Nerudova Street House Signs and Baroque Architecture
Nerudova Street in Prague is lined with Baroque palaces and mansions. This is the street where the wealthy middle class used to live. Today, there are restaurants, shops, hotels and government buildings. Without doubt, it is one of the most beautiful streets in Prague. It begins at Malostranske namesti and ends at Strahov Monastery. Halfway the name changes into Uvoz Street.
Nerudova Street goes uphill and the higher you get, the more beautiful the view of Petrin Hill. Everywhere in the street you will find interesting details: façades decorated with baroque elements and house signs. The street is part of the Royal Route, the coronation route that the Kings of Bohemia followed on their way to St. Vitus Cathedral to be crowned.
Nerudova Street and Jan Neruda
Nerudova Street is one of the oldest streets in Prague and is located in the Mala Strana district which was built by King Premysl Ottokar II in 1267. After the great fire of Prague in 1541, the appearance of this district changed dramatically. Many houses were destroyed, but the Gothic vaults remained and were used as foundation for the new houses. The architecture in Nerudova Street is a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and almost all houses have a Gothic cellar.
The original name was Ostruhova Street. In 1895, the street name changed to Nerudova, named after the Czech poet and journalist Jan Neruda who wrote short stories about Mala Strana. Between 1849 and 1857, he lived in the house ‘at the two suns’ (no 47). After his father’s death, he lived ‘in the red eagles’ (no 6)
House Signs and House Numbers
House numbers are a relatively recent invention. Initially houses bore house signs showing the occupation or name of the resident. The house ‘at the three violins’ at number 12 was the home of a violin maker who lived here in about 1700. No other street in Prague is so rich in house signs as Nerudova Street.
House signs are not a very efficient way to find the house you are looking for. That’s why house numbers were introduced. However, also house numbers in Prague can cause problems. A Prague address always has two numbers e.g. the postal address of the Italian Embassy is: Nerudova 214/20. Do you have to go to number 214 or to number 20? The first number is indicated on a red plaque and is the cadastral number or descriptive number. The second number is a blue plaque and is the house number or reference number.
House Numbers and Empress Maria Theresia
Napoleon Bonaparte was the inventor of house numbers in Europe. Until 1800, a house sign with a symbol on it showed the house where someone lived. Napoleon introduced house numbers and street names and this ended the confusion and made it easy to find out the exact place where someone lived.
Prague was ahead of its time, and has had house numbers since 1770. They were made compulsory by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. She belonged to the House of Habsburg that ruled much of Europe, including Bohemia and Prague. She provided each house with two numbers: a reference number and a descriptive number. Soldiers went from house to house assigning these two numbers to each existing building. All new buildings were required to have these two numbers.
More about house numbers in Prague
House signs and Rudolf II
The origins of Prague house signs go back to the Middle Ages. The goal was not only to decorate a house, but also make it easier to find where someone lived because house numbers had not been invented yet. The house signs are usually reliefs or frescoes on the facade of the building, representing animals, figures or various objects.
During the reign of Rudolf II (1552-1612), Prague was obsessed with alchemy and the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, a mysterious material that would turn base metals into gold. It was also an elixir of life, giving eternal youth, and a cure for all diseases. It is therefore no surprise that a large number of house signs refer to alchemy.
More about Alchemists and Rudolf II
House Signs in Nerudova Street
Nerudova 2: at the Cat, has an entrance in Renaissance style. Have a beer in this pub frequented by the writer Bohumil Hrabal and the film maker Milos Forman.
Nerudova 4: at the Golden Anchor. Originally, two Gothic houses separated by a narrow alley. In the eighteenth century the building was rebuilt in renaissance and baroque style. The left house has a stone bust of St. John Nepomuk and decorative vases. Above the entrance is an inscription ‘Papírna’: until the 19th century the building was home to stationery shop..
Nerudova 5: Morzin Palace and now the Romanian Embassy. Four houses that stood on this site were incorporated into the palace. The balcony is supported by two Moors and the entrance gates are decorated with statues that symbolize day and night. The statues on the roof represent the four directions of the compass. Legend has it that the statues of the Moors come to life at night and roam Mala Strana streets.
