Prague 2, Vinohrady in Focus
Photo by Aktron on Wikimedia Commons
The district of Vinohrady has been developing and taking shape for over 750 years, welcoming those who have been fortunate enough to live in this beautiful area. At first it was a village known for its vineyards, and then a city in its own right, which grew out of the rolling landscape. You may be unaware that Vinohrady used to incorporate most of Žižkov, and yet there is a clear difference in the ambience and architectural feeling of each area.
It also won’t have passed you by that the area is an expensive one, and if you could look back in time, you’d see that Vinohrady today bears a resemblance to the original village from which it grew. It is ironic that Prague once forced Vinohrady to increase its taxes in line with the other municipalities, and now it is a prime real-estate area.
Many stages of its history featured flurries of creativity and inspiration, and the growth which occurred in Vinohrady was no different from that which drove the development and transformation of towns all over Europe.
However, one of Vinohrady’s most attractive qualities was its rich and dramatic landscape, and for centuries, its nature and location led people to settle there. The landscape first inspired the planting of vineyards, and from this it developed into what we know today. Its history is fascinating, diverse, and well worth investigating.
On 16 February 1358, at an altitude of 235-255m on the site of what would become Královské Vinohrady, the vineyards from which this famous old town got its name were planted. Charles IV’s favourable regulations allowed for the establishment of vineyards in a circumference of three old-Bohemian miles around Prague towns (about 33 km). By 1370, a restriction on wine imports had encouraged more interest in the cultivation of Czech wine. This interest continues today.
Vinohrady shifted and grew, and its unique landscape allowed for the building of farmhouses and extensive agricultural production, which in turn made the land more valuable. Summer residences sprung up in and around the undulating landscape known as the Viniční Mountains.
The vineyards were badly damaged during the Hussite Wars (1419-34) as well as taking a beating from Swedish troops in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). They devastated the buildings and walls before wreaking havoc on the vineyards. Over the rest of the century, the owners and tenants were able to rebuild and restore their vineyards. Following the Battle of White Mountain (or as you may know it, Bílá Hora), re-Catholicizing was a priority. After an increase in secret non-Catholic gatherings, and with people hiding in vineyards and their houses, there was a period during which vineyards were being converted for other agricultural uses.
Photo by Lynx1211 on Wikimedia Commons
Over the course of the 18th century, new buildings were erected on landowners’ estates by tenants and owners who built summer houses; initially of a rather simple nature, these were eventually replaced by grander residences. Gardens with greenhouses and more permanent abodes sprang up where once orchards and hops had grown. There were other wars as well, and the farms and vineyards of Vinohrady suffered great damage during the Silesian Wars (1740-63).
By the end of the 18th century, there were a number of estates situated on the southern slopes which led down to the small river Botič, and in the first half of the 19th century, they evolved into areas of rest and entertainment. The new-look Vinohrady emerged from among buildings and orchards in gardens and parks, which were popular attractions for Prague residents.
The most popular excursion point beyond the gates of Prague was the garden of Earl Josef Emanuel Malabaila de Canal, called Kanálka. It was a unique work of late-18th-century garden architecture. Constructed on the former site of a vineyard, it was big enough eventually to house a zoo, an orchard, and a botanical garden.
The main entrance to Kanálka was a wide avenue leading up to the entrance, lined with oaks, chestnuts, and birch trees. Part of it was located in what is now Riegrovy sady, and if you look hard enough, you can see the tell-tale signs of the original garden.
In addition to Kanálka, there was an English park with many trees, flowers, and fountains, as well as miniature temples, orange and pink orchards, a maze, artificial ponds, and footbridges. There were Chinese-style pavilions and aviaries containing numerous exotic birds, the sounds of which must have added to the flavour of the neighbourhood.
Paths through arches all led to the centre, in which stood a sandstone memorial. At first the park was readily accessible to the public, but tickets were introduced and eventually Jews were banned from it, a terrible stain on what was a remarkable achievement.
Another park in Vinohrady was called Wimmerovy sady. It was located around what is today Náměstí Míru. The main avenues were laid out in a triangle; this is mirrored today by the streets Anglická, Francouzská, Bĕlehradská, and Londýnská. The next time you are at Náměstí Míru, take notice of the street names and the clues they give about Vinohrady’s past.
In the first half of the 19th century, the crossing between Vinohradská and Balbínova housed a garden of beautiful tulips, irises, roses, and pansies. These were tended by the Pštross estate, in which there was also a spa with hot-water showers. Behind this, a Classicist pavilion, a colonnade, and a restaurant combined to create the stunning Pštrosska gardens.
By the middle of the 19th century, an outdoor theatre big enough to seat 3,000 people had been built in the Pštrosska gardens. The new structures – the theatres, the ornate gardens which hosted masquerade balls and bazaars – were taking over Vinohrady, and the inns and cafés encouraged visitors to relax and appreciate the fine surroundings.
