Prague district seeks to brand itself as cultural hub

Národní galerie, Veletržní palác, foto: Khalil Baalbaki, ČRo

Most tourists visiting the Czech capital converge on just a few spots in the city, crowding the streets along the so-called Royal Route that leads from through the Old Town Square to Charles Bridge – missing out on many other interesting places that Prague has to offer. Now, city councillors from the district Prague 7 have decided to change that. Last week they announced their plan to become the city’s new cultural district with an alternative to the Royal Route.

Hana Třeštíková,  photo: archive of Prague 7 Municipality
I spoke to one of the councillors, Hana Třeštíková, and asked her to tell me more about the project called Art District 7:

“The idea came up when we became part of the board of members of the City Town Hall. I started to speak with all the representatives of the cultural institutions in Prague 7 asking them what they think the Town Hall should do for them and how it could help them.

“Actually, Prague 7 already is an art and cultural district of Prague, but it is not organised in any official way. So we discussed the possibilities and we agreed that the position of the Town hall should be to coordinate the institutions and continue to build the project of an Art District, which already exists but has no common label.”

Where did you find inspiration for the project? Did you look for inspiration in other EU cities?

“Well, we know that in almost every city in Europe, and not only in Europe, there are some cultural and art districts. In Berlin there is Kreuzberg and in Vienna there is the Museums Quartier. So we were making a research on various cities and we found out that it is quite common for every bigger city to have a district of this kind.”

One part of the project is creating an alternative to the Royal Route, a well- known sightseeing route in the city. Can you tell me more about this “New Royal Route”?

“The basic idea is that the city centre is overloaded with tourists and the traditional Royal Route is so well-known that it becomes too crowded. But there is an alternative route leads from Prague Castle to the National Gallery and to the modern art centre Dox. It is a beautiful walk and it is a shame that it is not that well known.

“It starts at Prague Castle, leading through the Castle Gardens and Letná park to Prague 7. It is almost like a Museums Mile. There is the National Technical Museum, the National Gallery, and all the other institutions and it is perfect for tourists who are not interested only in sightseeing. It can help not only the City of Prague, but it can also attract more tourists to the district of Prague 7.”

Letohrádek Královny Anny,  photo: Kristýna Maková
Can you describe the route? Where does it start and what are the highlights along the way?

“Of course Prague Castle and its surroundings as a starting point is the biggest highlight. Then the route goes through the royal garden along the Letohrádek Královny Anny, through the Letná park where there is a great view from the Mertonome, which is where the statues of Stalin used to stand in the 1950s.

“The walk through the park would get you to the National Technical Museum, which is the most visited museum in Prague. Next to it there is another museum, the National Agriculture Museum. And a little bit further you would get to the Veletržní palác, where the National Gallery’s modern art collection is located.

“And since you are in Prague 7, there is a plenty of other cultural institutions, such as theatres or an art house cinema Bio Oko. The end of the alternative royal route would be the centre of contemporary art at Dox."

One of the obstacles in creating the route is transport, namely the Bubny station. Have you already got a solution to this problem?

“Unfortunately that is a big issue because this area is one of the biggest brownfields in the centre of Prague and the situation is very complicated so it will probably take some time before people can actually pass through this zone.

Fair Trade Palace | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio
“But what we are trying to develop right now is a kind of system of signs in Czech and English that would help tourists to orient themselves in the district, in terms of where to go and how to get there. We were inspired by the system of signs in London which is very well organised.”

As far as I know, you are cooperating with Prague Institute of Planning and Development. What is their role in the project?

“Their role on the project is building the strategy, helping us with the theoretical part of the project, that means they collecting data and interviewing representatives of each of the cultural institution and the result of their work should be a document that will tell us what are the official needs, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the project and some proposal about what to do in the future."

The alternative Royal Route is just one part of the Art District 7 project. So what else are you planning?

“Apart from the city signs, we are also working on a tourist map of Prague 7 which should be available for free in tourist centres free of charge. So tourists can get the map and find out what to see in the district. The map is made with the help of the locals, so there will be a number of tips where to go for a coffee, where to see a film, what galleries are on the way and so on.”

Finally, as you have already said, Prague 7 and namely Letná is already known as a sort of cultural district and in recent years it has become a cool place to live in. Why do you think it has become so attractive?

“I don’t think there is only one answer to this question. I think it was a synergy of the institutions that were established in the district, the National Gallery and Dox.

Dox,  photo: archive of Dox
“And then somehow it started to be cool because a lot of young people moved in, and there is a lot of families living here, so the population of Prague 7 is very residential and artistic. There is also the Academy of Fine Arts so there are a lot of artists and they have their studios here. So altogether it started to be well known for its cultural and artistic potential.”