Imagine Prague: Arts & Culture

Published 24 October 2023
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There is so much artwork and history to explore in Prague. While you’re there for ISHLT2024, consider a visit to the Prague National Theatre. Unlike other old sumptuous buildings throughout Europe that were built by royalty or rich sponsors, this theater is unique in its kind in that it was built entirely with public money.

Photo of the inside of Prague National Theater

In 1845, when Bohemia and Moravia still belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the idea was born to build a theater dedicated to the promotion of the Czech language and to serve as stage for the Czech opera, ballet, and drama. A national public collection of money ensued, leading to the building of the theater in 1881. However, two months after the opening, a large accidental fire destroyed most of the interior. Amazingly, the Czech people rallied again and raised money for a complete reconstruction of the theater, which reopened in 1883. To this date the theater is viewed as a tribute to the nation’s resilience, pride, achievement, and stubbornness.

Inside neo-renaissance style paintings decorate the ceiling around the chandelier and depict stories from Czech mythology with landscapes inspired from works by the Czech painter Mánes.

Actors on a stage during a performance

The theater opened with the premiere of the opera Libuše by Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884). Smetana is thought of as the founding father of Czech music and is credited with creating the Czech musical style. His best-known compositions include the opera “Prodaná nevěsta” (The Bartered Bride) and the symphonic cycle entitled “Má vlast” (My Fatherland), which depicts Czech history and legends. Interestingly, Smetana’s most famous works date from his last years of life when he had become completely deaf. His most important pupil was Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who is now arguably the best-known Czech composer. He was from Moravia and incorporated themes from Moravian and Bohemian folklore and songs in his late romantic music. He is best known for his New World Symphony (Number 9), the Slavonic dances, and his world-famous opera “Rusalka”. Now, more than a hundred years later, themes from his New World Symphony make up the theme song of Disney’s Pocahontas.

Other great Czech composers whose works were presented to the world on this prestigious stage over the last century: Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), Dvořák’s slightly less known but prolific contemporary, Dvořák’s best-known pupil Josef Suk (1874-1935) who subsequently became preceptor of Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959).

Visit the Theater of the Estates as well as the Prague State Opera to take in a show from the Prague National Opera and Ballet companies. Hear Suk’s Asrael Symphony in C minor by the Czech Philharmony, an internationally known orchestra, in the neo-renaissance Rudolfinum concert hall. There are several organ and choir performances in churches in the old town and you can hear old Prague songs in various pubs around the city. Take in the the show at “Křižíkova fontána” (Krizik’s Fountain): a large fountain where water-streams, illuminated by multi-colored lights, shoot up and dance in coordination with music. Take in the Prague performing arts and cultural scene by visiting these sites:


Places to Visit:
  • Prague National Theatre
  • The Estates Theatre
  • The State Opera
  • The New Stage
  • Czech National Theatre
  • Prague National Opera
  • Prague National Ballet
  • Křižíkova fontána” (Krizik’s Fountain)
  • Rudolfinum concert hall
  • Czech Philharmonic
Art Galleries:
  • Mucha Museum (Alphonse Mucha is the most famous Czech Art Nouveau artist, best known for his decorative paintings of women in flowing robes)
  • The Fair Trade Palace (Veletržní palác with a large collection of modern and contemporary art)
  • St. Agnes of Bohemia Convent (Czech medieval art)
  • St. George convent (Czech baroque paintings from the era of Emperor Rudolph II)
  • The House of the Black Madonna (Czech cubism)
  • National Museum (Národní Muzeum): the National Museum institution oversees many collections throughout the Czech Republic.
  • Antonín Dvořák Museum 
  • The Lapidárium: museum of Czech sculptures (it houses some of the original sculptures from the Charles bridge or Vyšehrad)
  • Franz Kafka museum
  • Exposition of historical pharmacies in the Golden Lion House, close to the Prague Castle
  • Moser crystal museum on the Old Town square
  • Prague City Museum (Museum Hlavního města Prahy): focused on the history of Prague *closed for renovations but will reopen in 2024
  • Museum of decorative arts (Umělecko-průmyslové museum), featuring arts and crafts from the Bohemian lands through history.
Headshot of Tereza MartinuThe 44 th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions will take place in Prague, Czech Republic. This is the city of ancient spires, domes, and alleys; the land of preserved thousand-year-old history; the vibrant home of culture, music, and art. Spend your free time sightseeing, city-walking, dumpling-eating, and pivo-drinking. Get to know Prague and start planning your travel with the Imagine Prague articles originally written and edited by ISHLT member, Tereza Martinu, MD, MHS, of the Toronto General Hospital/UHN in Toronto, Canada.