Space under one-time Stalin monument opening to public after two decades

Photo: Miroslav Vopata, CC BY-SA 3.0

From Thursday people in Prague will get a rare, if brief, opportunity to enter the dark chambers beneath the spot where an enormous statue of Stalin stood in the late 1950s. The monument is long gone, but rubble from it is believed to remain behind the heavy doors that guard the underground space.

Photo: Miroslav Vopata,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The edge of Prague’s Letná Plain overlooking Štefánik Bridge was from 1955 to 1962 the site of an enormous statute of Josef Stalin and four followers.

The largest group statue in Europe, the 15 metre high work was nicknamed the meat queue in reference to the frequent shortage of basic goods under communism.

However, the de-Stalinisation process made the granite monument an embarrassment to the Czechoslovak government and they were forced to remove it.

Stalin and co. were blown up bit by bit over several weeks. Taking photographs of the operation was banned, though it was hardly a secret as the explosions could be heard around the city.

Photo: CTK
There are differing reports as to what was done with the hundreds of tonnes of rubble. However, some, including architectural historian Zdeněk Lukeš, believe that at least part of it was simply dumped in the space beneath where the monument had stood and which at one point was earmarked for a hall or mausoleum.

After the fall of communism, the dank underground space – which had latterly been at least briefly a potato store – hosted a groundbreaking 1990 art show, while now legendary club nights were also held there.

Research carried out around the same time failed to turn up any identifiable parts of the statue in the rubble and the heavy metal doors that guard the space were locked, seemingly for good.

Photo: CTK
But now, two decades later, guided tours are to be given of the chambers on May Day thanks to the civic group Opona, who got permission to open them up from City Hall.

For the following two weeks the space will be open to the public, free of charge. However, it will not be possible to reserve admission in advance. It will be on a first come, first served basis. Just like in a meat queue, organisers say.