In August, the National Museum (www.nm.cz) opened a new building; right next door to their current digs at the top of Václavské náměstí. The building has seen a lot of interesting tenants over the years. It served as the Prague Bourse until World War II when it became a hospital for injured soldiers. In the 1960s and 1970s it was the Federal Assembly – the Communist government´s parliament. In what was probably a great snub, it became the home of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 1993. Barricades and security guards were a constant presence; but now that RFE/RL has moved to new digs in Prague 10, the space is opened up and free (mainly to traffic.) It´s quite a contrast to its 19th century sister building, the massive icon of Prague. You can see this important bit of Czech history and architecture thanks to guided tours currently running all day, every day. They are in Czech but most of the guides should speak English, and an English audio guide is available as well (included in the admission price.) The museum shop and café is partially furnished with original Parliament furniture, so sit back with a cuppa and state a new law.
Entrance to the building is easily accessible from the Muzeum metro station – take the exit marked Státní opera, next to the Keramika shop. The main doors are across the courtyard. The gift shop space is large. Some of the more interesting buys include jewelry, postcards with depictions of Prague circa 1920, books and lots of prehistoric kids stuff. The Prager Café is to the right; a long, sparse but comfortable space. Big brown leather chairs in organized groupings surround the main bar area. The far wall is all windows, letting in lots of light and framing a nice view of the historic museum building. Good info to know about the Prager Café: It´s non-smoking and the prices are excellent. An espresso is 30 CZK, a cappuccino is 35 CZK and a .5L Gambrinus is 20 CZK. Let´s hope they aren´t introductory opening prices and the Prager will stay a super bargain in the center. The Café´s hours are 10am-6pm.
Currently, the building is nameless; it´s being cleverly referred to either as the former Federal Parliament building or the new National Museum building. However, excitement is in the air, as the naming of the new building was left up to public suggestions. Museum officials said they had received more than 600 proposals, but haven´t chosen one yet. Supposedly, the “finalists” will also be chosen by the public and the new moniker is set to be revealed in November.
Besides exhibitions, the building is also being used as a storehouse for permanent collections from the original National Museum building. A much needed reconstruction will be occurring over the next few years, and the new building will be used to house and protect the valuable pieces.
The new building has opened its first exhibit, the Košice Gold Treasure, running through January 10, 2010. Nearly 3,000 gold coins, medals and jewelry are on display, found in the eastern Slovakia town of Košice in 1935. They were believed to have been buried in the 17th century, and were found during reconstruction work on a government building. That building was the financial administrator for 13 regions in the 17th century. A history of the coins and the work that led to their discovery, as well as how they made it to Prague is detailed on large posters in both Czech and English. The exhibition area is small, but really, how much room do coins need, even if there are 3,000 of them? The coins include samples from Spain, the Netherlands and Italy. There is a strange white plastic egg that takes up about half of the space with more display cases. The temperature seemed cooler inside, so perhaps these specimens needed some extra TLC. There are two computers where you can access a database of the coins, and there´s also a small film room, however the show was only in Czech.
The treasure is insured for 8 million EUR, and was brought to the Czech Republic under tight guard. It´s one of the most expensive exhibitions the National Museum has ever had.
Upcoming exhibitions in the new building include a Velvet Revolution display opening on November 17 and in December they´ll have a presentation covering 100 years of the Olympic Games.
Guided Tours: The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, tours are held every 30 minutes; Monday-Friday tours are every hour. You can reserve a spot for an 11am or 3pm tour only, by phoning or emailing at least three days in advance: 224 49 74 30, firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost is 80 CZK. Check first to see if the tours are still happening. As of this article´s publication date, they are currently being advised as for a “limited time,” but no end date has been set.