Prague to revitalise trendy Holešovice market, a victim of the “wild 1990s"

Visualisation of Holešovice market

In the Prague district of Holešovice, a stone’s throw north of the Vltava River, lies one of the largest year-round marketplaces in the entire Czech Republic. The site covering some 11 hectares served as a slaughterhouse and cattle market from 1895 until the 1970s, when the latter was closed due to complaints about the stench. A move is now afoot to bring the half-empty Holešovice Market fully back to life.

This summer, City Councillors announced an international architectural and landscaping tender to fully restore the partly revitalised market, to its former glory – while also giving it a modern make-over.

The former slaughterhouse now houses the international theatre and circus space Jatka 78 and the Trafo Gallery. There are also now quite a few stores, food stands, stalls, a couple bars – even a music club.

But the decades-long neglect of the sprawling site is palpable. Most of the late 19th Century buildings are crumbling or even gutted. And the massive front-facing complex, just by the main gates, is home to an Amsterdam-style “house of ill repute” – a bordello.

It’s not a good look, says Deputy Mayor of Prague Pavel Vyhnánek, one of the city officials long pushing to make the Holešovice Market into a true cultural venue.

Holešovice market | Photo: Miloš Turek,  Radio Prague International

“The Prague Market areal was established some 125 years ago, originally as an abattoir of the Royal City of Prague [under Austro-Hungarian rule]. This particular site was chosen because it was then on the city outskirts, and the wind blew in a favourable direction. The slaughterhouse stench didn’t linger but blew towards Libeň, which at the time wasn’t a part of the city.”

After sitting idle for years, the site opened exclusively as a marketplace in 1983 – becoming a veritable “city within a city” for a while. But with the fall of Communism and rise of shopping malls, it became known as a clearinghouse for counterfeits and cheap knockoffs.

The decline, as Deputy Mayor Pavel Vyhnánek described it in an interview for Czech Radio, was compounded in the “wild ‘90s” by the City of Prague leasing the entire 11-hectare complex – for 50 years – to a company with “dubious facilities”, a clear reference to the bordello.

The city waged a 10-year legal battle to amend that lease and gain control over what businesses could operate at the site. Today, there are over 75 vendors in the main hall, “No. 22”, including farmers offering fresh fruit and vegetables, and antique furniture sellers. But a lot of work remains to be done, says Mr Vyhnánek.

“Step by step, and taking the long-term view, we want to restore the market to its former glory. But mainly, we hope bring it fully to life, with the right mix of retail, service, cultural and leisure activities, gastronomy. The kind of mix where the market will be open all day, and really to all. There’s certainly enough space – so we know it can work!”

In the meantime, however, the Holešovice Market will continue to host pop-up events, such as exhibitions of art school dissertations, and most recently, a giant swap meet.