Architect: Restorers have failed to properly preserve bullet holes on National Museum

National Museum, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The National Museum on Prague’s Wenceslas Square has for years been a symbol of the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia, with its façade riddled with bullet holes from invading soldiers attacking the building. But there have been suggestions a recent renovation of the façade, set to be unveiled next week, has made the marks barely visible.

National Museum,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
The National Museum, located at the top of Wenceslas Square just round the corner from Czechoslovak Radio, became one of the backdrops to the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Soldiers in tanks showered the building with machine gun fire, apparently mistaking it for another institution, says architecture historian Zdeněk Lukeš:

“It happened exactly 50 years ago during the Russian occupation of Prague when the Russian soldiers shot bullets in the façade. They thought that a representative building on top of Wenceslas Square must be something like a parliament or a government building. The façade was filled with many holes from bullets and it became a symbol of Russian occupation of 1968, which has survived till today.”

In 1969, the Czechoslovak Communist authorities ordered to cover the bullet shots, so that people wouldn’t be reminded of the invasion. However, the workers deliberately did a poor job of hiding them, suggests Mr. Lukeš:

Bullet holes on National Museum's façade,  photo: Czech Television
“They wanted to cover the holes, because people could ask why the National Museum building was covered with bullet holes from machine guns. The renovation was carried out during the early 1970s but the restorers made a bad job, with the idea of keeping the holes visible. It was very risky at that time, of course. But they did it and that’s why the clues had remained there for decades.”

With congested motorways surrounding the building on both sides and two metro lines crossing right underneath, the National Museum building has suffered considerably over the past decades.

In recent years the building has undergone a major facelift, with a decision being taken to preserve the evidence of the Soviet occupation on the façade.

However, the restorers may have gone too far and made the marks barely visible, according to Zdeněk Lukeš.

“This new work is absolutely perfect, but the idea to preserve the bullet holes has not come true, because there is almost nothing visible today.

National Museum,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
“It was perfectly restored, they covered the holes with new seals made of sandstone and some parts of the façade have a slightly different colour. But it is not the true story of the symbol of the Russian occupation of 1968.”

The historical building of the National Museum is set to ceremonially reopen just a day before the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia, on October 27.

The renovated façade will be unveiled on Tuesday, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.