An exceptional personality at an exceptional time – Jože Plečnik, architect of Prague Castle
Following the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, Prague Castle became the place of residence of the President of Czechoslovakia. The first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, entrusted the modification of the castle complex to Slovene architect and urban planner, Jože Plečnik (1872–1957), who then remained the Prague Castle architect until 1934.
The President’s architect
“This castle and its surroundings can become a site of massive historical interest, and I know of no-one else who could manage it but you,” wrote Masaryk to Plečnik, who was at the time working as a professor of decorative architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. Cooperation between Masaryk and Plečnik resulted in a number of modifications to the interiors and exteriors of Prague Castle. Amongst Plečnik’s works are, for example, the Hall of Columns (Sloupová síň) with its copper ceiling at the entrance to the Spanish Hall, the Bull Steps (Býčí schodiště), which connects the southern garden with the third courtyard, and the 18 m high granite obelisk adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Vitus. Plečnik brought his exceptional feeling for the connection of old and new into a harmonic whole to bear in the modification of the circuit of gardens around the Castle, presidential apartment and summer residence in Lány.
The church as a boat
Plečnik was a devout believer; perhaps it is for this reason that amongst the very best of his creations are sacral buildings. One remarkable work of Plečnik’s is the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Vinohrady, the most beautiful modern church in Prague, reminiscent of the mystical structures of Ancient Egypt. The broad, 42 m high bell-tower, with its copper dome and crucifix, can be seen in the Prague panorama from as far away as Prague Castle.
Plečnik’s signature can also be seen in the original church interior, based on Noah’s Ark. Over the main altar made from white Šumava marble is suspended a gilded figure of Christ within a symbolic heart, supplemented by the figures of six Czech saints. Unusual as well is the white ramp leading up to the bell-tower.