Art Nouveau is the French term for a form of architecture dating from the end of the nineteenth century to early twentieth century. This style is characterized by graceful, flowing forms and ornamentations either painted or sculpted and often in the form of female figures. When you stroll through Prague, it's impossible not to stumble upon Art Nouveau decorations.
Municipal House, Prague — Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone
Prague's Art Nouveau star attraction is Obecni Dum or Municipal House, located in the very heart of the city on Republiky Square. Marvel at the lavish entrance. The central wrought iron gate and the stained glass canopy compliment a truly delightful mosaic entitled Homage to Prague. The inscription around it is taken from Hail to Prague, a poem by Svatopluk Czech written at the end of the nineteenth century. The sculptures flanking the mosaic represent Humiliation and the Rebirth of the Czech Nation. You can enjoy this splendid building in several ways. Listen to a classical concert in the Smetana Hall, home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, or join a guided tour and marvel at stained glass windows and ornate decorations. Probably the best way to take in all the splendor is to sample Pilsner Urquel in the Plenska beer hall style restaurant or sip cappuccino in the café Kavarna Obecni Dum.
Grand Hotel Euvropa — Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone
When you stroll along Wenceslas Square, Grand Hotel Evropa and its slim neighbour Hotel Meran attract your attention. Their gold and yellow statue-studded exteriors gleams in the afternoon sun. Pop inside and take in the café's ornate interior. If you think it looks slightly familiar, you are right. Scenes from The Titanic and Mission Impossible were filmed here.
Praha Assurance Building — Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone
Narodni Trida is a busy street leading to the Vltava River. Stop for a moment at numbers 7 and 9, or better still cross the road for a complete view of two exquisite Art Nouveau buildings. The building on your left is the Praha Assurance. Its facade is enhanced with fairy-tale motifs and complemented with statues of elegant women. The name PRAHA (Prague) is written under the cornice, each letter in the form of a small window. The house on the right is Topic House, decorated with floral wreaths and garlands.
As an Art Nouveau lover, you can't leave Prague without visiting the Alphons Mucha Museum. A Czech painter and decorative artist, Mucha was famous for his posters advertising theater productions. His best known work advertised for the stage play Gismonda in which Sarah Bernardt played the leading role. The museum also showcases bank notes, postage stamps, emblems, jewelry and tableware. Mucha's masterpiece, the Slav Epic, twenty larger than life canvases depicting the history of the Slav people, has returned to Prague after having been on long-term display in a crumbling castle in Moravsky Krumlov. Mucha bequeathed this painting to the city of Prague on condition that a special pavilion should be built. This never happened. The Slave Epic has finally come to Prague and is now on permanent display on the ground floor of Veletrzní Palace, home to the National Gallery's modern and contemporary art collection.