Prague City Hall approved funds for the renovation of Prague’s Malostranské náměstí and will look for a contractor for construction work. The project has had a building permit since last year. Preparations are in their final stages and work should start this year. The project will create jobs in a time of crisis.
The budget for the revitalization project is 73,500,000 CZK, excluding VAT, and will cover, in addition to construction work, the costs of guarantees and insurance. The next step is a tender for the construction contractor, which will be announced by the city’s Investment Department.
“Traditionally, in times of crisis, construction has a high absorption capacity of the workforce. We can help our economy by making reasonable and necessary investments in infrastructure and quality public space. Renovation of Malostranské náměstí may be the first step,” Prague First Deputy Mayor Petr Hlaváček (United Force for Prague) said on the City Hall website.
Malostranské náměstí is a significant public space in Prague’s touristy Malá Strana district, but its current state does not fully correspond to its importance, according to City Hall. It is overloaded with car traffic, which prevents the free movement of people. The main goal of the revitalization is to calm traffic and turn the square into a representative public space that will be a place for meetings, and cultural and other events.
“During the revitalization, the substrate of the square will also be completely reconstructed, including new utilities necessary to connect new water elements. For example, the new fountain will eventually serve to cool the square in the summer months, and there will be new urban greenery,” Deputy Mayor Petr Hlubuček (United Force for Prague), responsible for the environment, said.
Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma (STAN) agreed with the move. “The intention of Prague 1 is that the lower part of Malostranské náměstí will allow our citizens to sit and meet in peace and greenery and in a pleasant environment. We therefore welcome a project of colleagues from City Hall, which could significantly help us in this respect,” he said.
The proposal for a new design for Malostranské náměstí came from an 2014 architectural competition organized by the Prague Institute of Planning and Development of Prague (IPR). The winners were architects Martin Hájek, Václav Hájek a Petr Horský. The jury appreciated the respect of the historical environment and unification of the whole space. At the same time it responds sensitively to local problems of the square, IPR said.
“One of the first architectural competitions we prepared is heading for the finish line. Prague residents probably already know the visualization of the new form, so I look forward to seeing the changes with my own eyes. At the same time, we are working on making other major Prague squares change soon for the better,” IPR director Ondřej Boháč said.
Malostranské náměstí, which had been a parking lot, was closed to parking in 2016, and events began to take place there. In the long term, the square should be repaved with yellow granite stones and a fountain should be built. Work was originally supposed to have finished in 2019, but so far has not started.
One controversy with the renovation is the restoration of the statue of Field Marshall Josef Radecký, which stood on the square from 1858 until 1921. It had been removed as part of a First Republic effort to take down Austro-Hungarian monuments. The complete bronze part of the statue is in the possession of the National Gallery. The current plan no longer includes it.
The original design from 2014 included the return of the statue, though to a slightly different location on the square, as the planned fountain is where the statue had been. Public opinion has been divided on putting back what some see as a symbol of hundreds of years of harsh foreign occupation.
“There would have to be a consensus, but I personally would not mind [the statute]. Historical architectural expert Rostislav Švácha often designates this monument as one of the most beautiful statues ever standing in Prague, which could be beneficial from a purely aesthetic point of view,” Hlaváček said last year, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes,
Malostranské náměstí has a long history going back the 13th century. For many centuries it had a massive fountain as its main feature, before the military statue was added. From 1928 to ’40 the square had a statue of French historian Ernest Denis. It was taken down during World War II. A plaque with his bust was put up in 2003 on the facade of a building on the sqaure.
The name of the square has changed over the years. The square has long been divided into two parts, and was called Horní rynk and Dolní rynk (Upper and Lower Marketplace), and Malostranský rynek. The upper part as also called Vlašský plac, as many Italian merchants were there.
In the first half of the 19th century it became Štepanské námestí (Stephan Square), and after 1869 it was officially Malostranské náměstí, but people called it náměstí Maršála Radeckého, or Radecký Square.
Several other Prague’s squares are in various stages of renovation. The lower part of Wenceslas Square is currently being renovated to become better for pedestrians. The upper part will see the return of a tram line, and eventually also be renovated. The plan to renovate the square was first mentioned in the 1990s, though, and an architectural plan was approved in 2005. The final permits weren’t issued until 2018.
A new design also been unveiled for Karlovo náměstí. A plan was selected at the end of 2018, and the City Council in April approved some modifications. The revitalization should take place by 2025.
The Prague 3 district is seeking input on a plan to change náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad, which was last altered in 1979–80. The new plan adds more trees, opens up more of the space for public use, and gets rid of a massive brutalist-style metro air vent. The date for work to start has not been announced.