Letná Park

 

By Tracy A. Burns

 

Characteristics of the park

Perhaps this 25-hectare park near the Ministry of the Interior, Technical Museum and Agricultural Museum in Prague’s seventh district is best known for its awe-inspiring views of the Vltava River and town.  While there is no longer a carousel or ice rink on the grounds as there was in the early 20th century, the park does consist of many woody plants and grassy areas as well as biking paths, spaces for in-line skating, skateboarding and playing grounds for pétanque. It is also ideal for joggers. The park has a playground, too. Rock concerts and a theatre-music festival have also been held here.

Kutna Hora & Bone Church Tours from Prague

Stalin in Letná Park

Yet perhaps this park is best known for something else – the 15-meter high statue of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin and his entourage that loomed above Prague from 1955 to 1962, when it was blasted into smithereens. The statue showing Stalin as the leader of the people measured 22 meters in length and weighed 15,000 tons.  Czechs joked that the statuary grouping resembled a line for meat. Twenty-three stones gathered from various parts of the country were used to make this mammoth totalitarian monument created by sculptor Otakar Švec. Just three weeks after the grand unveiling of his work May 1, 1955, the artist committed suicide. With Stalin in the limelight, the Communists held Labor Day parades here on May 1. At the Centennial Exhibition of 1991, a metronome was installed on the spot the statue once occupied.

From the Přemyslids to Havel to the Pope

But Letná has witnessed triumphant, historical moments, too. Czech king Přemysl Otakar II celebrated his coronation here during 1261. Many centuries later, more than five percent of the country’s inhabitants listened to soon-to-be Czechoslovak President Václav Havel deliver a stirring speech here during a Velvet Revolution demonstration November 26, 1989. He spoke about his support for the general strike, much needed changes in the nation’s political sphere and the necessity of having free elections, among other topics. The chairman of the Communist government, Ladislav Adamec, also spoke up, stating that the government was prepared to give in to the people’s demands, and omitted addressing the crowd with the Communist word “comrade.” When former Communist politician Alexander Dubček took the microphone, he received a warm welcome. Dubček had been the First Secretary of the Communist Party who had initiated liberal reforms during 1968, only to have his reforms crushed by the Soviet tanks that entered the city and ended the Prague Spring. Other speakers included economist Miloš Zeman, who stressed that the level of economic growth in the nation was similar to that of a Third World country. Ludvík Pinc, a lieutenant who had participated in the police brutality against students during the November 17 demonstration, surprised the crowd by accepting responsibility for the police’s behavior that evening, though he stressed that he was not the one who made the decision to use force against the students. The following year Letná was the site of another historical event: Pope John Paul II held mass in this park.

The Hanavsky Pavilion and other sights astound

Letná boasts the Hanavsky Pavilion, the small chateau (zameček) and the Expo 58 pavilion designed after the 1958 World’s Fair exhibition in Brussels, Belgium and now serving as an architecturally impressive restaurant with a spectacular view. The Hanavsky Pavilion, built in pseudo Baroque style for the Centennial Exhibition during 1891, is composed of molded iron, brickwork and glass. It consists of a magnificent staircase, a metal-plated balustrade and a spectacular oriel as well as a breathtaking balcony. Now it is used as a restaurant and can be booked for weddings and business gatherings.

The small chateau enthralls

Designed by Vojtěch Ignáce Ullmann and constructed in 1863, the small chateau now features four restaurants and a garden terrace. The magnificent neo-Renaissance structure  is situated above the Old Town and offers a spectacular view of the city. It boasts historical signifance as well. During the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition the restaurant served as the last station for Prague’s first tram line, created by famous inventor František Křižík. A funicular also was built at that time, and a splendid carousel stood next to the restaurant. The last renovations were faithful to the unique, original design of the chateau. Nowadays weddings, press conferences, banquets and even pétanque tournaments, among other social events,  take place here.

Why Letna Park?

Relive the Pope’s mass, the Letná demonstration or Přemyslid Otakar II’s coronation. With its historical significance, remarkable view of the city, unique Hanavsky Pavilion and small chateau as well as tranquil areas and sporting attractions, Letná is a superb choice for spending some time away from the fast pace of city life. A quiet stroll here will prepare you for another day of sightseeing.


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