History of the Prague Metro
The idea of trains crisscrossing the city below the earth’s surface is not as recent as one might think. The city to boast the historically first sub-surface railway is London, whose Underground, put into operation in 1863, eventually became a model for several western metropoleis’ underground systems. In 1896, it was followed by the Budapest Metro, which became the first underground railway on the European continent. Since the Czech lands were united with Hungary within one dualistic monarchy at that time, the construction of the Budapest Metro initiated the interest to create such a system in the city of Prague. The very first person to mention the possibility of building an underground railway in Prague is believed to be Ladislav Rott, whose proposal from 1898 included two metro lines. The one line was to have connected Karlín and Podolí, the other one was meant to operate between Lesser Town and Královské Vinohrady (now Vinohrady). Both lines were supposed to intersect at Křižovnický pivovar (Křižovník Brewery), Old Town. Rott’s proposal was, however, denied by the Prague Head City Council.
It was not until the age of the First Republic that further metro projects emerged. Several plans were created, from Bohuslav Vondráček’s 1912 proposal, which only included one line running between Old Town and New Town, namely between the Rudolfinum and Wenceslas Square, to the most memorable four-line proposal by Vladimír List and Bohumil Belada from 1926. Some of the line directions drafted in this proposal are more or less identical with the contemporary ones (e.g. directions to Dejvice, to Karlín, to Smíchov, and to Strašnice via Vinohrady), as well as the transfer stations, three of which were intended to be placed at their current locations. List and Belada were presumably inspired by Paris and are believed to have been the first to use the French term “metro” in the Czech lands.
In 1939, the final decision was made to build a high-speed sub-surface tramway in Prague, yet before the construction could even start, preference was given to a true underground railway. In 1941, the Consortium of Building Companies submitted the project documentation of a Dejvice – Pankrác line and the draft proposals of a Smíchov – Libeň line and a Holešovice – Vinohrady line. This conception of the metro strongly resembles the contemporary arrangement and the downtown “transfer triangle” was absolutely identical to the contemporary one. Due to financial reasons, however, the Protectorate authorities imposed a ban on the constructions of new buildings, and the dreams of the Prague Metro were therefore forgotten until the end of WWII. Several metro proposals, heavily influenced by socialist realism, were created in the 1950s, their conception being inspired by Moscow rather than London, Budapest, and Paris. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did not recommend building a metro in Prague in the following fifteen years. The only sign of any progress in this period was the construction of the secret Klárov station, whose location, however, suggests that its primary purpose was to serve as a bomb shelter for the members of governmental authorities.
The beginnings of the construction
The 1960s brought a significant worsening of the traffic situation in Prague. The trams and trolleybuses were by no means capable of serving the bustling downtown of Czechoslovakia’s capital. The situation was most critical in the very core of Prague, namely in the area of Wenceslas Square. For that reason, a transformation of the Prague tramway system was planned, which involved moving its central part under the surface. This system of sub-surface tramways was to have consisted of three lines, almost identical to today’s Metro lines. These tramways were to have following directions: the A line from Špejchar to Flora, the B line from Moráň to Florenc, the C line from Bolzanova Street to the Nusle Bridge, and the T connecting line from Charles Square to I. P. Pavlov Square. The ceremonial initiation of the C line’s construction took place in 1966 and a year later, the construction of the two first stations (Hlavní nádraží and Muzeum) began. The decision to construct sub-surface tramways, however, came under strong criticism, as a consequence of which, a new concept of a deep-level metro was created.
The construction of the C line’s first segment was accompanied by substantial improvisation, since the oldest stations were based on the sub-surface tramway project (for this reason, the Hlavní nádraží station has side platforms). The tramway plans were being replaced by the Metro plans, the construction not being interrupted. The stations, usually built using the cut-and-cover method, were decorated on the model of the Moscow Metro, the decorative stones included e.g. Liberec granite, marble, and dolerite. The inspiration by Moscow went hand in hand with the ideological concept of the stations, not excluding their names, e.g. Gottwaldova literal translation: Gottwald Station and Mládežnická . literal translation: Youth Station The Sokolovská literal translation: Sokolovo Station station (now Florenc) was understood as a Battle of Sokolovo memorial. The signs inside the Metro stations employed the Metron font, whose authorship is attributed to Czech typographer Jiří Rathouský. The grand opening of the first segment, built between the Sokolovská and Kačerov stations, took place on May 9, 1974, in the presence of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Gustáv Husák. The use of Czechoslovak R1 trains was originally considered, yet three-car Soviet Ečs train units were chosen in the end. The opening of the C line also brought a change in the tramway organization – several tram lines were cancelled due to the existence of the Metro and the conductors were replaced by ticket machines.
