190 years since birth of architect and philanthropist Josef Hlávka

Josef Hlávka, photo: Martina Schneibergová

Architect, builder, politician and the greatest Czech philanthropist Josef Hlávka was born on February 15, 1939.The foundation he established in support of education, science and art is active to this day.

Josef Hlávka was born in the small town of Přeštice near Plzeň and studied architecture, graduating from the Technical University in Prague as well as from the famous Academy of Plastic Arts in Vienna.

He started out as a mason’s apprentice, learning the bricklaying craft in the firm of a Viennese builder of Czech origin, František Šebek. When the owner retired, he handed his prospering firm over to Hlávka for free. The company flourished and Hlávka soon became a respected and wealthy businessman.

Hlávka student dormitory,  photo: limojoe,  CC BY-SA 3.0

In Vienna Josef Hlávka is remembered as one of the most successful architects and builders of the 1860s. Over a period of ten years, from 1860 to 1870, he and his colleagues designed and built about 150 buildings, including the Vienna opera, built at the behest of Emperor Franz Joseph I.

The most impressive Hlávka building in Prague is the neo-gothic maternity hospital, which serves its purpose to this day. There is also a large block of tenement houses in Vodičkova Street, which today serve as the seat of the Hlávka foundation.

Maternity hospital U Apolináře,  photo: Lenka Žižková

At the age of just 38 Hlávka fell seriously ill and his legs were paralyzed. Although bound to a wheelchair, he continued to work as hard as ever. It was at the time of his illness that Hlávka became actively involved in charity work and although he miraculously recovered eleven years later, he continued in his support of Czech artists and scientists.

Among other things, he participated in establishing the Czech Academy of Science, Letters and Arts in Prague, built a student dormitory in the centre of Prague and donated money to support gifted students.

Josef Hlávka was married twice, but both of his wives died prematurely, leaving no children behind. Before his own death, Josef bequeathed all his property to his foundation.

The foundation, which bore the names of his two wives, Marie and Zdeňka, miraculously managed to survive the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Nazi occupation and even the years of Communist rule and is active to this day.