Prague National Theatre marks 150th anniversary of foundation

National Theatre in Prague, photo: VitVit CC BY-SA 4.0

The National Theatre in Prague, one of the country’s most important cultural landmarks, celebrates an important anniversary on Wednesday. One hundred and fifty years to do the day, on May 16 1868, the foundation stone of the building, which became a symbol of the Czech national revival, was laid.

National Theatre in Prague,  photo: VitVit CC BY-SA 4.0
The construction of the Czech National Theatre took 13 years and was partly covered by funds raised from a massive public collection. The building was completed in 1881 but only two months after its opening it was destroyed by fire.

A new collection was held around the country to rebuild the National Theatre. The magnificent neo-Renaissance building with a distinct gilded roof was reopened two years later, in November 1883.

The foundation stones of the National Theatre can be found in the basement of the building, six meters below the level of the Vltava River.

The stones were provided by towns and cities from all around the country and some still bear engravings of the place of origin. The three main stones are marked with numbers. Stones number one and two come from the hills of Radhošť in Moravia and Říp in Central Bohemia.

National Theatre’s archivist Marie Hradecká described the origin of the main foundation stone, bearing the number three:

Foundation stones,  photo: archive of National Theatre
“National Theatre’s architect, Josef Zítek, wanted to create a storing space in the foundation stone and the stones from Říp and Radhošť were suitable for that. In the end, a huge granite block was provided by a quarry at Lounovice near Mukařov.

“According to the design, there are two metal boxes embedded in the stone. One contains the theatre’s foundation document with all the signatures and the other contains coins, stones from the prison where Jan Hus was jailed and other artefacts.”

The laying of the foundation stone in 1868 became one of the biggest events of the Czech National Revival. The event lasted for three days and was attended by around 150,000 people.

Important figures from the Czech cultural and political sphere tapped the stone with a gilded hammer. One of them was composer Bedřich Smetana, whose opera Dalibor, composed especially for the occasion, was premiered on the day.

National Theatre’s archivist Marie Dvořáková again:

Laying of the foundation stone in 1868,  photo: archive of National Theatre
“Among other people present at the event was František Kollár, a prominent actor and artistic director of the Provisional Theatre in Prague, historian František Palacký and journalist Karel Sladkovský, who were both members of the Committee for the Foundation of the National Theatre. Altogether 42 people ceremonially tapped the foundation stone.”

The National Theatre reopened on 18 November, 1883 with the performance of Bedřich Smetana’s opera Libuše, which was performed under the famous slogan Národ sobě – a nation unto itself.

The National Theatre started with around 250 employees and today employs more than 1,300 people. To this day, more than 4,200 different performances have taken place there.