Mapamátky project offers unusual walks through Prague
Mapamátky is a Czech association dedicated to popularising Prague’s architecture. As part of their activity, they created a web app motivating people to go outside and explore the city. It originated during the Covid lockdown as a university assignment, and has since developed into a professional project, offering more than a dozen thematic walks through the Czech capital that can be downloaded for free. Mapamátky, which combines the Czech words for maps and sites, recently launched its English version. On the occasion, I discussed the project with one of its founders, Marie Zákostelecká:
“The project was created during our studies of Arts Management at the University of Economics in Prague, but since then we have been developing it on our own with my friends and colleagues.
“It was first created during the hardest Covid lockdown, and the assignment was to create some online event for people, since they couldn’t attend any other cultural events.
"The assignment was to create some online event for people, since they couldn’t attend any other cultural events."
“We didn’t want to do any online concerts, because there were many similar events already taking place across Czechia. What we wanted was to make people go outside, but on their own.
“That’s why we created the website, originally with four routes. We wanted to motivate people to go out, look around and discover the beauty of the buildings, even in their own street.”
What made you carry on with the project even after Covid?
“After we launched the website in December 2020 and the school assignment was completed and we were given our grades, we didn’t want to give it up. First of all, it was a big success and secondly, there were still many topics to be discovered, so we wanted to carry on.
“So we founded an association, a non-profit organization, and with a few people from my school, we continued with the project. Later, we were also joined by other people.
“At the moment, some of the people on the team are my classmates from school, but most of the people come from other backgrounds, and we are working on the projects together.”
In your free time, I suppose?
“Yes. The project is non-profit and we are doing it because we want to do something good for people.”
To navigate Mapamátky, all you need to do is to visit the website, choose one of the routes and download a map. Do you also offer guided tours?
“We are trying to search for alternative ways to get to know the city.”
“The main product of Mapamátky are individual tours, because we still believe that when people are on their own in the city, they can notice various places and details they wouldn’t notice with a guide.
“But of course we know that people like guided tours so we sometimes do them. We have also started to focus on other ways of discovering the architecture and the history of Prague and we started to create pop quizzes. So we are trying to search for alternative ways to get to know the city.”
Mapamátky started with four routes, and at the moment, there are 13. Some of them focus on different architectural styles, but there are also routes exploring courtyards and passages or places linked to famous Czech writers. How do you create these routes? What does the decision process look like?
“It’s actually kind of challenging to choose the topics because there are so many of them. Also, every building can be seen many different ways, based on the architect, the style, the urban planning or the year they were built.
“With our team, we always brainstorm the topics and the places that we know and that we want to recommend to people, so the choice of the places on the website is kind of subjective.
“When we choose a topic, it is also important to make a list of the places and see them on a map, since some topics cannot be made into a walk because they are really far away from each other.
“Some of the routes were made in cooperation with other projects, because we are not only creating tours about architecture, we try to go beyond. That’s why we try to find the topics that are not only connected to architecture, but there is something more that people can learn…”
One example could be The Empty Route, which features Prague’s many abandoned buildings…
“Yes. This route was created in cooperation with the Empty Houses Association. I know some people from this organisation and we created a route based on the buildings listed on their website.
“This route is kind of special because it goes from Malostranské náměstí square along the Prague Castle through Nerudova Street, which is one of the most touristic places in Prague.
“Most people just go to the castle and look at the beautiful Baroque facades of the houses, but a lot of them are actually empty. So we wanted to point out that it is kind of an issue in Prague with the empty houses. So that’s how we created this route.”
Only one of the 13 walks is dedicated to a single architect, and that is Karel Prager, one of the most important Czech architects of the second half of the 20th century. Why did you chose him, of all Czech architects?
“This was a collaboration with CAMP, the Centre for Architecture and Metropolitan Planning, which is accommodated in one of his buildings, known as the Cubes.
“We thought that it might be interesting to create a route which starts in CAMP and traces his famous, but also less famous buildings, such as the central boiler room.
“Also his style is kind of unique. People often think that it is brutalism, but it’s more like Mies van den Rohe style with, you know, with the light construction. Some people might not like his style because it is associated with communism, but it is really valuable.”
You recently launched an English version of Mapamátky. Does it mean you see a potential in visitors from abroad?
“Of course we see a potential, because we know that people want to discover Prague when they come here, but the focus is still on the local people. We think that our product is kind of unique and Czech people really appreciate it. Even those who already know a lot about architecture can still find something new on our website.
“So the English version has been launched mainly for the expats. So the target is really not tourists, because we think there are other organizations which can do that better than us. But of course if some tourists come across our website, we are happy they use it.”
“It is a special type of tourism for people who don't want to go with the flow.”
Something like slow tourism…
“Yes, exactly, we don't have only hidden places in Prague. We also have the main tourist attractions, such as Charles Bridge, on our website. But when you look at the caption, you can of course read a brief history and the year it was built.
“However, what we focus on is the fact that there were trams and cars running across the bridge until 1965. Many people don’t know that there was public transport on this bridge. So these are the kind of facts we want to give to people.”
You have recently also published a book which features the best of Mapamátky. Do you also plan to release an English version?
“The book features 70 places in Prague that we recommend. There are not only places from our website, but also some new sites. In the future we plan to have all these places on our website. It also gives you a hint about which walks we are planning for the future.
“We would be very happy to have this book in English, but since it was published by Albatros publishing house, we have to make this decision together. I think it would definitely find its readers, but we still have to discuss it and research the market, so it remains to be seen.”
You yourself are not an architect. What have you discovered about Prague during the process of creating Mapamátky?
“Mapamátky gave me a very special approach to Prague. Every time I am walking its streets, I notice something different. For example, when I am in the city with my friends, I am always pointing out some doorways or something interesting about the windows, not only the beautiful details, but also something that is weird or unusual.
“So I think this is how I started to appreciate the city and I really believe that when people start to notice these small details, they will be able to notice how the city develops and to think about how the streets are made and whether you feel good in them. So I think it is very important to think about these questions.”