Prague's National Museum to include former RFE building

Radio Free Europe

Many visitors to Prague will easily recall the capital's National Museum - the neo-Renaissance building that crowns the top of Wenceslas Square. Over a hundred years old, it features exhibitions and boasts a massive natural history collection. But, what goes on display is only a fraction of the museum's collection and in this respect the organisation couldn't have gotten better news this week. Confirmation it would gain use of a neighbouring site that once housed Czechoslovakia's Federal Parliament and currently is home to Radio Free Europe.

The National Museum's director Michal Lukes
The former building of the Federal Parliament has now been home to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty for many years but not much longer: construction on a new site for the radio station began last month. This week the government gave the Culture Ministry jurisdiction over the site when RFE moves, and that means it will come under the wing of the neighbouring National Museum. The decision couldn't come at a better time for the organisation, as extensive reconstruction awaits the National Museum's 19th century interiors and infamously crumbling facades. The former Parliament building, a modern glass-and-steel structure just across the way, will provide valuable new opportunities. The National Museum's director Michal Lukes:

"For us the decision was absolutely crucial because the National Museum itself will have to undergo extensive reconstruction from 2008. We needed to know what to expect. Next year we will begin putting together plans for the future of the main building, built in 1891, which would prove extremely difficult to modernise in some respects. The new building, finished in the '70s, provides many new possibilities for exhibitions, a restaurant, a café, and a screening facility. If you add to that planned changes to Wenceslas Square we really think it could become a major cultural site in Europe."

Buildings of the National Museum  (left) and RFE,  photo: CTK
The changes to Wenceslas Square that Dr Lukes refers to, are an eventual re-routing of the 'magistrala' highway that physically cuts off the museum and the former Parliament building from the rest of the square. Dr Lukes then says that the National Museum's making use of both buildings will allow exhibitions to vary, depending on differences in space.

"The basic idea is that the main building will continue to focus on Czech history while the newer building might be used to house exhibitions from our wider collection, titled 'Window on the World'. The site, with a lot of natural light, will be excellent for displaying pieces from Antiquity, for example. Basically, there can be interplay between both buildings as well as a dynamic between the old and the new."

Developing the former Parliament and radio station site will not come without cost, but Michal Lukes says the building is in excellent shape all things considered, having already undergone some reconstruction under RFE. In terms of finding room in the budget, the director says that has already been considered, given the museum was already looking for alternatives. Some 160 million crowns are being considered for the first phase of taking over the RFE building. Reconstruction on the main building can then be more easily completed over seven years or so - from 2008 to 2015.