The Czech Republic is known throughout the world for its individually designed hand-blown glass and crystal art. One of the best Czech painters and decorators was Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), who is best known for his Art Nouveau posters and his cycle of 20 large paintings entitled The Slavic Epic, depicting the history of the Czechs and other Slavs. Since 2012, the Slavic Epic has been on display in the Veletržní Palace of the National Gallery in Prague, which manages the largest art collection in the Czech Republic.
The oldest preserved stone buildings in Bohemia and Moravia date from the time of Christianisation in the 9th and 10th centuries. Since the Middle Ages, the Bohemian lands have had the same architectural styles as most countries in Western and Central Europe. The oldest surviving churches were built in the Romanesque style. In the 13th century it was replaced by the Gothic style. In the 14th century, Emperor Charles IV invited talented architects from France and Germany, Matthias von Arras and Peter Parler to his court in Prague. During the Middle Ages, many castles were built by the king and the nobility, as were many monasteries. During the Hussite Wars many of them were damaged or destroyed.
The Renaissance style penetrated the Bohemian Crown at the end of the 15th century, when the older Gothic style slowly began to blend with Renaissance elements (architects Matěj Rejsek, Benedikt Rejt). An outstanding example of pure Renaissance architecture in Bohemia is the royal summer palace, which was located in a newly laid-out garden of Prague Castle. The general reception of the Renaissance in Bohemia, with the massive arrival of Italian architects, is evidenced by spacious palaces with elegant arcaded courtyards and geometrically laid-out gardens. The emphasis was on comfort, and buildings were also erected for entertainment purposes.
In the 17th century, the Baroque style spread throughout the Bohemian crown. The architectural projects of the Bohemian imperial nobleman and generalissimo Albrecht von Wallenstein from the 1620s onwards are very remarkable. His architects Andrea Spezza and Giovanni Pieroni reflected the latest Italian production while being very innovative. Czech Baroque architecture is considered a unique part of European cultural heritage because of its grandeur and exceptional character. In the first third of the 18th century, the Czech lands were one of the most important artistic centres of the Baroque style. In Bohemia, the development of the radical Baroque style was completed, which was created in a very original way in Italy by Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini. The most important architects of the Bohemian Baroque were Jean-Baptiste Mathey, František Maxmilián Kaňka, Christoph Dientzenhofer and his son Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer.
In the 18th century, an architectural peculiarity emerged in Bohemia – the Gothic-Baroque style, a synthesis of Gothic and Baroque. It was not a simple return to Gothic details, but an original Baroque transformation. The main representative and initiator of this style was Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, who used it in the renovation of medieval monastery buildings.
In the 19th century, the revival architectural style was very popular in the Bohemian monarchy. Many churches were restored to their supposedly medieval appearance and many buildings were built in the Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a new artistic style appeared in the Czech lands – Art Nouveau. The most famous representatives of Czech Art Nouveau architecture were Osvald Polívka, who designed the Prague Town House, Josef Fanta, the architect of the Prague Main Railway Station, and Jan Kotěra.
Bohemia brought an unusual style to the world’s architectural heritage when Czech architects attempted to translate the cubism of painting and sculpture into architecture. In the first years of independent Czechoslovakia (after 1918), a specifically Czech architectural style called “Rondo-Cubism” emerged. Together with the Czech Cubist architecture of the pre-war period, it is unique in the world. The first Czechoslovak president, T. G. Masaryk, invited the important Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik to Prague, where he modernised the castle and constructed other buildings. Between the First and Second World Wars, functionalism with its sober and progressive forms gained the upper hand as the most important architectural style in the new Czechoslovak Republic. One of the most impressive works of functionalism has been preserved in the city of Brno: Villa Tugendhat, designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The most important Czech architects of this period were Adolf Loos, Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár.
After the Second World War and the communist coup of 1948, art in Czechoslovakia came under strong Soviet influence. The Prague International Hotel is a shining example of so-called socialist realism, the Stalinist art style of the 1950s. The Czechoslovak avant-garde art movement known as the “Brussels style” (named after the World’s Fair in Brussels in 58) became popular during the period of political liberalisation in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
Even today, the Czech Republic does not shy away from the most modern trends in international architecture. This fact is proven by a number of projects by world-famous architects (Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Ricardo Bofill and John Pawson). There are also contemporary Czech architects whose works can be found all over the world (Eva Jiřičná, Jan Kaplický).
The musical tradition of the Czech lands arose from the first church hymns, the first records of which are said to date from the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century. Among the first significant pieces of Czech music are two choruses that played the role of hymns in their time: “Hospodine pomiluj ny” (Lord, have mercy on us) from around 1050, undoubtedly the oldest and best-preserved sacred folk song that has survived to the present day, and the hymn “Svatý Václave” (St. Wenceslas) or “St. Wenceslas Chorus” from around 1250. Its roots go back to the 12th century and it remains one of the most popular religious songs today. In 1918, at the beginning of the Czechoslovak state, the chant was discussed as one of the possible options for the national anthem. The authorship of the hymn “Lord, have mercy on us” is attributed by some historians to St. Adalbert of Prague (sv.Vojtěch), Bishop of Prague, who lived between 956 and 997.
