Wenceslas Square gets building permit

The long-delayed renovation project is finally starting this week

Prague has finally received permission to renovate the lower part of Wenceslas Square, and preparatory work should begin this week. The square, which has played a key role in Czech history, should have a new look by the end of the year. The estimated cost is Kč 200 million.

The Prague 1 district has issued the final building permit that was required. The decision to begin is definitive, as a deadline for objections has passed. The plan to renovate the square had been delayed for more than a decade.

A zoning decision to renovate the lower half of Wenceslas Square was issued by Prague 1 in September 2017. This allowed the city to seek a building permit. Renovations will touch the area bordered by Na Příkopě and 28. října Streets on one side and Vodičková and Jindřišská Streets on the other.

The renovation plan includes water sprinklers, more trees and recharging stations for electric vehicles. The area, which has been a pedestrian zone for some time, will get a new look with wider sidewalks to be more inviting to the public.

Several city administrations had tried to push the project forward. “This is great news; it means that Wenceslas Square will finally be rebuilt. The [design] contest took place 13 years ago and since then nothing has been done, but it is clear to everyone that the repairs were necessary,” Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) said.

"This is one of the most important places not only in Prague but also in the whole of the country, both in the current and historical contexts. Still, today it does not perform its function as it should, and people are basically just passing through it. I want to make Wenceslas Square again the center of cultural and social life, as it was in the past,” Krnáčová added.

The Prague 1 district, where the square is located also welcomes the work. “The building permit became final. It was a long and complicated process because the square is a very complicated area. …We now believe that the square will be significantly better and more pleasant for the public in the foreseeable future,” Prague Mayor Oldřich Lomecký (TOP 09) said.

The first preparatory work and an archaeological survey at the lowest corner of the square will begin this week. The passageway for pedestrians will be limited in that area. The most demanding and time-consuming part of the renovation will take place underground. This includes work by Pražská energetika (PRE) and Pražská vodohospodářská společnost (PVS) on the electric and sewage systems. Meanwhile, the city will select a construction company to do all the surface work.

Pedestrian space will expand considerably, with a loss of dozens of parking spaces, leaving only space for sixteen cars. Asphalt will be replaced by granite pavement and another row of trees.

The greenery will be irrigated by an automatic system, and six spots will be created for market stalls. The plan calls for underground containers and recharging stations for electric cars. There will also be a place for a Christmas tree.

Prior to the project's approval, the city had to deal with a number of comments from the public. The biggest controversy concerned a planned ramp for cars to get into an underground parking lot in the future. It will be built after the construction of the garages in the courtyard between Wenceslas Square and Panská Street begins.

Preservationists did not like the ramp dividing the square, but their negative stance was overruled last summer by the Ministry of Culture. Other complaints related to the new trees, either complaining about their type or placement.

When the upper half of the square, near the National Museum, will be rebuilt is not clear yet.

A proposal to renovate the square by Jakub Cigler Architekti won a competition organized by Prague 1 City Hall in 2005. Its roots go back even earlier. The project originated when Václav Havel was president and Jan Kasl was mayor, from 1998 to 2002.

“We wanted to show something was happening and that Prague was changing. It's a symbolic thing,” Jakub Cigler said previously.

Wenceslas Square, called Václavské náměstí in Czech, dates back to the mid-1300s and historically was a horse market. It has been the scene of many historic moments such as the reading out of a document declaring independence in 1918, the main site of the Soviet invasion in 1968 and the famous ringing of keys in 1989 as part of the Velvet Revolution.

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