Prague marks 25 years as a UNESCO site

An outdoor exhibition at Kampa shows the evolution of the city

This year Prague celebrates 25 years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The anniversary is being marked with an open-air exhibition on Kampa Island. The Czech Republic now has a dozen listed sites, but Prague was among the first three, along with Český Krumlov and Telč.

The exhibition, consisting of informative panels in the pedestrian zone, is called Praha světová – 25 let v UNESCO. The 38 panels, with texts in Czech and English, show copies of rare maps, historical photos, drawings and development plans. The intention is not only to depict the city's history but also its cultural and artistic values.

Not all of Prague is part of the UNESCO site, just the historical center and, rather oddly, the park and chateau just outside the city in Průhonice. The park was added later as an afterthought, without much fanfare, and many people are still unaware it is included.

Prague has many names, including the city of a hundred spires, the golden city and the mother of cities.

“Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe in terms of its setting on both banks of the Vltava River, its townscape of burger houses and palaces punctuated by towers, and its individual buildings.

The Historic Centre represents a supreme manifestation of Medieval urbanism,” the UNESCO description states.

“In the course of the 1100 years of its existence, Prague’s development can be documented in the architectural expression of many historical periods and their styles. The city is rich in outstanding monuments from all periods of its history,” UNESCO adds later.

The idea that UNESCO should help preserve world heritage first arose in the 1950s. The convention to create World Heritage Sites took effect in 1975. The then-communist government of Czechoslovakia, though, took no interest in participating as it was seen as a capitalist idea. The government before 1989 was known for a complete lack of interest in historical monuments, and many were destroyed in that era to be replaced by functionalist structures. Luckily, most of Prague managed to be unscathed with only a few incongruous buildings in the center.

The UNESCO site in Prague includes Prague Castle and Hradčany, Malá Strana, Old Town, New Town and Vyšehrad, plus the Průhonice park. The Prague Castle complex is the largest of its type in the world. Charles Bridge is the second oldest in the country.

The status of being a World Heritage Site is reviewed from time to time. The city has been warned about the encroachment of skyscrapers and also about the disastrous recent renovation of Charles Bridge. Around the protected zone there is a buffer zone where construction and conditions are monitored, although the buildings in the buffer zone themselves are not protected heritage.

Prague was not always one city. It used to be four separate cities until 1784 when the parts were officially joined together. The exhibition shows maps that track the growth of the city over time, including a map from 1419 that depicts a rather smaller city than what we now know. Many details on it, though, can still be recognized when compared to maps from today.

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