The A line & the extensions of the C line
The Prague Metro was expanding rapidly in the 1970s, the A being added to the system. In 1978, the A trains ran between the Leninova (now Dejvická) and Náměstí Míru stations, and two years later, the line was extended to Želivského. The Muzeum station served as a transfer station, allowing transfer to the already existing C line. The new line was laid much deeper than the old one, the stations being bored. In addition to that, a new design concept was created, resulting in the stations being tiled with anodized aluminum of concave and convex shapes (author: Jaroslav Otruba) and for each station, a specific color was picked, making it easily distinguishable from the others (author: Jiří Rathouský). The aim of the feature described was to highlight the experience of traveling under the spectacular historic downtown, evoking the atmosphere of medieval cellars. Another aspect that contributed to this idea was the dim light, which, however, only remained at the Flora and Želivského stations. The Middle Ages were the main theme of this line. The Želivského station, for example, referred to the Hussite age. Apart from the above-mentioned aluminum tiles, decorative stones were used in the stations, marble and granite in particular. The names of the stations were far less ideological than on the C line and except for Leninova , literal translation: Lenin Station they were mainly adjectives formed from the names of Prague’s districts (e.g. Hradčany – Hradčanská, Malá Strana – Malostranská) or geographical names, which, again, referred to the Middle Ages (Jiřího z Poděbrad , literal translation: George of Poděbrady Station Želivského ). literal translation: Želivský Station Furthermore, the A line was the first line of the Prague Metro to run under the Vltava river.
In 1980, the C line’s second segment was built, attaching the massively developing Jižní Město to Prague’s rapid transit system. The stations being again dug using the cut-and-cover method, the architecture followed the concept of the first segment with the exception of the fact that ceramic tiles appeared in the stations. In this case, the names of the stations were even more ideological than on the previous segment, the Kosmonautů literal translation: Cosmonauts Station terminal station (now Háje) being meant to remind of Czechoslovakia’s cooperation on the Soviet space program. In 1984, the C line’s third segment to Holešovice was opened, the Fučíkova station (now Nádraží Holešovice) being the terminus. The architectural concept was similar to the one at the Jižní Město segment.
The B line & the pre-revolutionary extensions
In 1985, the B line was opened to become the third and last line of the Prague Metro, its first segment connecting Smíchovské nádraží (Smíchov Railway Station) to the Sokolovská transfer station (now Florenc). The Můstek-Muzeum-Sokolovská downtown transfer triangle was hereby completed. With a few exceptions, the segment included three-bore stations with glass panels as their typical tiling material. The Můstek and Sokolovská transfer stations deviated from this concept, being tiled with ceramic instead, while at Náměstí Republiky and Karlovo náměstí one can find remarkable tiling panels made of glass. Amongst all other stations, the Moskevská literal translation: Moscow Station station (now Anděl) is absolutely unique, as it was constructed by Soviet architects and engineers on the model of the Moscow stations as a sign of the Czechoslovak-Soviet Frendship, while in Moscow, the Czechoslovak Metrostav built the Пражская (Prazhskaya) literal translation: Prague Station station, which resembles the ceramic-tiled stations on the C line’s Jižní Město segment.
In the subsequent years, the Prague Metro kept expanding. In 1985, a depot for the A line was put into operation in Hostivař to help ease the burdens on the Kačerov depot, which had been the only depot by that time. This section was, however, not accessible to the public and it was not until two years later that the Strašnická station was opened. In 1988, the B line’s third (chronologically second) segment started operating. Nové Butovice, the terminal station, was originally supposed to carry the lofty name Únovorého vítězství , literal translation: Victorious February Station yet due to the downfall of the communist regime, it was opened under the name Dukelská literal translation: Dukla Station and a little less than two years later, it adopted its current name. From an architectural point of view, the most interesting station on this segment is the Švermova station (now Jinonice), which was decorated with glass panels, similar to those at Karlovo náměstí.
