Prague’s imposing Municipal House is the city’s most famous Art Nouveau civic buildings and many Czech artists of the time, led by Osvald Polívka and Antonín Balsánek, had a hand in its creation. It was built between 1905 and 1911 and fast became a potent architectural and cultural symbol of Czechoslovakia’s newly found independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The state of Czechoslovakia was declared here in 1918 and the building now houses the Smetana Concert Hall, several restaurants and temporary art exhibitions.
Part of the joy of a visit to the Municipal House is its design and decoration; externally it is a vision of complex patterned stained-glass windows, ornate stonework and frescoes flecked with gold. The mosaic Homage to Paris by Karel Spillar glitters underneath the decorative cupola and is tucked between sculptures representing the oppression and independence of Czechoslovakia.
Internally all is sweeping staircases, delicate wrought-ironwork and carved paneled walls. The octagonal Lord Mayor’s Salon on the first floor was designed by Alphonse Mucha, Art Nouveau’s leading Czech exponent, and he is also responsible for the gloomy nationalist murals plastered over the walls and ceiling.
The Municipal House is home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and there is a daily program of classical concerts in the Smetana Hall, which has capacity for an audience of 1,200. The Prague Spring Classical Music Festival always opens here on May 12, the anniversary of Smetana’s death.
It’s also a popular place to come and eat, with three restaurants of varying expense – from café to wine bar or fine dining – all kitted out in typical Art Nouveau detail, right down to the door nobs and drooping crystal chandeliers.