Scenes of total devastation at the Museum of Central Bohemia

the Castle in Roztoky

Until three weeks ago the Museum of Central Bohemia was one of the most interesting and dynamic smaller museums in the Czech Republic. Housed in the little town of Roztoky, just outside Prague, it included unique archaeological collections, several permanent exhibitions and a huge number of historic artifacts from Central Bohemia. Then on the 13th August the waters of the River Vltava swept through the museum, floods that hadn't been seen here for five hundred years. With the waters now subsided, David Vaughan visited the museum to see how staff are coping with a crisis of epic proportions.

The Castle in Roztoky
Over the last three weeks I've visited a lot of places damaged by the floods, but I don't think anything quite prepared me for the devastation at the museum in the old moated manor house and mill in Roztoky. The River Vltava rose with incredible speed, and the museum staff had just half an hour to evacuate the building. The head of the conservation department, Dusan Pelik, gives us an idea of the huge scale of the destruction.

"All the exhibitions in the museum were destroyed, all the conservation department and some parts of the archive, the library and the photoarchives. Also the other building - the mill - there was about six or seven metres of water there, you could see only the roofs. Before the flood we tried to move everything to the first floor but it wasn't enough, because six metres of water, it's too much."

Until these apocalyptic scenes, the greatest pride of the museum was its conservation department. It housed two of Europe's most modern laboratories for restoring artifacts, including a chamber where wooden exhibits could be treated using radiation techniques rather than chemicals. Dusan Pilnik showed me what had been his workplace.

- "We're now going into the building where these high-tech laboratories used to be, and their actually in the cellar, ironically enough, to make things still worse, and there is mud, dirt here, a damp smell. There is black water on the ground here and mud."

"Just now we are in the rooms of the radiation chamber. This apparatus is used for the treatment of furniture against woodworm."

- "And now it's just an empty room. All the walls are just covered with mud."

The scale of the destruction is matched by the sheer energy of the museum staff, and there has been a huge wave of support and solidarity. Tana Pekarkova is the museum's programme director.

"We were amazed, the first weekend after the floods, how many people from Roztoky came to help in the initial rescue operation. There are lots of people who are still helping, but of course we have to do most of the work ourselves. We were delighted by offers from help from other museums throughout the country. Some, for example, have offered to house some of our exhibits, which is important, because it's damp everywhere here."

Just to renovate the buildings will cost up to 60 million crowns (2 million US dollars). To replace the laboratories will cost a further nearly ten million crowns. Given the circumstances, the optimism of the staff is amazing. Despite the destruction I can well believe them, when they say that the museum will once again be up-and-running by next summer.

CLICK HERE to see further photographs of the Museum of Central Bohemia after the flood and for an account number to send contributions to help with the renewal of the museum.