Due to reconstruction, the main building of the Prague National Museum remains since July 2011 closed. Please visit the Museum Website for current information
The National Museum, a scientific institution intended to systematically establish, prepare and publicly exhibit natural scientific and historical collections, was founded through the efforts of many distinguished figures in Bohemia beginning as early as the end of the 18th century. Particular recognition in these endeavors is due to Kašpar Maria, Count Sternberg, who we can consider to be the main founder of the National Museum. Among the enlightened aristocracy of the land and the Czech patriotic political leaders, the specific proposals expressing Kašpar Sternberg conception found their champion in the person of the highest burgrave, Count František Libštejnský from Kolovrat. Their public declaration from the celebratory founder's meeting on April 15th, 1818 can be understood as the founding charter of the National Museum.
Thus arose the institution, which is the oldest museum in Bohemia and today the most distinguished and largest museum in the Czech Republic. The cornerstone of the first museum funds was formed from the private collection of Kašpar Sternberg and other noble patrons, who even with their financial support enabled the activities of the institute. Soon after the founding of the museum, there were alreadz significant collections covering mineralogy, palaeontology, numismatics, as well as a library and archives. Many distinguished figures from the cultural and scientific life of the day took part in the founding of the museum, one of the most important of which was cartainly historian and Czech political leader František Palacký. Among other activities, in 1827 he became the first editor of the National Museum Magazine, which is published to this day and is the oldest professional magazine in the Czech lands. Other outstanding figures contributed their work to the founding of the museum such as Josef Dobrovský, Josef Jungmann, Václav Hanka, Jan Svatopluk Presl, František Josef Gerstner and others.
In the beginning, the collections were temporarily concentrated in several locations throughout Prague. In 1819, the museum acquired its first permanent quarters in Sternberg Palace. After a quarter of a century in 1846, the museum moved to the relatively small Nostic Palace.
It was not until the end of the century that a truly distinguished and appropriate home for the museum collections was constructed at the upper end of Wenceslas Square. Following the design of prominent Czech neo-rennaisance architect Josef Schulz, the new museum was built on the foundation of the Czech parliament from 1885 - 1891 at a cost of approximately two million gold crowns. The beautiful palace became the dominant structure on Wenceslas Square and one of the largest and prominent buildings in Prague. The idea of the building exceeded the mere purposes of the museum: the palace became a representational symbol of the climax of the Czech national revival, a celebrated monument to Czech science and culture. That is why the Pantheon was designed as the focal point of the building, a secular cathedral glorifying the celebrated epochs and figures from Czech history, crowned and accented by the massive central cupola reaching a height of nearly 70 meters. The Pantheon is the site of ceremonial and festive gatherings, it is from this place that the burial processions of the most distinguished Czech scientists, artists and politicians have led. Here was also the ceremonial meeting of the newly established Czech Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts, which made its temporary home here in the new building which was opened amid much fanfare on May 18th, 1891.
At present the National Museum shelters almost 14 million of items from the area of natural history, history, arts, music and librarianship, located in tens of buildings. Throughout the entire year, visitors may view the permanent exhibits of the National Museum as well as a number of temporary exhibits. These are generally housed in the Hollareum exhibition hall on the ground floor of the main building as well as the two corridors leading to this space from the entrance vestibule. There are often other small exhibits in the Museum of book culture also on the ground floor before the entrance into the study room of the national Museum Library. On the first floor, three rooms across from the Pantheon are occasionally reserved for exhibits. Spacious less extensive exhibits are presented on the second floor gallery, while in the Pantheon itself there are periodic exhibits of exceptional significance. The Pantheon is also often used for exceptional evening social events. The interior staircase of the National Museum building is a space having remarkably fine acoustics, and thus is the place of favorite traditional chamber and choral concerts.
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