Only few Prague palaces have such an interesting and rich history as Platýz that can be found on the border between the Old and New Town of Prague. It is more commonly known as a shopping passage, linking the Národní Street with the Coal Market through a magnificent courtyard with café tables. However, let’s forget today and delve into the past.
Palace like a castle
The story of Platýz began around 1347, when Duke Frederick of Burgundy, a courtier of Charles IV, built a Gothic palace on the site of three houses. The Chronicle of Wenceslaus Hajek of Libočan describes that the palace was adjacent to the Old Town walls, it had a high tower, and it resembled a castle. Historical sources also provide information on the palace custodian and his son, whom the Prince was very fond of and treated him as his own. However, after he got involved in plotting against his lord, he was executed by beheading right in front of the Palace on the Coal Market as a warning. At the beginning of 15th century, Jan Bradatý of Stříbro became the owner of the Palace. He was very rich and respected man, Prague burgrave and supporter of the calix in the Hussite era. During his life, scholarly disputations or professional public debates over the current theological and philosophical questions were held at the Palace. Jan Bradatý died in 1426 due to injuries from the Battle of Aussig, which he participated with his own military troops.
Platejs from Plattenštejn
In 1586 Jan Platejs from Plattenštejn, the Imperial Counselor and the Secretary to the Emperor Rudolf II, bought the Palace and had it expensively rebuilt in Renaissance style. The Palace earned its name after him. However, it was his son Jan Arnošt, Canon of Olomouc and ardent Catholic, who went down in history more significantly. In 1611, at the time of the invasion of the Passau army in Prague, the Palace was plundered by the troops and the poor. Allegedly, the invasion occurred after someone fired from the Palace window into a group of soldiers on the Coal Market. The historical chronicler describes the final stage of the entire incident: “The crowd entered the cellars, where the beer of barley varied in amount laid, and they healed themselves till the late night, then they leave for their mansions.” Jan Arnošt Platejs was subsequently compensated by the Emperor. His house was exempted from taxes and its owner has won the concession to serve Italian, Hungarian and other foreign wine and to house the pilgrims.
Wake up, Da Ponte!
Jan Sternberg bought the Palace in 1637. He had it transformed into a Baroque style and built a passage courtyard from the Coal Market through garden to the Národní Street. Yet, the new chapter of the story began to unfold under the next owner, Jan Leopold Paar, who married Mary Teresa of the Sternberg family in 1715. During his life, rich social and cultural life took place in Platýz. Concerts and balls were held in the Palace where famous Greifenfels fencing school and post office were located. The Palace has also become a popular venue for performances of travelling folk artists. For example, in 1761 Van Huwer performed here. He was standing with his both feet on chairs, balancing a ladder of fifteen rungs in his teeth and drumming on a drum. Later, a certain tightrope walker performed here. He was standing on the rope as he gradually stripped off all his clothes. Or Mistr Guffon who presented the audience with taming of a canary. Lorenzo da Ponte, the court poet of Emperor Joseph II and librettist of W. A. Mozart, was an important guest accommodated in Platýz in October 1781. He was accommodated in the house U Tří lvů, where he worked on the completion of the Opera Don Giovanni, performing its world premiere at the Estates Theatre on October 29, 1787. Folk tales tell that Mozart worked on the opera tirelessly until the last moment, day and night. Early in the morning Mozart, who was still in his nightshirt, was throwing tangerines from his room to the opposite window shouting “Wake up, Da Ponte, I need you to add verses!” After da Ponte opened the window, the divine Amadeus was singing the new aria, while the stallholders from the Coal Market were staring at him and tapping their forehead in disbelief.
Owl on the perch
Jakub Wimmer became another significant owner of Platýz in 1791. He was a landowner and businessman, who made his first fortune on supplies for the Austrian army and in the construction of a military fortress Terezín. He was very popular among the people of Prague as a great philanthropist and benefactor, who had planted at his own expense a two-row avenue in today’s Národní Street which turned into such a popular promenade. At the same time he had built in front of his palace a beautiful empire fountain created by František Xaver Lederer, which can be found on the Coal Market today. In 1813, Platýz became the property of František Daubek, who also got rich thanks to the military orders, this time due to the supply of fabric. He was a generous patron and supporter of Czech artistic and cultural life. During his life Platýz has gone through a total Classicist reconstruction designed by Jindřich Hausknecht. By the year 1847, the reconstruction has integrated a cluster of several buildings into a single four-winged object, clustered around the internal courtyard with stables for fifty-five horses. The first block of flats was built in Prague. Its main facade with shops on the ground floor and a monumental portal were oriented to the Národní Street. An interesting feature of the portal is a small metal statue of an owl, which rotates around the perch. When it was heading up, it meant that the space for vehicles and stabling of horses in the courtyard is free. But when it was heading down, it meant that the capacity was full.
During the First Republic, the Slavia Insurance Bank bought Platýz from the Daubek family and in 1938 it initiated a large-scale reconstruction according to the project of František Krásný. All the buildings were completed by fourth floor, business units with elegant functionalist display and a rolling awning in the courtyard were set up. A pleasant public space was created. In 1986 it was complemented by a fountain and a bronze statue of a girl by sculptor Miloš Zeta. Today, Platýz belongs to the capital of Prague and its intriguing story continues.
(published 11. 1. 2017 on Blesk.cz)