The Club for Old Prague keeps an eye on new building in the Czech capital


By Alena Skodova The Club for Old Prague brings together devotees of old Prague, whose main goal is to protect the city's architectural and urban qualities against insensitive new development. It has just celebrated its 102nd birthday.

The Club for Old Prague has an illustrious history. To find out more about its roots I spoke with one of its members, the architect Martin Krise:

"The club started in a period when in Prague was a big development around the historical core. At the end of the century money came to the centre of the city, and a big reconstruction of the Old Town started after the example of Paris. At that time many historical houses disappeared and were replaced by a new scheme. But people found out that it was not good to destroy everything and started to fight against the magistrate and against the government in Vienna trying to find some rules for building in Prague and to interpret new ideas for preservation. The members were important people of the city council who wanted to express their opinion not to the council, but they wanted to act as private persons."

In the course of over a hundred years, the Club for Ancient Prague has fought many a battle, but only some ended in victory. Mr. Krise told me about one of the most famous cases:

"We have had some victories and of course many disasters, but this one is very nice and it was very simple: Charles bridge, which is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, had a tram - and that old tram, because the bridge was so beautiful, had no wires, but a cable beneath the pavement. They maintained it very badly and it did not work well, and the magistrate came to the idea that there should be wires above the tram. The Club for Old Prague was against it and an architect drew a sketch of Prague Castle and St. Vitus cathedral and the statues on the bridge - and the wires. It was so simple that everybody could understand this very quickly, so the public opinion was so strong that wires were not allowed. Another bridge was built and the tram was removed onto the new bridge."

Since the fall of Communism, which has seen a huge building boom in Prague, the Club for Old Prague has been closely watching developments in the city centre and has been assessing their integration into the existing fabric of the city - especially since 1992, when Prague's ancient centre was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.