Nerudova 6, at the Red Eagle
The house in the Red Eagle is a beautiful example of 18th century rococo. Above a window on the first floor is a cartouche of an eagle perched on a hill, with its wings outstretched, a sign of dominance. The eagle is the symbol of rebirth, like the phoenix it rises from the ashes. Rebirth was an essential part of alchemy, and the house sign refers to alchemist practices that likely took place in this house.
Nerudova 11, at the Red Lamb
A neo-baroque house built at the end of the 19th century. Above the doorway is a red lamb walking across green grass. Lambs symbolize innocence and are often associated with the mystic Lamb. The colour red is associated with the blood of Christ. Above the window on the second floor is a fresco depicting the Madonna.
Nerudova 12: at the Three Violins
This house dates back to the renaissance but has Gothic foundations. It was renovated in the eighteenth century when a violin maker moved in and added the house sign. Today, it is a hotel and restaurant, Pension Dum U tri houslicek
Nerudova 14, Valkounsky House
Above the entrance is a relief of a Medusa, a head surrounded by golden snakes. The original house was destroyed in the great fire of 1541 and rebuilt afterwards. Bohuchval Valkoun came to live here in the early seventeenth century, hence the name. In the eighteenth century a goldsmith bought the house and added the house sign. In alchemy, a snake symbolizes rebirth.
Nerudova 16: at the Golden Chalice
The house sign shows a golden chalice, which means that a goldsmith lived here.
Nerudova 18: Saint John Nepomuk
Like most houses in Nerudova street, this house was built in the 16th century in Renaissance style. The statue of Saint Florian, the stone vases and the dormer windows were added in the 17th and 18th centuries. Remnants of sgraffito on the wall. On the keystone above the porch is a relief of John of Nepomuk.
Nerudova 20: Thun Hohenstein Kolovrat Palace
This palace is now the Italian Embassy. The impressive porch is decorated with two heraldic eagles, the coat of arms of the Kolovrat family. Next to the main entrance are two smaller entrance gates. In the first half of the 19th century, the palace was the meeting place of the pro-Czech nobility. In the early nineteenth century the Thun salon was based here, where Prague artists met their clients and patrons
Nerudova 25: at the Donkey in the Cradle
This is the house is where Edward Kelley lived, one of the famous alchemists at the court of Rudolf II. The house was originally a gothic house but has a renaissance and baroque facade. Above the doorway was once a beautiful fresco depicting the birth of Jesus, but it has faded over time, only the donkey and the cradle are still visible.
Nerudova 26: at the Golden Eagle
The house sign is a closed-winged eagle, which is not very common. This symbolizes restriction, being tied down. Perhaps this is a subtle message from the owner that he was restricted and could not spread his wings to be free.
Nerudova 27: at the Golden Key
The house sign is a richly decorated gold key in a baroque cartouche. Keys are widely believed to represent enlightenment, and golden keys represent eternal life. This sign may refer to the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary alchemical substance that turned base metals into precious metals, especially gold. The Stone was also considered a healing remedy for all ailments and prolonged life.
Nerudova 28: at the Golden Wheel
This house has a sumptuous Baroque facade and stands on the site of a moat separating the Castle District from the Prague Castle district.
Nerudova 33: The Bretfeld Palace
This palace is one of the few buildings that does not have a Gothic vault because it a relatively new building and built in the eighteenth century for Count Bretfeld-Chlumcansky. The palace was very popular with the Prague aristocracy for its large balls. Mozart and Casanova were guests here.
Nerudova 34: at the Golden Horseshoe
This house is easy to recognize as it is light blue with dark blue window frames. Above the doorway is a cartouche with the portrait of a saint Wenceslas on horseback. A golden horseshoe dangles just below the cartouche. Look closely at the house sign and you will see a miniature golden horseshoe sticking out. The rider is smartly dressed and his horse is well cared for. It is believed to be an advertisement for the blacksmiths who worked in Nerudova Street.