The richness of musical culture in the Czech Republic lies in the long tradition of classical music of high culture in all historical periods, especially Baroque, Classical, Romantic, modern classical music and traditional folk music from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Since the beginnings of artificial music, Czech musicians and composers have often been influenced by genuine folk music (e.g. the Bohemian polka). Among the most famous Czech composers are Adam Michna, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Jan Václav Antonín Stamic, Jiří Antonín Benda, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal, Josef Mysliveček, Antonín Rejcha, Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Gustav Mahler, Josef Suk, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů, Alois Hába, Miloslav Kabeláč and Petr Eben, as well as famous musicians and performers, e.g.. e.g..g. František Benda, Jan Kubelík, Emma Destinnová, Rudolf Firkušný, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Panocha Quartet and many others.
It can be assumed that Czech music has had a beneficial effect in the European and global context, that it has repeatedly helped to determine or even defined a new epoch in the art of music, especially in the classical era, but also through original attitudes in the classical music of the Baroque, Romantic and Modern periods.
The country’s most famous music festival is the Prague Spring International Classical Music Festival, a permanent showcase for artists, symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles from all over the world.
The Czech Republic took part in the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in 2007. It qualified for the grand final for the first time in 2016, where it won 25th place.
The roots of Czech theatre lie in the Middle Ages, especially in the cultural life of the Gothic period. In the 19th century, theatre played an important role in the national revival movement and later, in the 20th century, it became a part of modern European theatre art. An original Czech cultural phenomenon emerged in the late 1950s. It was called Laterna magika (The Magic Lantern) and was devised by the famous film and theatre director Alfred Radok. Productions were created that combined theatre, dance and film in a poetic way and are considered the first multimedia art project in an international context.
The tradition of Czech cinema began in the second half of the 1890s. The highlights of production in the silent film era are the historical drama “The Temple Builder”, the social and erotic drama (very controversial and innovative at the time) “Erotikon” directed by Gustav Machatý. The beginnings of the sound film era in Czech cinema were very productive, especially in mainstream genres with a special role for comedies by Martin Frič or Karel Lamač, but dramatic films had a greater international success, especially the famous romantic drama “Ecstasy” by Gustav Machatý and the romantic film “The River” by Josef Rovenský.
After the repressive period of the Nazi occupation of the country and the beginnings of the official communist dramaturgy of socialist realism in cinema at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, with a few exceptions such as Otakar Vávra’s “Krakatit” or František’s “Men Without Wings” Čáp (awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival) began a new era of Czech cinema with remarkable animated films by great filmmakers such as Karel Zeman, a pioneer of special effects (culminating in successful films such as the extraordinary “Vynález zkázy” (A Deadly Invention), played in English-speaking countries as “The Fabulous World of Jules Verne” of 1958, which combined acting and animation, and Jiří Trnka, the founder of the modern puppet film. Another Czech cultural phenomenon emerged at the end of the 1950s. This project called Laterna magika (The Magic Lantern), which produced productions that poetically combined theatre, dance and film, was considered the first multimedia art project in an international context (also mentioned in the “Theatre” section above).
In the 1960s, the Czech New Wave (also known as the Czechoslovak New Wave) was celebrated by the international community. It is associated with the names of Miloš Forman, Věra Chytilová, Jiří Menzel, Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos, Evald Schorm, Vojtěch Jasný, Ivan Passer, Jan Schmidt, Juraj Herz, Jan Němec, Jaroslav Papoušek and others. The films of this movement are characterised by long and often improvised dialogue, dark and absurd humour and the casting of non-actors. The directors strive to maintain the natural atmosphere without sophistication or artificial arrangement of scenes. The unique personality of the 1960s and early 1970s, with his original signature, deep psychological impact and exceptional quality of art, is the director František Vláčil. His films Marketa Lazarová, Údolí včel (“Valley of the Bees”) or Adelheid are among the artistic highlights of Czech film production. Marketa Lazarová was voted the best Czech film of all time in a prestigious poll of Czech critics and publicists in 1998. Another internationally renowned auteur is Jan Švankmajer (associated with the above-mentioned Laterna Magika project at the beginning of his career), a filmmaker and artist whose work spans several media. He is a self-proclaimed surrealist, known for his animations and feature films, which have strongly influenced many artists around the world.
The Shop on Main Street (1965), Closely Watched Trains (1967) and Kolya (1996) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, while six other films were nominated: Loves of a Blonde (1966), The Fireman’s Ball (1968), My Sweet Little Village (1986), The Elementary School (1991), Divided We Fall (2000) and Želary (2003). The Czech Lion is the highest award for Czech filmmaking.
