Website spotlights Prague’s hidden treasures

Na Slatinách, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0

If you think you know pretty much everything there is to see in Prague, you should definitely visit the website Praha neznámá or Prague Unknown. As the title suggests, it focuses on the lesser known historical, architectural and natural sights in the Czech capital, such as the first functionalist housing estate, a marshland situated just fifteen minutes from the city centre or an artificial lake where President Masaryk used to swim. I spoke to Praha neznámá’s founder Petr Ryska and started by asking him how he got the idea to create it in the first place:

Villa Müller in Ořechovka,  photo: Public Domain
“Since my childhood I loved walking through all the districts of Prague; there are 112 of them. I have been interested in all things related to Prague, no matter if it was architecture, history, nature, people, pubs or clubs, as long as they were related to Prague."

So you were born in Prague?

“Yes, I was born in Motol but I have spent most of my life in Prague six, which is an area close to Prague Castle.”

"I focused on the unknown places in Prague because I wanted to discover something new. And then I decided not to keep all the nice experiences only to myself but to share them with others. So in May 2013 I established a blog and then, just two months ago, my website Praha Neznámá.”

Did you study architecture or anything connected with arts?

"I studied tourism which is at least partly connected with architecture and of course closely connected with Prague. I also wrote my thesis on the importance of interwar architecture in Prague for tourism."

How do you choose the locations you write about?

"As I said, there are 112 districts, which means it is not easy to decide. There are many factors that I take into consideration. The first one is weather. Maybe it sounds strange, but when the weather is nice, I prefer to visit the villa districts. When it is gloomy or rainy, I visit slums or poor districts, because of the atmosphere."

Nowadays, when you have so many readers, do you get tips or suggestions from them?

Hostavice wetlands,  photo: archive of Petr Ryska
"I have many contacts with my readers. There are two groups of them, I would say. One group is the residents from the districts I write about, and the second one is people looking for walking tips in Prague. It is just difficult to fulfil all the wishes of my readers because each of them would like me to follow their home district.”

Your aim is to cover all the 112 districts of the capital. But you also write articles focusing on history or natural sights.

"That’s right. For example in Hostavice in Prague 9 you can find wetlands, and even wooden paths that go through the wetlands. I would have never expected to find something like this in Prague. It is like in the Šumava Mountains. But it is in Prague, only fifteen minutes from the centre."

How do actually find all the information about the places you write about? When I read about the district where I live, Zelená liška, I was amazed by all the facts that you managed to put together.

“I have so many books in my flat that I can hardly live there. My bookshelves are already full so I have to keep the books on the table and on the bed, so it is really difficult to squeeze in there. I also use the internet and I also get a lot of information from the people I meet on my walks.

“For example one lady in Nový Svět close to Prague Castle invited me to her backyard to show me a historic water well. She also showed me a secret underground passage to a nearby Capucine monastery."

Having visited so many places, what are your favourite locations in Prague?

“I like Prague six with its villa quarters, such as Ořechovka, Hanspaulka or Baba. I also like the in-between period, the First Republic, that’s why I covered for example Zelená liška, which was the first housing development or sídliště, as we say, built already in the 1930s. I also like to visit slums, or working class quarters, built during this period.”

Na Slatinách,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Where can we find these slums, or working class districts?

“For example one typical slum that hasn’t changed for the past eighty years is the so called Na Slatinách in the district of Michle. You can really see how the poor people lived there eighty years ago. You feel almost like in Rio de Janeiro.”

You said you were surprised to find a marshland pretty much right in the city. What were some other discoveries that you made?

“I am always surprised to discover something new. For example in Malvazinky in Smíchov there is a well-known villa Helenka in the Art Nouveau style. But I discovered that just a few steps behind is another beautiful Art Nouveau building by the same architect but I have never heard about it.”

Anything else you would like to mention?

“I was also surprised to see the nature in the district of Uhříněves. There is a beautiful artificial lake in which president Masaryk used to swim. You can swim there nowadays as well. There is also a horse farm in the neighbourhood and the location is also great for cycling and other sports.”

What do you actually do for a living?

“I have a job not related to this project. I work in the public sector but I hope that maybe in the future I will have more time and more possibilities to work on my project”

Have you considered making your hobby a full-time job and is there a way of making a living by running the website and offering tours?

“I hope that it will work in the future. It is my big wish.”

Podleský pond in Uhříněves,  photo: Mirekk,  CC BY 2.5
I believe you have already started cooperation with other websites focused on Prague. Is that right?

“Yes, for example I cooperate with and and also with Guidilo, which is a new travel agency devoted to unusual tourist places.”

How much time do you devote to maintaining your website Praha neznámá?

“Pretty much all the weekends and evenings. It fills nearly all of my leisure time.”