There is no excuse this week though. These balmy, mild evenings are the perfect setting for Prague Museum Night 2011 on June 11. Museum fever will sweep the Czech capital as museums and galleries stay open late and offer free or cut-price entry all evening. With 33 institutions participating across 60 buildings this year, you could get your full year´s worth of culture on one evening if you plan it right. Alternatively, you could slow the pace down and experience a couple of the special ‘extras´ the nice people at Prague Museum Night are organizing.
As well as opening their regular exhibitions for free, many participating institutions are hosting some fun additional events including music, cinema, creative workshops, and theater. My personal favorites include: Dancing to Dvořák at the National Museum of Antonín Dvořák (Ke Karlovu 20, Praha), shearing sheep (!) or buying food at a farmers market at the Museum of Agriculture (Kostelní 44, Praha 7), making jewelry at the Hrdlička Museum of Man (Viničná 7, Praha 2) and enjoying jazz in at the National Museum´s National Memorial on Vítkov Hill (U Památníku 1900, Praha 3). The full program is available online.
The National Museum is a sponsor of and keen participant in Prague Museum Night. Opening nine of the National Museum´s sites, and hosting some exciting additional events, the team there are particularly excited about receiving visitors to the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill.
Situated on Vítkov Hill, the Memorial is an imposing building built between 1927 and 1932 in honor of Czech legionnaires and to mark the foundation of former Czechoslovakia. The Memorial has lived a varied life, used variously as ammunition warehouse, a memorial, and a mausoleum.
Since 2009 the Memorial has been under the auspices of the National Museum, who have, to date, invested 321,000,000 CZK in its extensive renovation. Today the site houses the permanent exhibition The Crossroads of Czech Statehood.
As a (fairly) regular museum-goer in Prague, I have at times been frustrated at the lack of quality English-language materials available for non-Czech visitors. My recent visit to The Crossroads of Czech Statehood was a happy exception. As well as capturing the important milestones in 20th century Czech history in an awe-inspiring setting, the exhibition struck me as very modern: a breath of fresh air following visits to the main National Museum building on Wenceslas Square. It also includes an encouraging amount of English language signage and information. Not everything is available in dual languages, but there are several audio-visual artifacts (film, photos, and audio recordings) and enough written English information to allow English-speaking visitors to become really involved with the exhibition. “We are really excited to welcome people from across the world” Pavel Douša, director of the Historical department at the National Museum, told me. “We are thrilled to be involved with Prague Museum Night again”.
Aside from the permanent exhibition (which will take between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on your diligence), make sure you enjoy the other exhibits and features available at the Vítkov Memorial on June 11:
1. Live Jazz for Prague Museum Night
The National Museum is arranging a jazz concert at Vítkov to mark this year´s Museum Night. From 20:00, ‘Jazzgang´ will play in the Ceremonial Hall – look forward to classic jazz and modern funk.
2. Jan Žižka statue – Massive and Magnificent
Žižka was the one-eyed leader of the Hussite army who gained victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Vítkov Hill in 1420, which led to the neighboring Prague quarter being named Žižkov. The proud statue of Žižka on his horse is reportedly the largest equestrian statue in the word, at 9 meters high and weighing a colossal 16.5 tons.
3. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Remembrance
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Memorial is the final resting place of an unidentified soldier, fallen at the Battle of Zborov in 1917, which was the first significant action of the Czechoslovak Legions in the First World War.
4. Columbarium – Almost ethereal
This sacred space was originally intended to bury significant Czechoslovak legionnaires, although this never actually happened. From 1951, various Communist Party leaders were buried there, although after the fall of communism in 1989, their remains were transferred elsewhere. Today it has a still, ethereal atmosphere.
5. Gottwald´s Mausoleum – a little bit grim
After 1948, the Communists used the building as a mausoleum for Klement Gottwald (Communist politician, who died in 1953). Unfortunately, Gottwald’s corpse was not properly embalmed and had to be removed. Visitors can still visit the massive underground ‘fridge´ where Gottwald was ‘stored´ when not on display. Creepy stuff at night-time. Take someone with you to hold your hand.
There is a lot to see and do on 11 June. Plan your evening carefully: the larger, more central sites are likely to be busiest (recent years have attracted crowds in excess of 200,000 people, although numbers tend to decrease later into the evening. The website offers a ‘My Night´ tool to help visitors put together a ‘hitlist´ of museums, to work out their own tailored program. Whilst it will be impossible to visit everything in one evening, to make it a bit easier, special shuttle busses are provided by Prague Public Transport Co., Inc.. The central transfer point will be at Náměstí Jana Palacha, near Staroměstská subway station. One line goes directly to Vítkov Memorial. The buses are free of charge and run from 7:30 p.m. until 1:15 a.m.
For more information go to the Prague Museum Night website or collect a brochure from the main building of the National Museum (Václavské náměstí 68, 115 79 Praha 1) (12:00 – 19:00 on June 10 and all day on June 11) and on June 11th from Náměstí Jana Palacha square.