physical form, but especially culturally. Several centuries of cultural and linguistic dominance by Austria and the German language had threatened the extinction or deep corrosion of Czech national identity - the loss of the Czech language, dilution of national pride and identity towards a merger with German-speaking countries, and ultimately the destruction of the Czech nation with its rich and important history
Nearly four hundred years of Austrian domination was ended by the First World War. However, many years before the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire efforts began to revive the confidence of the Czech nation. Enthusiasts across the country hailed the importance of Czech cultural heritage - an extraordinary history, tradition, folklore, literature, art, etc. In the spirit of these efforts, there have been many ‘national’ buildings. One of them is the National House of Vinohrady.
While the National Museum or Rudolfinum are central, nationally-known buildings, the National House of Vinohrady is a significant part of the district of Vinohrady. The name Vinohrady in English literally means vineyards. The district of Vinohrady is situated on the territory of the former royal vineyards, which were founded in 1348 by Charles IV, Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor. In 1879 the original village of Vinohrady was upgraded to a town. An unprecedented economic boom in this premier Prague district enabled extensive construction of residential and other buildings, including ones which created a new character for this neighbourhood. The National House is one such structure.
Just like the National Theatre, Rudolfinum or National Museum, this three-winged structure was built in the Neo-Renaissance style popular at that time. The concept is in the spirit of the national liberation mood, and an uncompromising emphasis on the cultural heritage of the Czech nation - its artists and history. A specific feature of the National House is its main concept - a celebration of Vinohrady district, something which is present in the entire building. The crests of Vinohrady can be seen in the corridors, halls, on the lights and in other places. A touching and majestic celebration of this prominent and wealthy district is the decoration of Mayakovsky Hall; this is focussed on the idea of celebrating the establishment of the vineyards by Emperor Charles IV and celebrating the wealth and importance of this area of Prague.
Construction of the National House of Vinohrady was decided on by city councillors in the early 1890s. They chose an empty plot of land for the planned construction. There was a footpath lined with cherry trees and a high hedge passing through which lead to the vineyards. The plot is between what later became the streets of Korunní, Slezská and Blanická. City architect Antonín Turek was appointed to the project to create a large ceremonial building in the Neo-Renaissance style. He was also the creator of Vinohrady waterworks and market. Antonín Turek was generally inspired by the style of his teacher, Josef Schulz, who was the creator of a number of important buildings, such as the National Museum, Museum of Decorative Arts and completion of the National Theatre. On 10th November 1894, after fifteen months, the National House was officially opened to the public. The installation of electric lighting and central heating, which are nowadays taken for granted, was very rare at the time; this fact was used in the promotional materials of the time as a big advantage and highlighted the skill of Czech builders.
The National House is a four-storey building with three large ceremonial halls, four lounges and a number of office and retail spaces. The combination of all three main halls creates a whole capable of accommodating over 1,200 visitors, which the National House of Vinohrady uses when organizing large cultural and social events, and is one of the largest ceremonial buildings in Prague. The restaurant and cafe ranked among the best in Vinohrady and their winter and summer gardens also enjoyed great popularity. Throughout its history, the whole building has often been used for lavish social and cultural events.
The largest and most beautiful hall of the National House of Vinohrady is Mayakovsky Hall, which is over 500 m2 and can accommodate 750 visitors. The Hall is named after the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who in 1927 recited his work there. The poet’s performances apparently attracted audiences big enough to fill the halls to their limits. The main idea behind the decoration of Mayakovsky Hall is a celebration of Vinohrady district and a celebration of Czech patriotism and culture. Painting of the Hall was commissioned to a proven artist, Adolf Liebscher, one of the artists of the National Theatre. Liebscher’s three-part ceiling painting is the apotheosis of the establishment of Vinohrady by Emperor Charles IV. The Roman Emperor is also appointed by royal crowns all around the Hall. The crest of Vinohrady is located in different places throughout the House, not only in Mayakovsky Hall. The crest shows St. Wenceslas standing on the walls holding a grape vine; according to legend the saint personally prepared sacramental wine. The crest of the town can also be seen on the magnificent chandeliers in Mayakovsky Hall, which are among the most valuable artefacts of the 19th century in the Czech Republic. Also of interest are 23 national revivalist sculptures that line Mayakovsky Hall. They were produced by two acclaimed sculptors - Josef Strachovský and Anotnín Popp, whose works can also be found at the National Theatre and National Museum. Antonín Popp also created allegorical statues of passion and nobility on the main portal of the National House. As a whole, Mayakovsky Hall is a coherent work of art in form and concept which is not only proof of the aesthetic efforts of its time, but also a lively celebration of the history and wealth of Vinohrady district.