The post-revolutionary development
As a consequence of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, several changes had to be implemented on the Prague Metro, whose beauty had previously served as the propaganda of the communist ideology. The most noticeable changes concerned renaming the stations so that the stations’ names would refer to their geographical locations rather than the political situation. Despite such a decision, the then City Council failed to fix all inappropriate station names, including the Vltavská station located in Holešovice, whose name resembles the name of Vltavská Street, which, however, is to be found in Smíchov, and the Pražského povstání station, which is situated nowhere near Pražského povstání Street. During the 1990s, art pieces were being removed, or even destroyed, reportedly with a view to reducing the Soviet and communist concept of the stations. Sadly, the above-mentioned idea was not followed, the pattern of artwork removals being more business than politics related. For example, while the inscription “All power in the CSSR belongs to the working people” is still to be seen at the Hradčanská station, an absolutely unique light installation at Náměstí Míru by Jaroslav Cígler and a glass artwork called Kontakty by Jaroslava Brychtová and Stanislav Libenský were both removed owing to the commercial use of the stations’ vestibules. Namely, the Náměstí Míru installation was replaced by a newsstand and a betting shop. In addition to that, there has no longer been the obligation to spend a specific percentage of the budget on art since 1990, and therefore, not a single artwork has been installed in the stations built after this year.
In July of 1990, the Skalka station was put into operation, becoming one of the last stations to boast an art installation, namely a nature-themed mosaic. At the end of the same year, the B line’s second (chronologically third) segment, whose construction had started before the Velvet Revolution, was opened, the Českomoravská station (the intended name was Antonína Zápotockého) being its terminus. The new segment’s concept respected the original character of the B line, its three-bore stations being tiled with glass panels. The Českomoravská terminal station was, however, tiled with ceramic due to financial reasons. This quite restrained B-line design continued at most stations on the Černý Most segment. Artworks are to be found on the second segment, yet there are not many of them. The B line’s fifth (chronologically fourth) segment, running to the newly constructed Zličín depot, was opened in 1994. This segment was already built on post-revolutionary principles, the stations being influenced by the somewhat complicated 1990s design. No art pieces are to be found on this segment. At the Lužiny station, designed by architect Patrik Kotas, one can, however, observe a remarkable, yet rather bizarre installation of artificial palm trees, placed in glass columns. The above-mentioned architect is also the author of the Rajská zahrada station and the official initiator of the era of megalithic glass structures, which eventually became typical for the design of the Prague Metro in the twenty-first century. The Rajská zahrada and Černý Most stations come under the B line’s fourth (chronologically fifth) segment, opened in 1998. The Kolbenova and Hloubětín stations, which follow the restrained design of the second segment, were added to the fourth segment later.
The Metro in the 21st century
The Metro stations were hit by a massive disaster in 2002, being inundated and damaged during severe floods, resulting in their several months’ closure. Owing to the destruction of the original lights on some A line’s stations, the original lighting was abandoned, and consequently, most of the stations were equipped with new lights, which, however, do not respect the original aim to evoke the magical atmosphere of medieval cellars inside the stations.
In 2004, the first part of the C line’s fourth segment to Ládví was put into operation. Two years later, a station was opened at the Hostivař depot, which had not been accessible to the public until then. In 2010, the second part of the fourth segment came into existence, its architecture resembling the Rajská zahrada station, on the model of which, the new stations have the look of giant glass structures, which, unlike the old stations, reach above the surface. The main function of the type of architecture described is to bring daylight to the platforms, as well as to add more excitement to the monotonous plattenbau neighborhoods. This type of architecture, however, involves the consequences of the high costs of both the stations’ construction and their maintenance. Apart from that, it was the first time in the history of the Prague Metro that the sub-surface transit had been extended to areas with no housing development nearby (excluding the anomalous depot stations).
