The history of Archer’s Island (or Střelecký Ostrov)

The island reopens on Thursday 26th with a free gala celebration lasting four days

As local residents will know, Střelecký Ostrov has been closed for a major overhaul. We are happy to let you know the repairs and much needed facelift are now complete! The island reopens on Thursday 26th with a free gala celebration lasting four days, including music, theatre and much more.

The island’s renovations include wheelchair access in the form of a new lift and newly furnished toilets under the existing stairway. There are also new pathways, lighting and a children’s play area. Before we tell you who is playing at the reopening party, here’s a little history about the island itself …

Archer’s Island (or Střelecký Ostrov to give its Czech name) is situated in the centre of the Vltava river that runs through Prague, south of the famous Charles Bridge. Not for the first time it suffered flood damage earlier in 2013 but is set to re-open this week.

The first mention of Archer’s Island dates back to the 12th century, when it was simply called ‘Lawn’. It was the property of St. John and functioned as a garden, but by 1393 was sold to Pharmacist Augustine of Florence for the use of French king Charles IV. Prague's archers had the privilege of practicing here (hence the island’s name), shooting bows and crossbows. They held several shooting competitions at this time such as ‘ku bird’, which consisted of shooting a dummy bird on a stick.

After an unsuccessful rebellion in 1547 the island was confiscated by King Ferdinand I. In 1562 he returned half of the city but the island could not be used by archers. The island itself had a strategic position in the years 1648, 1740 and 1742 when various armies that wanted to take over the Old Town were driven back by gunfire. However, in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the island was abandoned. During the 18th and 19th centuries it again allowed archers, but also held various folk festivals and Midsummer celebrations associated with gunfire and fireworks. Shooting was again banned in 1913, but by 1937 the National Guard had it overturned.

Between 1839-1841 the island chain bridge was built by Emperor Francis I. In the years 1898-1901 it was replaced by a new bridge, Legion. The south side of the bridge to the island descends a monumental, richly decorated staircase. From the 1st of August 2008, on the east side of the island, a small-scale seasonal ferry was set up, which connects Archer’s Island with Smetana embankment and the Slavic and Children's Island .

The island originally had a lot of natural character, with plenty of herbal and tree vegetation, and the Herget map of 1791 shows evidence of late Baroque urbanization. In 1812 a new brick building with a pub was built, designed by the architect J.K. Zobel. In 1842 it was repaired and in the years 1935-1937 extended with a terrace, cafe and loggia added and a cinema built on the first floor, designed by architects John J. Zázvorka and Lebanon. Today the building is protected as a cultural monument .

Buildings on Archer’s Island, although completely surrounded by the river, survived floods in 1890 and the great flood in 2002 . The flood of 2002 brought to the island large deposits of sand, but it was re-opened on the 16th May 2003. The southern part of the island is not public, but the rest is freely accessible. The space between the restaurant and northern end of the island, including the area around Legion Bridge, is a public park. Occasionally the island hosts cultural festivals , concerts, open-air and other events.

Not to be missed at this weekend’s celebrations are rock band Žlutý pes and Dìda Mládek Illegal Band on Thursday evening, with Czech tribute outfit Abba CZ on the Saturday. Friday sees some theatre with ‘Night at Karlštejnì’ while Sunday includes performances from the Promenádní orchestra and singer Pavlína Filipovská, as well as many more acts over the four days. The celebrations start at 3pm and finish around 10pm each day, and it’s all free.

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