The Municipal House is an important landmark in Prague. It is primarily used as a concert hall, but it also has considerable historical resonance. Architecturally, it is considered to be one of Europe’s finest examples of the art nouveau style. The house stands adjacent to the Powder Tower, a Gothic structure housing one of the city’s medieval gates.
The city council commissioned the building at the turn of the 20th century, allocating an irregularly shaped lot for the purpose. An initial architectural contest proved unable to produce a satisfactory design, so another one was held. However, this too failed to bring forth a sufficiently high quality of entries. Exasperated, the city finally decided to give the job to Antonín Balšánek and Osvald Polívka.
The two architects were not only designers, but effectively artistic coordinators as well, playing up the art nouveau details of the structure. At the time, this style was strongly associated with Czech nationalism. Additionally, a number of renowned contemporary artists from across the nation were invited to contribute to the building’s final form. The house, whose construction began in 1905, was opened seven years later.
The brazen artistic tribute to the Czech capital, Homage to Prague, is featured on the building’s main façade and was the work of Karel Špillar. It is a hemispherical mosaic, flanked by two sculptures by Ladislav Šaloun. Other decorative work was provided by such artists as František Úprka and Josef Mařatka. The nationalist theme continues with the interior, which has murals by Jan Preisler and Alfons Mucha.
The main concert hall in the Municipal House is named in honor of the composer Bedřich Smetana, whose music was associated with Czech statehood and the country’s struggle for independence. The proclamation of the state of Czechoslovakia took place here on October 28, 1918. The hall is now the home of the Prague Royal Orchestra, which retains its name despite the country being a republic since the end of WWI.