A sculptor has spent 20 years reconstructing a Baroque victory column for Old Town Square, and he has been trying to give it to Prague as a gift. But the city has been reluctant to accept it. The sculptor now intends to install it on the original location anyway.
A rally in support of restoring the column will take place Saturday, June 15, at 4 pm on Old Town Square, with sculptor Petr Váňa displaying some of the stonework. The event is backed by the Society for the Restoration of the Marian Column. A metal plaque now marks where the column once stood.
Váňa intends to put the first stones in place, but he and his supporters do not have all of the permits required. The city’s Department of Monument Care issued a favorable decision on restoring the column in 2014. The society also has a valid building permit. But they lack permission to close the square for construction and some other necessary documentation.
Váňa tried to prepare the site in May by removing some of the paving stones, but he was stopped by police and had to put them back.
The sculptor is optimistic that he will be able to build the column without all of the permits, but the city is likely to attempt to put a stop to any unauthorized construction work.
A mob destroyed the original column on Nov. 3, 1918, shortly after Czechoslovakia became independent. The column had been on the square since 1650, and was built to mark the Hapsburg victory over the Swedish army at the end of the Thirty Years’ War.
People who want to restore the column say it is an important example of Baroque art, and it has a long history as a part of Old Town Square. The original column was made by sculptor Jan Jiří Bendl, a significant figure in Bohemian Baroque art.
Opponents say it is a reminder of the Hapsburg domination of the Bohemia, which caused the wave of emigration after 1620 and led to three centuries of Catholic occupation and oppression.
Váňa recently brought 200 carved stone pieces weighing 60 tons to Prague on a barge, and he expects it to be moored near Charles Bridge for several months while construction takes place.
The 16-meter column, if it is allowed to be constructed, will be topped with a sculpture of St Mary surrounded by golden stars. That piece is currently displayed on a metal pillar next to the Church of Our Lady before Týn, just beyond the square. The column also includes four angels, a balustrade and stone steps.
The dispute over restoring the column has been going on since the 1990s. Permission to place the replica was granted in 2013. Prague’s then-mayor Bohuslav Svoboda (ODS) said that the Catholic statue of Mary next to the Protestant statue of Jan Hus in Old Town Square would show Prague was a multicultural city.
The administration that followed Svoboda’s, though, was cool to the idea and backtracked on it. The issue arose again in 2017, with permission once again being granted and then soon after taken away when opponents filed a petition.
The Society for the Restoration of the Marian Column had hoped to have it back in place in October 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.
The replica was made without funds from the city, and the installation will been paid for with private funds. The broken fragments of the original are owned by the National Museum and stored in the Lapidarium at Holešovice.
For more about the event, visit the official Facebook event page.