“Industrial heritage” looks at forgotten Czech monuments

Czech industrial heritage is the focus of a new book that was presented in Prague on Tuesday. Published in both Czech and English by the Czech Technical University, the volume “Průmyslové dědictví – Industrial Heritage” is a collection of papers from the international conference “Vestiges of Industry”, held in the Czech Republic’s largest industrial centres every two years.

A small railway museum inside a former engine house at Masaryk Station in Prague saw the launch of a new publication on Wednesday – a collection of proceedings from the international biennial “Vestiges of Industry”, first organized in 2001 by the Research Centre for Industrial Heritage of the Czech Technical University in Prague. The centre’s director Benjamin Fragner is the editor of the book.

“This publication sums up the most important papers from the last two conferences which occurred during “Vestiges of Industry” – an event we began to organize in the late 1990’s. The first conference took place in 2001 with the aim of assessing the value of our industrial heritage, and attempting to find new uses for it. But – perhaps more importantly – this conference also aimed to clarify the often inconsistent opinions even among experts which often led to improper use and sometimes even abuse of industrial heritage sites that in certain cases even ended in their demolition.”

One of the papers also deals with Masaryk Station, built in the 1840s. Prague City Hall has recently come up with a plan to demolish the building and replace it with a shopping mall. Benjamin Fragner says the case of Prague’s oldest train station is typical of the way industrial monuments are treated today.

“I am afraid that the pressure, to close Masarykovo Nádraží and use sections of it for commercial purposes without much concern for its historical value, is too strong to be withstood. But at the same time I do not believe that anyone would venture to demolish for example the building that we are standing in now which is part of the oldest railway-station in Prague and therefore is a part of the history of this country. I simply cannot imagine that.”

Masaryk Station
Meanwhile, the National Technical Museum established a small railway museum in the station’s former engine house. The director of the National Technical Museum Horymír Kubíček also hopes that the monument can survive Prague’s developing boom.

“The significance of the late Empire-style metropolitan train station in the centre of Prague is so obvious and unique that even the Czech government recognized it when in 2000 it agreed to fund the Railway Museum as part of the National Technical Museum. We see so many great examples abroad – I visited Manchester, London and York where historic train stations are still used today and show the viability of projects combining a train station and museum in one.”

The new book puts industrial heritage in the Czech Republic into an international context, with papers on industrial monuments and the ways they are used now in Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and other countries. The organizers hope that raising public awareness of Czech industrial heritage will help prevent further damages to the priceless structures, spread across the country.