Monumental disarray

The Prague Post

National Heritage Institute exposes crumbling state buildings

The Czech Republic boasts an extraordinarily large supply of castles, chateaux, monasteries and other spectacular national monuments. Indeed, there are numerous well-preserved landmarks with important historic and artistic value scattered across the country. Unfortunately, every region also has its fair share of dilapidated sites, where the building is either in ruins — or close to it.

The National Heritage Institute, the governing body charged with preserving the country’s architectural legacy, recently released a list of about 600 historic buildings and monuments around the nation — including 44 located in Prague alone — in need of immediate attention. This list consists of national monuments considered “the most endangered in the Czech Republic,” according to the National Heritage Institute. However, the institute’s Web site lists thousands of landmarks around the country that need some type of repair.

Officials hope by making this information available to the general public these landmark structures will receive some much-needed help.

“The list [of the country’s most endangered monuments] is mainly for documentation and evidence,” says Zdenek Musil, spokesman for the National Heritage Institute. “It’s also a source document for making prognosis, conceptions and long-term perspectives for the development of state monument care.”

Additionally, a recent draft amendment to the nation’s monument law, which successfully had its first official reading at the end of February, may spur some owners into action. The proposed changes would drastically increase the fines leveled against owners of cultural monuments found to be in disrepair. Currently, the maximum fine is 50,000 Kc; ($3,088). The new amendment, however, could see monument fines skyrocketing to as much as 4 million Kc. If this amendment passes Parliament and is signed into law, it could go into affect as early as this July, according to officials.

Some monuments are luckier than others. For example, the Astronomical Clock in Prague requires a lot of money to keep it ticking, and it receives it. Other less prominent structures, however, aren’t so fortunate. The worst situation seems to be in the north Bohemia region of Ústí nad Labem, which has more than 100 landmarks on the list.

Locally, one such venue in need of immediate repair is Prague’s Dum U Tří andělů building, a Renaissance period house in the castle district. The Heritage Institute has stated the entire building is endangered and is fit to be demolished; however, plans for a renovation are now being prepared, according to information taken from the National Heritage Institute’s Web site.

Also on the list is U Trí Kapri;, another medieval building in the same neighborhood. The building is currently vacant, and this winter’s cold weather caused a water-line break.

Sadly, the same can be said of Mestský dum Sixtův, located on Celetná street in Old Town. This building dates to the 12th century and was originally Romanesque, though Gothic elements were later added. Two additional wings were built in the early 1500s. The institute says the building is supposed to be rebuilt into a hotel. Renovations started awhile back but stopped soon after. It stands empty, and a broken back door leads to people regularly entering it to seek shelter.

How exactly did these national treasures end up in such a deplorable state? The National Heritage Institute says there are many contributing factors — a lack of money, property-rights issues, an improper allocation of subsidies, a lack of routine care of the structure, vandalism and weather, among other things. The bottom line, Musil says, is the owner of the property, which, contrary to popular belief, isn’t always the state, is responsible for the upkeep.

“Our regional offices communicate with the owners of the endangered monuments and in justified cases, we file a proposal to start the administrative procedure,” Musil says. “We aren’t threatening. It’s important to have an individual approach.”

Regional offices of the National Heritage Institute compiled the information for the most recent endangered monument list — and it isn’t finished. Musil says it’s an ongoing project.

Musil adds the work his organization does is also used by other state administration offices and institutions, like, for instance, the Culture Ministry, for funding purposes. The National Heritage Institute also uses this inventory to verify and update the identifying characteristics of cultural monuments, Musil says.

“The list is for those buildings whose status as a cultural monument is threatened,” he says. “That means there have been some negative impacts on the cultural value of the monument.”

Musil sees a multitude of uses for the release of this registry.

“It is an expert source of information for the distribution of funding from a whole range of funding programs,” he says. “It can also help the public learn more about the condition of the cultural heritage in the Czech Republic.”