Symbol of Czech statehood reopens as first museum of modern history

Национальный мемориал на холме Витков (Фото: ЧТК)

Wednesday marks the 91st anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. In conjunction with that anniversary, the National Memorial on Prague’s Vítkov hill has just been officially reopened after extensive renovations. It was built in honour of the Czech legionnaires whose bravery in World War I helped pave the way for the creation of the state, and reflects much of modern Czech history.

Photo: CTK
Among the many dignitaries present for the official opening ceremony of the Vítkov National Memorial on Sunday was President Václav Klaus, who urged people to come to the monument, learn and gain respect for Czech history.

“The National Memorial on Vítkov has had a complicated history. Its public perception has often changed according to the twists of fate of the 20th century.”

Václav Klaus  (right),  photo: CTK
The building, a masterpiece of early 20th century functionalist architecture, has been defined and redefined by every major event in modern Czech history. It was designed in 1932 to honour the Czech Legionnaires, who had helped win their country’s independence from Austria-Hungary in the First World War. Not long after though it became a storage building for the Nazis, and then served various propagandistic uses for the communists, most notably as the mausoleum of the country’s first communist president, Klement Gottwald.
Photo: CTK
But it was never open to the public on a regular basis, and after the Velvet Revolution the monument became little more than a reminder of the communist era. When the National Museum took the building over it decided to rescue it from that stigma and re-conceive its use. It invested over 300 million crowns in a renovation project which took three years to complete. Dr. Marek Junek of the museum’s modern history department explains:

Marek Junek
“We have tried to change the building because a lot of people think it is a communist building; that’s not true. So we’ve prepared an exhibition on 20th century Czech and Czechoslovak history. We’ve tried to make the memorial more suitable for visitors, so we built a coffee shop and made a view from the roof for people. We will prepare theatre performance, workshops and so on, like a cultural centre.”

Photo: CTK
The permanent exhibition will be the very first in the country that is solely dedicated to charting the modern history of the Czech and Czechoslovak states at this grand site where even the parliament once met. It will be open to all from October 29th.