The money made and spent did not go unnoticed in Prague and it was only a matter of time before Vinohrady was consumed by a city which had declared itself open in 1866. Not long afterwards, the demolition of the fortifications began; Prague was now free to expand into the surrounding towns and villages.
The suburban landscape beyond New Town was ideal for development. During the 1860s, dozens of apartment blocks were constructed in order to feed the demand for rented accommodation. Initially, these were two storeys high, later increasing to three and four storeys. By 1875, there were 23,130 inhabitants. The increase in residents meant a greater amount of administrative work and in 1875, Royal Vinohrady was split into two parts. Žižkov was born in 1877, alongside the renamed Vinohrady II – Královské Vinohrady.
On the edge of Vinohrady, the Franz Joseph railway station building – the station was later called Wilson Station and finally Hlavní Nádraží – was constructed in 1869 as part of the Prague railway network. Elsewhere, other building projects added to the area’s attractiveness.
One such development was exceptional not only in Vinohrady, but also in Prague. Grebovka was the brainchild of the industrialist Mořic Gröbe, and in 1870 he acquired Upper and Lower Landhauska. Here he built his summer residence in the Italian Renaissance style, extracted rocks from the landscape, and imported fertile soil. The present-day Grebovka has been reconstructed and is one of the best examples of suburban architecture in Prague.
In the autumn of 1875, the first municipal council elections were held in Vinohrady II. The council promised to transform the existing village into a modern city with schools, offices, public transport, and cultural institutions. Squares, wide streets, and green areas were to be constructed on the gardens, fields and, orchards of Královské Vinohrady – once again transforming the area.
On 26 September 1879, Královské Vinohrady was promoted to part of the city, and its younger brother, Žižkov, followed in 1881. However, most of the remaining vineyards were in the hands of German owners and when the municipal council indicated its aim to preserve the Czech character of Vinohrady, they bought up the vineyards and changed German street names into Czech. And the muddy streets of Vinohrady were at last paved in 1884.
By 1885, Vinohrady had acquired its own cemetery. It had already added the Vodárna water pumping station tower and a sewage system in 1882. Horse-drawn transport clopped through the squares such as Jiřího z Poděbrad, Purkyňovo náměstí (now Náměstí Míru), and Tylovo náměstí, which were appearing and becoming centres of public life, with thriving markets. Art Nouveau and Historicist buildings surrounded these hubs. By 1897, the electric conversion of public transport had begun.
In 1902, 11 hectares taken from two gardens and a vineyard were used for the development of Riegrovy sady, which quickly became popular with the residents of Vinohrady as well as Žižkov and New Town. Its continued popularity more than 100 years later is a testament to their design and location.
Vinohrady: as part of Prague
The incorporation of Vinohrady into Prague was not without its problems. On one occasion, Prague threatened to cut off the water supply to Vinohrady, which led to the building of the famous water tower. This was due to Vinohrady’s equivalent of council tax being cheaper than in Prague; this in turn led to the passing of a law, the Reunification of Municipalities Neighbouring with Prague No 114, 1920. Vinohrady duly increased its taxes.
By 1930, the population of Vinohrady was 95,497; the construction of more apartment blocks meant more residents, and the spaces north of Ruská Street and between Bezručovy sady and the Vinohrady Hospital were filled with Art Nouveau and Functionalist architecture.
A significant building erected in the interwar period is the interesting and visually dominant Church of the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord on Jiřího z Poděbrad Square. It was built in the 1930s by Jože Plečnik, the “Genius of Prague,” who was instructed by Tomas Masaryk to restore Prague Castle to its former glory in 1923. Indeed, Plečnik was to Prague what Gaudí was to Barcelona, or what Mackintosh was to Glasgow. Among his many works in Prague, the church itself is the most interesting.
In 1945, damage from Allied bombs destroyed 21 houses, the Church of St. Ludmila, the synagogue, and many other buildings, especially in what is today Vinohradská Street. In fact, Královské Vinohrady suffered more damage from the bombing than anywhere else in Prague. The final days of the war saw heavy fighting in the area as the Czechs sought to protect Czechoslovak Radio. The violent and difficult aspects of history are sometimes hidden during a stroll along these vibrant, pulsing streets, but history is everywhere.
The social differences between Žižkov and Královské Vinohrady increased alongside the architectural diversity, and this had much to do with the residents of each area. In Vinohrady, the middle and upper-middle classes sought a quiet place to live. Artists, doctors, teachers, officials, and merchants all lived in Vinohrady, and this influenced the area to the extent that today the name Royal Vinohrady still sings of its past.
Vinohrady’s appearance will continue to transform, as it has done through the ages. Each visitor is a contributor to its present and future. Prague is literally history in motion, and living in or visiting a city that in some parts is 1,000 years old, demands that its history is both acknowledged and explored.