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And then came the razing

Location: The Komenského Square Park 

Karel Hartig’s regulation plan of 1865 divided the territory of Žižkov into eight small blocks on a chessboard-style roster centred around one of Žižkov’s oldest squares, dating pre-1875 and named after Jan Amos Comenius. It is of a rectangular shape defined by four streets, Jeseniova in the south, Českobratrská in the west, Roháčova in the north and Blahoslavova in the east. With the influx of new population to Žižkov in the second half of the 19th century, there were more school-age children, and the capacity of existing classrooms soon filled up. Under the circumstances, the Civil Forum of Žižkov headed by Karel Hartig initiated, in October 1871, the formation of a preparation committee to establish a school in Žižkov. The construction (to his design) started in 1872. The left half of the building with a central avant-corps rising to the attic and a lateral wing facing the Blahoslavova Street were finished under Hartig’s leadership. A tower with a clock, decorated with a bell eloquently declaring: “To celebrate St. Wenceslass, the patron saint of the Czech nation, A.D. 1873 in the eight year after the establishment of Žižkov, donated by the people of Žižkov to their first school” was erected above the attic. A bust of J. A. Comenius by a Žižkov sculptor, František Heidelberg, with the “Civil Building” sign were placed on the building front above the entrance. The Neo-Renaissance two-storey building was completed in its present form in 1881. The area of the square was subsequently landscaped and a public well with a pump was added. One hundred years later, the square and its surroundings fell victim to the Žižkov razing and renovation in the area defined by Koněvova and Jeseniova, Chlumova to the west, Prokopova to south-west and Budovcova to the east in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The pupils had to leave in 1978 when the school was first used as premises for the workers demolishing the Old Žižkov. It was to be the last building to remain standing. Not only the people of Žižkov but even the Old Prague Club fought to save it; a series of hard battles with the regime ultimately succeeded. Today, the school is used for its original purpose again, it is the home of the Grammar and Music School of the Capital of Prague. Dozens of apartment blocks in Old Žižkov were not that lucky, unfortunately. The mass-scale razing and renovation of Žižkov was supposed to be a significant move of the Party, as well as a showcase of modern, socialist approach to housing. The official reasons for such vast interference with historic architecture were listed as poor quality of housing, pitiful technical condition of the buildings, lack of gas installations etc. The plan for a radical and, in most cases, unnecessary rebuilding of Žižkov was not met with enthusiasm on the part of the locals. Particularly the elderly found it difficult to leave their home town, or to become accustomed to its brutal transformation and potential move to prefab housing. A group of young architects who opposed the dramatic and entirely unsubstantiated demolition of a historically valuable part of Prague protested against the progress of the works in the late 1980’s with a series of newspaper articles and leaflets. A documentary called “The face of Žižkov” was filmed by FAMU students in 1989 to point out the issue. After the November events and change of regime, demolitions were stopped and the 19th century school building at the Komenského square, surrounded by prefab buildings, remains a memento of the unfinished town quarter renovation plan. 

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