In 2015, the last part of the Prague Metro was opened, namely the A line’s fifth (chronologically fourth) segment, connecting Motol to Dejvice. The main purpose of this segment is better accessibility of Motol University Hospital and the Petřiny neighborhood. Furthermore, this extension enabled transfer to the bus line running to Václav Havel Airport, yet it is necessary to mention that bringing the A line’s extension to Motol goes hand in hand with abandoning the plan of extending the A line to the airport, since the inconvenient location of the Nemocnice Motol terminus eliminates the possibility of the line’s direct connection the airport, branching the lines not being considered at present, mainly due to financial reasons. Therefore, regarding the connection between the airport and Prague, preference was given to a classic above-ground railway, the extensions of the A and the B lines to Ruzyně not being considered. From an architectural point of view, the stations of the A line’s fifth segment are not very interesting, their design being quite old-fashioned in comparison to the contemporary production abroad. The Nemocnice Motol terminal station is, again, built in grand style, having the shape of a glass ship emerging to the surface, which makes it similar to the newest C line’s stations, despite the fact that architect Patrik Kotas did not participate in this project.
The Metro of today and tomorrow
At present, the underground of Prague is crisscrossed by three Metro lines – the green A line, running from Motol to Hostivař, the yellow or orange B line, running from Zličín to Černý Most, and the red C line, running from Letňany to Háje. As has been mentioned, the recently built stations have grandiose appearance and reach above the surface. Thus, colossal glass giants emerge, whose maintenance and construction costs often reach astronomical heights. In the past, the construction of a public building included the obligation to spend a specific percentage of the budget on artworks. After the Velvet Revolution, this obligation was cancelled and not a single has piece of art has been created for the Prague Metro since then. Furthermore, the old art is being destroyed, and the Metro hence loses its original ability to amaze and fascinate. The main function of the stations’ vestibules is nowadays their commercial use, e.g. stores, stands, and exchange places. The stations are covered in gaudy advertisements, and the art placed in the stations is therefore deprived of its deserved attention.
Nevertheless, the Prague Metro has not ceased to develop. Back in 1987, it was decided to build the D and the E lines, whose last segments were to have been finished by 2010. In its declining years, however, the socialistic state could not afford to start the construction of new lines, and the projects were therefore postponed, staying untouched even after 1989. Discussions concerning the D line did not start until 2000. By 2015, the final decision had been made about the concept of the line, which, for example, included modern lightweight driverless trains and platform screen doors. The intended geographical location is more or less identical to the one proposed in the 1980s, i.e. from Náměstí Míru, via Pankrác and Krč, to Písnice. In addition to that, a new depot, a terminal with transfer to long-distance buses, and a park-and-ride lot are to be built in Písnice. The author of the station projects is Metroprojekt, who also designed the stations on the A line’s most recent segment to Motol.
From an aesthetic point of view, the proposed stations of the D line are similar to those on the above-mentioned extension. Their design bears a resemblance to the architecture of the late 20th century, and again, the projects feature no art pieces whatsoever. In May of 2016, a petition was submitted as a protest against the design of the stations, requiring the reassessment of the proposals and the organization of a new architectural competition. In response to this action, Metroprojekt changed their proposals so that they would meet the requirements of the unhappy signatories of the petitions by adding more concrete to the stations. Nevertheless, the wave of protest did not stop, resulting in the City being forced to organize a new architectural competition, which would, however, only concern the Náměstí Míru and Náměstí bratří Synků stations. The future of the D line is therefore still questionable, as the City of Prague has not been successful in purchasing property that is essential for the construction of the stations, as a consequence of which, it was decided that only the terminal stations of the first segment (Pankrác and Depo Písnice) would be built and the remaining stations would be added later as in the case of the Kolbenova and Hloubětín stations on the B line. The D line’s first segment between the Pankrác and Depo Písnice stations was scheduled to be put into operation in 2022. However, due to certain difficulties, the plan was reassessed, as a result of which, only the Pankrác – Olbrachtova section will first be constructed, while the remaining stations are to be built later. The vision of the D line hereby falls apart, as such a section would only have the length of 900 meters, and considering the fact that the Budějovická station (which is also located on Olbrachtova Street) is already connected to Pankrác by the C line, it would be useless as well.
The original 1980s proposals also considered the construction of the E circle line, which was, in the manner of the Кольцевая (Koltsevaya) line in Moscow, supposed to serve as a ring railway running around the city, allowing better transfer possibilities and relieving the three crowded transfer stations of their passengers. Nevertheless, due to the uselessness of such a concept, the plan was abandoned and the construction of the E line is not being considered at present. Furthermore, the existing lines are not to be branched, mainly due to financial reasons.
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