It is 90 years since the face of one of Prague’s best-known landmarks, its Old Town Square, changed dramatically. On November 3, 1918, the square’s prominent Marian column was torn down by Czechs who believed that it stood for defeat at the battle of Bílá Hora, and centuries of resultant Habsburg oppression. Some 90 years on, some Prague inhabitants are considering whether the monument should be rebuilt.
I’m standing on the site of what was once one of Prague’s most imposing monuments – Old Town Square’s Marian column. The towering Baroque structure was destroyed in 1918, and now not even a keystone remains. The monument was felled by Prague firemen, under the supervision of anarchist, writer and bohemian Frantisek Sauer. Legend has it that all of them came to a particularly grizzly end.
The monument in question was built in 1650 to commemorate Czech victory over Swedish invaders in the Thirty Years’ War. But those who brought the column down after World War One considered it to be anti-Czech, a vestige of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – which itself had just come to an end. Now campaigners are lobbying for its reconstruction. At their helm is Jan Bradna, whom I spoke to earlier today:
“The Marian column was the first monumental work of Baroque sculpture in the country. It was the fourth Marian column in the whole of Europe, and it was a very big, very good piece of sculpture. It was absolutely huge, and played an important role in the composition of the Old Town Square. At over 16 metres high, it totally dominated the square.”
But nowadays we’re used to not having it there, wouldn’t rebuilding the monument now cause further disruption?
“In 1915, a monument to Jan Hus was built on Old Town Square, and this whole sculpture was devised with the plague column in mind. The sculptor thought about how high the column was and made a very long, wide-based sculpture as a sort of counter-weight to this monument. And now that the column is gone, the whole square is a bit lop-sided, architecturally speaking.”
Since 1990, lobbyists have applied to the council on three separate occasions to have the column rebuilt. Each time, the plan has been rejected. But Prague City Hall is now considering the step. Architectural historian Zdeněk Lukeš is on the committee which will make the final decision:
“My opinion is that it might be possible to bring this monument back to the original space, but there is one problem. And this problem is making an exact copy of the original one from the Baroque period. Because I think that the lack of documentation, I mean old photos and plans of the lower part of the monument, is a problem. Maybe better than making a bad copy of the original one is making something more symbolic – for example, one of my friends suggested maybe projecting a beam of light where the column once stood.”
So Prague’s Old Town Square could be set for an image change, but not necessarily of the sort that Mr Bradna and his colleagues have in mind.