National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill

Irene Carpintero visits the National Museum's new permanent exhibition on 20th century Czechoslovak history

Built between 1929 and 1938, to honor the participants in the struggle for Czechoslovak independence, the Vítkov memorial and its giant equestrian statue are one of Prague's most famous landmarks.

Vítkov Hill was an appropriate place for the monument not only because it was the site of a famous Hussite battle, but also because 15,000 people demonstrated here in 1868 in support of the Czech national revival. Later the monument was used as a mausoleum for the remains of Klement Gottwald and other Communist leaders.

On October 29, 2009 it opened to the public as a new permanent exhibition of the National Museum (Národní muzeum), entitled Crossroads of Czech and Czechoslovak Statehood.

Throughout the exhibition you'll find maps showing the evolution of the state, and some historical videos, but, unfortunately, these are only in Czech. Most information is presented in both Czech and English, though, so you won't have any problems if you aren't a Czech speaker.

You enter the exhibition in 1918, in a section called Republic Under Masaryk.

Here, you can read about the creation of the Czechoslovak nation, and see a range of interesting items on display, such as the pen used to sign the declaration of independence or the new state's first postage stamps.

Next, you continue on to 1938: Crossroads of Munich.

There, you can learn about the Czechoslovak army's doomed attempts to avoid a German invasion, alongside displays of contemporary uniforms, weapons and recruitment posters.

Later you come to The Origins of February 1948, focused on the Communist regime's rise to power.

This section features posters and newspapers from this important period of Czech history, and also a draft of the new constitution.

There are also some of the letters sent by Czechoslovak army officer Heliador Píka from prison before he was executed by the Communists for his pro-Western views.

The next section is entitled 1968: The Last Crossroads Common for the Czechs and Slovaks.

During this period, people started taking a more active role in life and challenging the Communist regime.

The most interesting items on display here include a guitar owned by Karel Kryl, whose songs became symbols of the Prague Spring, and some of Jan Palach's possessions.

Palach became a hero after setting himself on fire in front of the National Museum in protest at Czechoslovakia's leadership.

In addition, you'll posters advertising films and music that pushed back against Communist rule.

The last section of the exhibition covers 1989.

This section includes a typewriter used by Parvel Tigud, an exiled writer, journalist and politician, and the library used by Radio Free Europe when it was based in Munich.

Alongside these sections are exhibited clothing and other items representing different strands of Czech life, such as the scouting and tramping movements.

After leaving the exhibition, you can visit the Columbarium, where the remains of Czech leaders were stored -- although there's no information in English there -- and go upstairs to have a look at the ceremonial hall.

In short, the exhibition is a great way to get to know more about Czechoslovak history than you'll find in a guidebook, and learn more about life here at key points of the last century.

National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill
(Národní památník na Vítkově)
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