Understanding the Mystery of the House Numbers

House numbers in Prague are a mystery. Not so much to find the number, but to determine which number you need to find an address. That’s because each house bears two numbers: one on a blue plaque and the other on a red plaque. You need the number on the blue plaque when looking for an address. The blue plaque is the reference number (číslo orientační) and indicates the individual house number that is used in addresses. The red plaque is the ‘descriptive’ number (číslo popisné) which originally was either painted or engraved onto the building and indicates the whole building.

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House Numbers Mystery Solved

As in many countries, house numbers did not exist in Prague. Each house bore a house sign that depicted the occupant’s trade, profession or name. ‘In the golden cup’ indicated the house of a goldsmith, and a vegetable grower lived ‘in the white turnip’ (both these house signs are in Nerudova street).
Napoleon Bonaparte introduced house numbering in 1800 and he is considered the inventor of this system. However, Prague had already house numbers before this date. In 1770, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria ordered that every building should have a number.

Soldiers went from door to door to allocate descriptive numbers (číslo popisné) to all existing buildings. Every new house built afterwards was given a consecutive number, irrespective of its location. When walking through the streets in Prague, the numbers on the red plaques are not in numerical order: the lower the number the older the building.

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House Numbers Problem is Almost Solved

This system put an end to the confusion of where to find a particular building. The house signs remained but became now purely decorative. However, it was still difficult to find a particular apartment, shop or cafe because many buildings were and still are divided into separate units.
In the nineteenth century, each apartment in a building was given a reference number (číslo orientační: č.p. or čp), arranged sequentially. These are the present-day numbers on the blue plaques. When you are looking for an address, you only need the blue plague or the last number in the written address. Addresses in Prague always show both numbers, first the number for the whole building and the second is the individual number: Diamond House, Spalena 82/4.

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House Numbering and Ulterior Motives

The allocation of descriptive house numbers was not only for practical reasons. There were also ulterior motives. These were administrative reason: recruitment of soldiers, more efficient tax collection and making the censuses easier. All buildings in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (present-day Prague was part of this empire) were numbered from the year 1770 onward. This number was called in German Konskriptionsnummer, in Czech číslo popisné.

House Number on a Red Plaque

The red descriptive number (číslo popisné) is what we would now call cadastral numbers. In Prague, every building in each district has a unique number. For example: in the Nove Mesto district there is only one building with the red number 1060. It address is na Porici street 1066/27. In Vinohrady, another Prague district, there is also one building 1060. Its address is Blanicka street 1060/32. (27 and 32 are reference numbers on blue plaques: and the number of an individual apartment, café, shop in a larger building)

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Street Name AND House Number

A few years after the launch of reference numbers, street names were introduced. Identifying a house was more efficient if the street name and house number were combined. The street names were painted in black letters on a white background on corner houses and were bilingual German and Czech. As can be seen below.

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The current name is Sněmovní in the Mala Strana neighbourhood in the district Prague 1. The old name was Fünfkirchen Gasse (in German), Petikostelska ulice (in Czech) and in English Fivechurch Street. The street is not named after five churches but after a noble family who lived at no 170 and whose family name was Fünfkirchen.
From 1893 until today, metal street signs are used: white letters on a red background. Below the street name (Sněmovní), the name of the neighbourhood (Mala Strana), followed by Praha and district number (Praha 1)

What Street Names to Use?

Many Bridges, the Vltava embankments and islands were named after members of the Habsburg dynasty. But after the revolts against European monarchies in 1848, the names of streets and squares became nationalistic and referred to famous Bohemians historical figures. The Horse Market became Wenceslas Square and the Cattle Market Charles Square.

Wenceslas was Duke of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935. Charles IV, first king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor reigned from 1346-1378.

During the Nazi occupation (1939-1945) many streets got new names and went again back to their old names in 1945. From 1948-1989, Communist-related names were used and from 1989 the names as we know them today.

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The Name Changes of Smetanovo Nabrezi

This is the street along the Vltava River and runs from Charles Bridge to the National Theatre. Its name underwent many changes as shown below.
1841 Staromestske nabrezi (Old Town Embankment)
1894 Františkovo nabrezi (after Emperor Franz II)
1919 Masarykovo nabrezi (after the first Czechoslovak president),
1940 Vltavské nabrezi (Vltava Embankment)
1942 Reinhard Heydrich Ufer (after Nazi Reichsprotektor of Bohemia)
1945 again Masarykovo nabrezi (after Tomas Masaryk, first President of Czechoslovakia)
1952 Smetanovo nabrezi (after composer Bedrich Smetana)

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Postal Code in the Czech Republic

Semi-automatic mail processing was the reason of the introduction of zip codes which consist of five digits.
The postal address of Cafe Slavia is: Smetanova Nabrezi 1012/2, 110 00 Praha, Česká republika
110 00 – the first number, 1, stands for Prague. The second number 1 indicates the city district (each district has its own number) followed by 0 00.

Česká republika

Česká republika is the official name for the Czech Republic. Česko is often used in popular speech. Since 2016, the official name of the Czech Republic in English has been Czechia. That is more convenient than the longer Czech Republic.

Photos: Marianne Crone

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