The Barrandov Studios in Prague are the largest film studios in the country and one of the largest in Europe with many popular locations in the country. Filmmakers have come to Prague to shoot scenes that no longer exist in Berlin, Paris and Vienna. The city of Karlovy Vary was used as a filming location for the James Bond film Casino Royale in 2006.
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the oldest in the world and has become the leading film event in Central and Eastern Europe. It is also one of the few film festivals to have been granted competition status by FIAPF. Other film festivals organised in the country include Febiofest, Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, One World Film Festival, Zlín Film Festival and Fresh Film Festival.
Czech cuisine is characterised by a strong emphasis on meat dishes. Pork is quite common; beef and chicken are also popular. Goose, duck, rabbit and game are served. Fish is rare, with the occasional exception of fresh trout and carp served at Christmas.
Czech beer has a long and distinguished history. The first brewery is known to date back to 993 and the Czech Republic has the highest per capita beer consumption in the world. The famous “Pilsner-style beer” (Pilsner) was born in the West Bohemian town of Plzeň, where the world’s very first lager is still produced, Pilsner Urquell, which inspires more than two-thirds of the beer produced in the world today. Further south, the town of České Budějovice, which is Budweis in German, lent its name to its beer, which eventually became known as Budweiser Budvar. In addition to these and other major brands, the Czech Republic has a growing number of smaller breweries and high-quality mini-breweries that seek to continue the centuries-old tradition of quality and taste, and whose production is among the best in the world.
Tourism is slowly developing in the southern Moravian region, which has been producing wine since the Middle Ages; about 94% of the vineyards in the Czech Republic are Moravian. Besides Czech slivovitz, beer and wine, the Czechs also produce two unique liqueurs, Fernet Stock and Becherovka. Kofola is a domestic cola-based soft drink that rivals Coca-Cola and Pepsi in popularity.
Some popular Czech dishes include:
- Vepřo knedlo zelo: roast pork with bread dumplings and stewed cabbage
- Svíčková na smetaně: roast sirloin of beef with steamed dumplings and cream of vegetable sauce
- Rajská (omáčka): beef in tomato sauce, traditionally served with dumplings
- Koprovka: beef in dill sauce, traditionally served with dumplings
- Pečená kachna: roast duck with bread or potato dumplings and braised red cabbage
- Guláš: a variety of beef and pork goulash stews, served with dumplings or bread
- Smažený sýr: fried cheese, typically served with potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce
- Bramboráky: potato pancakes, traditionally served with sour cabbage
There is also a large variety of local sausages, wurst, pâtés, and smoked and cured meats. Czech desserts include a wide variety of whipped cream, chocolate, and fruit pastries and tarts, crêpes, creme desserts and cheese, poppy-seed-filled and other types of traditional cakes such as buchty, koláče and štrůdl.
Sport plays a role in the lives of many Czechs, most of whom are loyal supporters of their favourite teams or individuals. The two most important sports in the Czech Republic are ice hockey and football. Tennis is also a very popular sport in the Czech Republic. Among the many other sports for which there are professional leagues and structures are basketball, volleyball, team handball, athletics and floorball. The Czech ice hockey team won the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and has won 12 gold medals at World Championships (six of them as Czechoslovakia), including three in a row from 1999 to 2001. In total, the country has won 14 summer gold medals (plus 49 as Czechoslovakia) and five gold medals (plus two as Czechoslovakia) in the history of the Winter Olympics.
The Czechoslovak national football team was a regular presence on the international stage. It participated in the FIFA World Cup finals eight times and finished second in 1934 and 1962. The team also won the European Football Championship in 1976, came third in 1980 and won Olympic gold in 1980. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the Czech national football team finished second (1996) and third (2004) in the European Football Championship.
Sport is a source of strong waves of patriotism that usually rise a few days or weeks before an event. The events considered most important by Czech fans are: the Ice Hockey World Cup, the Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament, the UEFA European Football Championship, the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA World Cup and the qualifying matches for these events. In general, any international match played by the Czech national ice hockey or football team attracts attention, especially if it is against a traditional rival.
The Czech Republic is also a major influence in tennis, with players such as Tomáš Berdych, Lucie Šafářová, Květa Peschke, Wimbledon women’s singles winners Petra Kvitová and Jana Novotná, 8-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl and 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova.
One of the most popular Czech sports is hiking, especially in the Czech mountains. The word “tourist” in Czech, turista, also means “hiker” or “trekker”. For beginners, thanks to a tradition of more than 120 years, there is a unique signposting system, one of the best in Europe. There is a network of about 40,000 km of marked short and long-distance hiking trails that criss-cross the entire country and all the Czech mountains.
The men’s national volleyball team of the Czech Republic won the silver medal in the summer of 1964 ,Olympics and two gold medalist in FIVB Volleyball World Championship 1956, 1966.