Some points about the French influence in Prague

In the city centre, there is a relatively low number of obvious imports from other capitals’ architecture. The centre is dominated either by small squares or by large (former) market places. These are sites useful for practical reasons or carrying a symbolic meaning, less of those merely fitting the late 19th century fashion of grandness and decoration. There are exceptions: the Parizská street between the Old town Square and the Vltava river, for example. Na Prikopech, between the Republic and the Wenceslas square, was re- built into a luxurious boulevard and there are numerous passages with shops and restaurants. Not to forget the most visible example of all: the Petrin tower, a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It is often said that Prague’s character was, to great extent, saved by its lesser importance during the years of the Austro- Hungarian Empire (Austrian Empire since 1804, Austrian- Hungarian since 1867; collapsed in 1918). Prague not being a capital of the monarchy helped the city in a sense. It was not to present the face of the empire, this job was of Vienna. Prague architects were not under such a strong pressure to follow the current trends. Vienna felt the full impact, Prague remained more or less unchanged.

French influence

Still, this is only a segment of France’s cultural dominance in the last decades of the monarchy. The French influence was strong particularly during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Before Czech Republic emerged in 1918, the German rulers attempted to compete with the adversary. After the mentioned date, the ties became official: institutions were founded and there was great public demand for French art and literature.

The process was going on for quite some time. French nobles have been moving in larger numbers to central Europe since the 17th Century. Often as lecturers, like Joachim Barrande, present in Prague in the in the first half of the 19th century, working in the court of the exiled French king Charles the 10th. Barrande achieved international acclaim for his geological work in the Czech lands and his name remained well remembered in the capital, thanks to the Barrandov hill of the same name.

Famous French visitors

Of the authors, who spent time in and were impressed by Prague I should mention Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, Paul Claudel or Guillame Apollinaire. There were many more, mainly towards the 1920’s and the 1930s, with the pro- French and pro- British government. The relations cooled down after the agreement between Germany, France and Great Britain in Munchen in 1938, which gave Nazis a free hand in taking over large parts of the republic. All the connections, naturally, cooled further down after 1948.

The foreign influences have to be taken into account, both those seen in architecture and those, that contributed to the city’s cultural environment in other ways. But while the German and the Jewish usually are, being large minorities in the past, the other Europen countries tend to stay in the shadow. Sometimes there is a tendency to over- emphasise the architectonic changes and under- estimate the importance of cultural exchange.

Aug 15, 22:03 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

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