King Charles III: How then prince helped save Prague architecture

King Charles III

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, her oldest son ascended to the throne as King Charles III. Not so many people outside of Czechia know, however, that Charles visited the country a number of times after the fall of communism in 1989, and took an active interest in Czech architecture, even establishing a heritage fund with Václav Havel.

Prince Charles visited the Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia a total of five times, with a cluster of visits in the early 1990s. His first visit was in 1991 with Princess Diana, at the invitation of then president Václav Havel.

Zdeněk Lukeš,  photo: Vilém Janouš / Czech Radio

Zdeněk Lukeš, an architect who was active in the revitalization of Prague Castle during the Havel era, remembers the visit.

“We brought him to see some monuments of the Castle area and then some monuments in the city of Prague. And then our colleagues from the National Institute of Monuments brought him to some very important monuments in other places in Czechoslovakia.”

By all accounts, Prince Charles had a keen interest in classical architecture and was very taken with the historic beauty of Prague, but was also saddened to see that many of its buildings and monuments had fallen into disrepair during the Communist era. As a result, he set up the Prague Heritage Fund with Václav Havel, with the aim of restoring and protecting monuments in Prague, particularly from the Baroque period, which according to Lukeš was the prince’s favourite architectural period.

“The foundation had three aims. The first was to restore the beautiful area of the former monastery of St. Bartholomew in Prague’s Old Town. This area was transformed into a prison for political prisoners during the Communist period, where Mr. Havel himself was imprisoned during the ‘80s. The whole area was in very bad condition. The second project was a replica of maybe the most important Baroque monument of Charles Bridge – the sculpture of the Dream of Saint Luitgarda by the famous Czech Baroque sculptor Matyáš Bernard Braun. And the third was the restoration of the terrace gardens below Prague Castle.”

Lukeš says the foundation was a success and all three projects were completed by the turn of the millennium. On his fourth visit to Prague in 2000, Prince Charles came to see what these three sites looked like after their restoration, and having fulfilled its original purpose, the foundation ceased to exist in 2002.

The Prince of Wales also visited other parts of the Czech Republic on his visits, such as Brno on his visits in 1991, 2000, and most recently in 2010, and Jezeří Castle in northwest Bohemia on his first trip in 1991.

Jezeří Castle | Photo:  Whitesachem,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0

“The castle is very close to a coal mine, and so it was in a very bad condition during that period. Of course it was just after the Communist era, so most of the historical monuments in Czechoslovakia were in very bad condition.”

This first visit in 1991 is also notable in that Princess Diana went for a secret swim in Podolí swimming pool one morning, according to the Czech News Agency.

During Charles and Diana’s second visit to the country in 1992, Havel noted that the royal couple even had a connection to Czech royalty – the prince is a descendant of Jiří from Poděbrady and the late Princess Diana was a descendant of the Přemyslid dynasty.

Zdeněk Lukeš says that Charles – now King Charles III – is a conservative man who prefers older periods of architecture and is not such a fan of contemporary architecture from what he knows.

“But he is an expert, especially on the Baroque period, so it was very interesting to speak with him on this theme and to consult how to sensitively save the most important monuments of our country with him. I think that he was fascinated with the city of Prague.”