Rais Hall is named after another important person from the time. Czech writer Karel Václav Rais not only lived in Vinohrady, but he was also headmaster of a nearby school. The decoration of the foyer of Rais Hall (formerly called Theatre Hall) follows the palatial splendour of Mayakovsky Hall, whereas the Hall itself is conceived in an entirely different spirit. Artistically it still remains in the Neo-Renaissance, but the decor is quite different from other halls because it was built for theatre and film performances and so was used by theatre companies, orchestras and bands. Decorative elements of the room are elegant and subtle: the dentils on the ceiling and on the proscenium, a fruit and floral strip, and a series of antique theatre masks decorating the blind arcades on the sides of the room. An interesting technical feature is the spiral metal staircase connecting Rais Hall foyer with Mayakovsky Hall balcony, creating not only an aesthetically and architecturally interesting element, but also one of the two staircases that lead to Mayakovsky Hall balcony. With this option, you can divide Mayakovsky Hall balcony into two completely independent sections, each with its own separate staircase.
The Social Hall arose later and was rebuilt from the original winter garden; as a result has a unique and technically interesting glass ceiling. It is the smallest of the three main halls, making it ideal for smaller-scale events. Its personality is no different from Rais and Mayakovsky Halls. The decoration remains in the spirit of nineteenth-century historicism, but the decorative heads on the arcades along the walls reflected the first tentative signs of Art Nouveau. A main part of the Hall’s artwork are four paintings from the Golden Prague cycle by Otakar Nejedlý, a landscape painter and one of the most important artists of the first half of the twentieth century.
From the very beginning the National House of Vinohrady was, together with Žofín, the centre of social life in Prague. This great building of nearly forty rooms, with a winter and summer garden, and a renowned restaurant, was nicknamed ‘Vinohrady town salon’. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from the National Theatre and other leading artists frequently performed in the halls of the National House, so it soon became a cultural centre not only for Vinohrady, but the whole of greater Prague. In 1899, the National House became very important in the history of Czech cinema. Photographer and Czech cinema pioneer Jan Kříženecký projected his first and most successful ‘moving pictures’. Five years later he was followed by the famous Viktor Ponrepo, who screened his films at the National House before founding Prague's first cinema in Karlova street.
Throughout history, locals could also visit the Sokol gym, town resident’s meeting room, Hlahol singing group or craftsmen/workers meetings. From 1897 Vinohrady library was on the first floor. Pištěk’s opera and operetta scene found refuge in the National House, making it the second opera theatre in Prague alongside the National Theatre. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Theatre Orchestra had concerts here, there was an avant-garde theatre, Červená sedma (‘Red Seven’) cabaret, and in August 1913 the first Vinohrady cinema (called Minuta) started its first screenings, and a year later the poet and novelist Karel Mašek opened his popular Puppet Theatre here. Administration of the National House remained with Vinohrady district. It was the only district in Prague to lend its building to poor organisations for free, which was unprecedented before the First World War.
During the Second World War cultural activity declined, and afterwards a State singing and dancing group used the premises. In 1959, a famous dance school was founded at the National House; hundreds of thousands of satisfied students have attended its courses since then. In 1955 the building was renamed the National Cultural Centre of Transport and Communications. Four years later Czechoslovak Railways renamed the building Central Cultural House for Railworkers, a name that accompanied the National House until 1989. After 1990 there was a period of transformation, which also affected the National House.
Currently, the National House of Vinohrady is listed as a National Cultural Monument and is owned by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. Since 1994, the National House and Žofín have been managed by a private company called Národní dům - KDŽ, s.r.o., which is owned by Mr. Jan Nekola’s Agentura NKL s.r.o. Thanks to him, reconstruction of the entire building began. All efforts have been focused on restoring the original appearance and standard of this significant centre of Vinohrady and the whole of Prague; extensive investment has returned the beauty and unique style to the building. Many people connect the National House to their memories of dance courses, proms or major corporate and private events. Development of tourism in Prague is bringing new visitors to the National House, as participants in international conferences, exhibitions and seminars. The building provides a distinguished environment for the headquarters of major companies and organizations which provide insurance, consulting and legal services, as well as educational activities. It also has a fitness centre and restaurant. Every year there is a recognised Swing Music Festival organized at the National House, showing the stars of the world of swing. The National House of Vinohrady is also a popular location for filmmakers. For example, the epic La Mome (the life of Edith Piaf) was filmed here, and our special guests include James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who filmed a commercial here.
High quality technical equipment (video and audio equipment, high-speed internet, Wi-Fi) and complete support services complement the beautiful historic surroundings. The National House of Vinohrady is no longer just a centre of Vinohrady, as was the case in the past; it has become an equal competitor with all the major cultural and social facilities in Prague..