Nerudova 41: at the Red Lion
Above the entrance is a fresco of a red lion standing on its hind legs and holding a golden chalice in its paw. The chalice is believed to contain the elixir of life. The colour red in alchemy indicates the red matter that remains after sublimation, which is the third step in making the philosopher’s stone.
Nerudova 39: at the White Turnip
The house takes its name from its former owner who grew vegetables in the garden of Strahov Monastery.
Neurdova 43: at the Green Lobster
A green lobster as a house sign is a surprise because of its color. The lobster is the symbol of metamorphosis as it sheds its skin to grow. The lobster is the symbol of emotional growth: we have to leave things behind in order to grow ourselves.
Nerudova 47: the House of Two Suns
The Czech poet Jan Neruda lived most of his life in this street at number 47. The house is named after the house sign above the front door, a relief with two gold-painted suns. Each sun has a human face painted on it and each looks in opposite directions, keeping an eye on the street. Below the house sign are the letters “IHS”, the monogram of Jesus and just below this the Sacred Heart. In alchemy, the sun represents perfection. Alchemists strived to turn base metals into gold. They were obsessed with gold because they believed it to be a means of imitating the sun’s brightness.
Nerudova 49: at the White Swan
A Gothic house with a Baroque facade. Above the door a house sign with a white swan. Swans are perhaps one of the most common symbols of purity. In alchemy, black and white represent good and evil, or sinfulness and purity. The alchemist turns raw, dark material into its pure white form, likewise the sinner who goes from sinfulness to piety. The result is a beautiful white swan.
Nerudova 51: at the Little Green Stag
The stag on the house sign above the door is no longer green, the colour has faded over the years. It is a medieval house, but this cannot be noticed from the outside because of renovations and adjustments. This house sign also refers to alchemy. The final stage in the process of turning base metals into gold was symbolized by a stagr. Stags represent masculinity and unicorns femininity. Their coming together is the final step in creating the philosopher’s stone.
Uvoz Street and House Signs
About halfway up the street, when there are no buildings on the left, the street name changes into Uvoz. In this street the houses are as beautiful as in Nerudova Street and most have house signs.
Úvoz 4: at the Three Red Roses
Between the windows on the first floor, a fresco of Madonna cartouche with three red roses on the bottom. The rose symbolizes the Virgin Mary because one of the invocations from the litany of the Blessed Virgin is ‘Mystical Rose’. If you look closely at the roses, you will see that they have no thorns. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden that roses grew thorns.
Úvoz 6: at the Three Axes
Above the entrance gate, in a cartouche, the house symbol depicts two intertwined axes, the symbol of the carpenter’s guild. A court carpenter once lived here.
Úvoz 14: at the Three Hearts
Above the windows on the first floor is the house sign: three hearts that form a triangle. They have both secular and spiritual meaning. The spiritual number, three, represents the holy trinity; the father, son and holy ghost. The background resembles fire and is thus an image of the Sacred Heart, the divine light. The secular meaning is the love triangle: two men fight over a woman, or vice versa.
Úvoz 22: at the House of the Mirror
Above the window on the first floor, a relief of a Madonna cradling the infant Jesus in her arms. It is surrounded by a stucco frame covered with gold leaf. The mirror is symbolic. The Infant Jesus holds the ‘Scales of Justice’ in his hand. Everyone is meant to see himself through the eyes of God, as in a mirror, everyone must live according to God’s commandments.
Úvoz 2: at the Stone Column
Czech painter Kristian Luna lived in this pink house, which dates back to the seventeenth century. He added a stone column to the facade with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. Actually, the column is not entirely made of stone, but of wood and covered with stucco. The column is a miniature version of the Marian column on Old Town Square which was recently put back after it was destroyed in 1918.
On the second floor on either side are two stone busts. One depicts a woman with the word ‘luna’ meaning ‘moon’ engraved underneath. The other is a man with the word ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ beneath it. Both busts face opposite directions. When one is in the shade, the other is in the sunlight and vice versa.
This is only a selection of the house signs in Nerudova Street and Uvoz Street. They are the most impressive streets in Prague. No other street in Prague offers so many historic palaces and houses.
Photos Prague Vitruvius and Marianne Crone