Floods 2002, one year later: Museum of Central Bohemia

Museum of Central Bohemia

Since 1957, the grounds of Roztoky Chateau, just a few kilometres north of Prague, have been used to house exhibitions. At the time, the chateau became the seat of the newly founded local History and Geography Museum. In the mid-1970s, it expanded and had to buy two more exhibition spaces. The nearby Brauner Mill and the studio of Czech painter Zdenka Braunerova were added to its premises. After reconstruction work in 1981, the museum's management, new administration, and workshops, which included a conservation lab, were moved into the main chateau building. With just 150 metres separating the chateau and the river, a bulwark was raised to protect the building from potential flooding from the north, east, and south. But in August 2002, the inevitable occurred and the entire premises - eight historic structures in total - were left under water. The bulwark was only built for so-called one-hundred year floods - floods that come only once every one hundred years. No-one had ever thought that the Vltava River would burst its banks and the region would be hit by "five-hundred year floods".

Roztoky Chateau during floods
I'm currently on the second floor of the museum overlooking the main courtyard. Next to me is Mr Dusan Perlik from the conservation department. I can tell from the walls that the water rose almost up to the second floor...

"Here it reached four metres but in another building the water was eight metres high. It went all the way up to the ceiling."

That is truly unbelievable and difficult to imagine. Below us, on the first floor, there are a number of rooms which, I believe, were used for exhibitions?

"Yes, they are totally damaged. We are now working on the conservation and re-construction of the entire ground floor."

What was in these little rooms?

"It was our permanent exhibition - an archaeological exhibition that had six rooms full of archaeological findings. But we were lucky because we moved them all to another place before the floods. The rooms are totally damaged so it's not possible to use them still. This is a very old building and the walls are made of stone so they dry very slowly. I think we have reached half way in the drying process."

Roztoky Chateau during floods
Have there been any works of art that needed to be conserved. How has that been going?

"The first problem was that we had to reconstruct our laboratories because they were all on the ground floor. So, we first had to prepare the laboratories before starting with the conservation. We have many problems with the furniture - I don't know how many pieces of furniture were under water - and many archives, papers, and books were also a problem. Now all the archives and books are dry and we're just working on the cleaning process and the conservation of paper."

Was there anything that was lost and could not be recovered?

"Yes, of course. We lost many photographs because they are very difficult to conserve. When a photograph is under water for just one day, there is nothing left to conserve afterwards. We lost many collections."

How has reconstruction work developed?

"It's going very slowly. We are in an old building from the Renaissance period so the reconstruction of all of these rooms must be done very slowly and it takes time. Money is also a big problem because it's expensive; it involves not only reconstruction but also the conservation and restoration of all exhibition rooms and laboratories. So, it's going ahead but very slowly."

Where have you been getting the money from?

"Mainly from our insurance company but that takes time. We also get money from the government - our culture ministry - and many donations from people and organisations. So we have these three sources of money. It was all very pessimistic because we were without money and knew we needed sixty million Czech crowns. There were all sixty people here who not only had to work on the reconstruction but also on the conservation and scientific work. So, it was a bad time in winter. It's much better now."

As Mr Perlik just mentioned, the biggest damage was done to the photo archive. Before the floods, the museum's staff managed to save some 3,000 pictures - only about 40% of the entire collection. The rest, along with the complete documentation of the museum's activities and other important papers, were destroyed by the water. From the research library, located in an elevated part of the ground floor, some 2,500 books - about a quarter of the collection - could also not be saved. But thanks to the optimism and hard work of the museum's staff, it was able to re-open its doors to the public less than four months after the devastation. Tana Pekarkova is the museum's programme director:

"Everything that worked then, works now. Imagine, though, you had a house with two floors and now have to fit everything into the upper floor - not just the bedrooms but also the toilet, kitchen, living room and garage. Although we're working in makeshift conditions, the public has not noticed it yet. The staff are always aware of it though because we naturally get sick of each other sometimes. We opened our doors to the public on December 5, and have offered six new exhibitions since then, accompanied by various cultural programmes such as theatre performances, concerts and so on. Often, visitors do not remember that this place was flooded a year ago. Some ask us why the walls look so rough and we have to explain to them that it was caused by the water. The visitors who come here can also enjoy our park, which I'm truly proud of, as it now looks just like it was before the floods and we even managed to save a live exhibition of healing plants. People even come here to get married, because of the peaceful atmosphere the chateau grounds offer. The exhibition halls, as I mentioned earlier are unfortunately not all open yet but on the upper floor of the chateau, visitors will always get to see one new temporary exhibition and one permanent exhibition."

Mr Dusan Perlik:

"We now have the same amount of visitors as before the floods, about eight hundred a month. It depends on the activities and exhibitions. Sometimes we have many more. From this summer, we have an exhibition of Czech design - an exhibition from about ten technical designers. In the other room is an exhibition of Zdenka Braunerova, a Czech painter who was born in Roztoky."