Prime minister inspects National Museum progress

The museum should partially open to the public in October 2018

The historical building of the National Museum will partially reopen in October 2018 with a large Czech and Slovak exhibition to mark 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia and 200 years since the establishment of the first Czech national museum. The entire building will be finished by mid-2020. A natural history exhibition will also take place until mid-2019.

The announcements were made when Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) and Culture Minister Daniel Herman (KDU-ČSL) visited the museum to see the progress on the renovations.

“The National Museum has never since its opening undergone a complete renovation. I am confident that the building will be beautiful,” Sobotka told the media. “Even today, we could see fragments of how the new facade and refurbished ceilings will look. The opening of the National Museum will be one of the most important events of 2018.” The facade will be significantly lighter in shade after cleaning, and some cream-colored statues are already visible on the roof.

Sobotka was finance minister in 2006 when the renovation plan was funded by the government. After that, plans had to be made and building permits secured. The museum has been closed to the public since 2011. Legal concerns over the tender for a construction contractor delayed the start until 2015. Another tender was held for the design of exhibition spaces and the entry, and the winner was announced in June 2016. The budget for the renovation is Kč 1.6 billion. The collections have been moved into storage in Horní Počernice and Terezín.

The building had several structural problems that needed to be addressed. Some facilities were also outdated. As part of the changes, the building will become wheelchair accessible, and movement within the building will be easier for the disabled. Adjustment are also being made to accommodate people with visual and hearing issues. Staff offices are being moved out of the historical building.

Two interior courtyards will be created under the museum roof. These will offer spaces for a cafe and for social events. Entry to the copula will allow the public to see Wenceslas Square and the rest of the city from a high vantage point.

The museum will have both natural history and historical exhibits on different circuits for visitors. Newly, the historical building will be connected by an underground tunnel to the so-called new he building of the museum in the former federal parliament building.

Museum general director Michal Lukeš said the reconstruction work was about half finished. People restoring the ceiling paintings were working, but those dealing with exterior sculptures were on a break due to the cold temperatures. Lukeš said it was one of the most difficult restoration jobs in the entire country due to all of the highly specialized work.

The renovation work has not been without incident. A fire broke out in the museum in February 2016, and damaged 200 square meters of the roof. It took 150 firefighters two hours to get the fire under control. No exhibitions were damaged, as they had already been removed.

The National Museum was founded April 15, 1818, in Prague by Kašpar Maria Šternberg. Historian František Palacký was also involved. The museum was originally in the Šternberg Palace.

The current main museum building was built by Czech neo-Renaissance architect Josef Schulz from 1885 to '91 on the site of several palaces.

The building was damaged by a bomb during World War II in 1945 but the collections were in storage. The museum reopened in 1947, and in 1960 exterior night floodlighting was installed, following a repair of the facade.

During the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention the main facade was damaged by Soviet gun fire. The shots made holes in sandstone pillars and plaster, destroyed stone statues and caused damage to some of the depositories. The damage to the facade is supposed to be preserved during the current renovation as a historical artifact.

The museum was also damaged during the construction of the metro in 1972 and 1978. The opening of the magistrála highway in 1978 cut the building off from Wenceslas Square. This also led a high level of dust and constant vibrations from road traffic.

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