National Theatre

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The National Theatre, a neo-Renaissance structure built at the end of the nineteenth century, is one of Prague's most important buildings since it is seen as a symbol of Czech culture and independence.

A New Theatre

National Theatre, Prague
National Theatre
During the mid-nineteenth century, when Prague was still under Austrian rule, Prague citizens planned on building a theatre that was to become a beacon of Czech culture. When the government in Vienna refused to help fund the construction of the theatre, a successful appeal was made to all Czech citizens to contribute. Many individuals were more than happy to contribute as everyone wanted to be part of this national project.

The National Theatre seen from Prague Castle
The theatre seen from
Prague Castle
Construction of the theatre started in 1865 and it was completed sixteen years later, in 1881.

The design

Czech architect Josef Zítek was responsible for the design, a masterpiece of neo-Renaissance architecture. Zítek had been schooled in the Viennese architecture school but he added Italianate design elements and involved his generation's most important painters and sculptors in the process. As such the building became a symbol
New Scene, National Theatre, Prague
New Scene
of national culture and independence at a time when there was a growing resentment towards the foreign rulers.

Fire and Reconstruction

Disaster struck on August 12, 1881, just days before the planned opening, when a fire ravaged the building. Only the outer walls were still standing. The fire was probably started by workers who were still finishing the building's roof.

It took just six weeks to collect sufficient funds to rebuild the theatre and it finally opened in 1883 with Libuše,
Balconies in the National Theatre, Prague
an opera by Smetana specifically created for this occasion. The reconstruction was led by Josef Schultz - a colleague of Josef Zítek - who altered the original design and even expanded the building.

Modern Annex

In 1977 the theatre closed for renovation and at the same time a modern glass addition (the New Scene) was built as an annex to the historical theatre. The National Theatre reopened in 1983 with Smetana's Libuše,
Chandelier in the National Theatre, Prague
hundred years after the original opening.

The National Theatre Today

The National Theatre is still seen as one of Prague's most important cultural institutions. It hosts regular performances of drama, opera and ballet. For more details, take a look at their website.

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