Last ditch moves are aimed at halting auction of Prague Invalidovna complex

Invalidovna, photo: CTK

One of Prague’s most impressive architectural secrets, the massive baroque Invalidovna complex in the city’s Karlín district, is up for sale. Used as a backdrop to many films, the former home for war veterans constructed in the 18th century had found no takers from various state institutions and is now set to go under the hammer in spite of protests from well known architects and the local council.

Invalidovna,  photo: CTK
The closing scenes of Miloš Forman’s Oscar winning film Amadeus where the aged composer Salieri is wheeled down the long hospital corridors was set at Invalidovna. And it has long been a favourite for many filmmakers.

But a big for sale sign is now on the massive complex which is reckoned to have only two equivalents in the whole of Europe – L’hotel des Invalides in Paris and the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea pensioners.

An auction, with a reserve price tag of almost 638 million crowns on the complex, has been arranged by a state property agency. The spokesman for the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs is Radek Ležatka.

“Eight o’clock on August 8 is the deadline for written bids to be lodged. If there are bids, they will be opened at 10 o’clock and if there are more than two bids there will take place an auction for the highest price where those interested can offer more than the written bid.”

Invalidovna,  photo: CTK
While Mr. Ležatka can confirm that various visits of the complex have been made by potential bidders he is not at liberty to say more. The sale should be the biggest carried out by the state body this year. The astronomic costs of restoring the complex properly could be a turn off.

But the looming sale of Invalidovna has sparked protests from leading figures in the world of architecture. This week a petition signed by leading Czech architects and members of the faculties at Prague, Olomouc, and Brno was sent to Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. It called on him to cancel to auction and highlighted how the sorry experience of other Prague architectural treasures which were bought up by developers and then left as shells after the insides were gutted for commercial development.

And some members of the local council of Prague’s 8 district have also opposed the sale. Deputy mayor Petr Vilgus of the Greens has called on Finance Minister Andrej Babiš to step in a cancel it on the grounds that such a national treasure should not be allowed to go into private hands.

Invalidovna,  photo: CTK
There were media reports Friday that a last stake initiative by the Ministry of Culture to have the building used by the National Heritage Institute, a move which would presumably cancel the auction.

The building, inspired by its French namesake, was competed in 1737. It was last used by war veterans in 1935 and began to be used for military archives. The archives and building were damaged during the major Prague floods of 2002. Some past projects, such as the buildings use by Charles University, have dropped by the wayside.