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2. 10. 2006 10:07

Kramář's Villa

The villa of the first Czechoslovak Prime Minister, Karel Kramář (1860-1937), is undoubtedly one of the prominent landmarks of the Letná panorama. Kramář, when he was still an MP for the Young Czechs, selected land at the Bastion of St Thomas as the site of his villa. The Prague municipality sold him a plot of land covering more than 12,000 m2 on condition that the building would be a single-storey villa standing as an aesthetically fitting complement to Prague Castle. In return for pre-emptive rights to the property, the city orchestrated the construction of an access road and utilities for the then sparsely populated area.

Kramář commissioned the renowned, universally acclaimed Viennese architect Friedrich Ohmann to design the house. Building work began in 1911 and, managed by the master-builder Josef Čánský, lasted for almost five years. The building extended over an area of 700 m2 and contained 56 rooms. Besides the private bedrooms and studies, there were several dining rooms, salons, halls, guest rooms, and a billiard’s room. The housekeeping facilities at the house comprised eight cellars, a petrol storage facility, an ironing room, and a central dust extractor. The villa had its own baths, lift, and other conveniences to make the lives of its demanding owners all the more agreeable. The structures around the villa – greenhouses, the gardener’s lodge, a tennis court, and a park – were also of the most discerning taste. Although it is difficult to categorize the architectural style of the villa, as the Neo-Baroque features are complemented by typically Art Nouveau elements, it is considered one of the most striking examples of Prague villa design.

The owners paid particular attention to the interior décor. Under the watchful eye of Kramář’s wife, Nadezhda Nikolayevna, unique interiors for the villa were designed by luminaries such as Professor J Beneš – from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design – and the sculptor Celda Klouček. Nadezhda’s Russian background and aesthetic feeling, which she often relied on at the expense of recommendations by reputable architects, gave the villa its inimitable character. The décor – influenced by Russian (or perhaps more accurately Byzantine) patterns – reflected Kramář’s political sentiment, in which the idea of pan-Slavism and the associated leaning towards tsarist Russia played a key role.

In spring 1915, Kramář and his wife finally moved in, but they were able to enjoy their new home for only a few days. On 21 May, Karel Kramář was arrested and a year later he was sentenced to death in Vienna for high treason. The villa remained empty until 1917 when, thanks to an imperial amnesty, Kramář was permitted to return to Prague. It was at about this time that the Kramářs lost their residence in the Crimea, and therefore the Prague villa became their permanent home.

It is interesting to note that, despite his high-ranking status in the political arena of the First Republic, Kramář was compelled to defend his privacy before a housing commission, which proposed housing needy fellow citizens in the villa. Another struggle awaited Kramář in the 1930s, when he found himself in financial trouble during the economic crisis. He asked the Prague municipality to relieve him of his commitments regarding the pre-emptive rights that were preventing him from disposing of the multimillion-crown property. Following sharp criticism from the leftwing press, the municipality eventually granted his request, thus scotching all speculation that the villa might become the residence of the mayor of Prague.

In 1938, following the death of the childless couple, the building became the property of the Karel Kramář Society, which rented it to the National Gallery. At the end of the 1940s the property and its interior furnishings were taken over by the National Museum, and just three years after that, in 1952, the building was placed under the management of the Office of the Government Presidium. Following structural modifications to the severely dilapidated façade, the building was mainly used for representative purposes and for the accommodation of state visits. In 1994-1998, the villa’s living space underwent profound refurbishment, and since 1998 it has been the official residence of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.

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