From an area dedicated to industry to one of art and innovation. Going north of the centre, you find Holešovice

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The escalator of the “Nádraží Holešovice” stop on metro line “C”, speedily brings you up to the exit. Many foreign tourists often wonder why the Prague Metro escalators go so quickly. If you ask Czechs, many reply that it has been like this since the communist era when it was intended to get people to work as quickly as possible. When exiting this metro station, the name of which was “Fučíkova” until 1990, as with many others in the suburbs of Prague, you seem to leap at least fifty years back in time. We are in the heart of Holešovice, the northern suburb of the city which is situated by a large bend in the Vltava river in the district of Prague 7. As soon as you pass the large glass door entrance of the metro, you feel a slight sense of disorientation and the eye immediately looks for a point of reference in the new environment, so different from the city-centre neighborhoods. Large elegant houses which date back to the early twentieth century, with neglected, blackened facades, alternate with empty spaces and the typical “paneláky”, the dormitory tower blocks typical of the “practice” of real-socialism. Nevertheless, this juxtaposition of different architectural eras, though not immediately absorbed by the eye, it never looks chaotic nor does it lack in a certain charm. Beyond the second exit of the metro on the other side, there is the railway station of Prague-Holešovice, the second largest in size after the main station Hlavní Nádraží. Many trains used to depart (and they still do) from this station, which was built in 1985, for the North and West of the country, as well as some to Dresden and Berlin. Its austere form, with the grey and black of the facades, which fits in well with the surrounding environment, will undoubtedly arouse the interest of lovers of industrial archeology.
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After leaving the metro station and bus station behind you, and walking along the tram line 12 that runs through the neighborhood and continues in the direction of Malá Strana, again you can not help but notice the facades of the houses blackened by smog. The suburb has been a neighborhood of heavy industry for many years and the tall chimneys of the abandoned or converted factories still bear witness to this.

Since the end of the Second World War, and for several decades, Holešovice was listed among the most degraded places in Prague, especially its industrial river area. A radical change, which is gradually giving a new face to the neighborhood, took place after the flooding of the Vltava river in 2002, when part of the area was submerged in water. With the funds allocated for reconstruction, new buildings were built which now house offices and luxury apartments lining the banks of the river. The desire to modernize the district is becoming more and more apparent, as demonstrated by the presence of numerous trendy nightclubs and pubs that attract young people from other parts of the city.

A few hundred metres away you will find Výstavište, the large exhibition ground and fairground built in 1891 on the occasion of the Jubilee, distinguished by the Palais de l’Industrie, an impressive Art Nouveau building made of glass and steel, designed by Czech architect Bedřich Münzberger. The palace was destroyed by a fire in 2008, but has been faithfully reconstructed. Near the Palace of Industry you can also find Tipsport Arena (the name often changes depending on the sponsor), a multi-purpose arena, which in addition to hosting the ice hockey games, is often home to concerts of international stars and other shows. It was built in 1962 and has a capacity of over 13,000 seats. Another attraction in this area is the Křižíkova fontána, built by František Křižík in 1891 and rebuilt in 1920. The fountain still offers shows with music, color and dances in water, which prove to be particularly loved by children. An amusement park, the Lapidary of the Czech National Museum and the Aquarium complete the range of leisure and entertainment in the area.

Once leaving the exhibition space, on the right hand side you enter in the green park of Stromovka, the largest park in the city, which on sunny days is frequented by cyclists, sports enthusiasts and families with dogs and children following them. The park is very old, and was even fenced off by King Otakar II of Bohemia in the thirteenth century in order to be used as his hunting area. It is very relaxing to go for a stroll under the trees in the summer, they offer a wonderful array of colors and smells, especially in the part where the blooming cherry-trees are present, on which a light layer of pink petals lie on the dirt patch. It is hard to get a glimpse of a more romantic sight than this.

If you go down and arrive on the main road again, continuing in the direction of the National Gallery, the paneláky by now almost completely disappear, and the buildings once again start to display the architecture and the typical colors of the twentieth century. The sides of the road on which the tramlines run, display a strong concentration of the taverns which alternate with the ubiquitous vegetable and grocery shops, often managed by the large Vietnamese community in Prague. Going ahead in the same direction you arrive in front of a large Functionalist style building, the Czech National Gallery, Veletržní Palác, which houses three floors of exhibitions, a wonderful permanent collection of works of art, including big Czech and international names of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Národní Galerie is the main art museum in Prague and the Czech Republic, and is housed in various locations in the city, of which Holešovice is the main one. In addition to the permanent collections, there are many exhibitions of architecture, photography, art and design organized throughout the year. Another important museum, not far from the National Gallery, more towards the centre of the district, is the DOX, a contemporary art museum built from scratch in an industrial area of Holešovice. The presence of these two important art centres make the neighborhood a candidate to be the new art centre of Prague, especially the latter, which has become the symbol of the will to give a new image to an area neglected for a long time.

Going from Veletržní Palác, and continuing along the road, you will arrive at the intersection with the street Milady Horákové that leads up to the higher part of the district. On the opposite side we find one of the few churches in Holešovice, the St. Anthony of Padua church, built in 1908, with a neo-Gothic structure. It is the most important Catholic church in the area.

Holešovice is a lively neighborhood, one which is aware of its potential for development, as with other parts of the city which have long been considered second-class. The industrial past is now a distant memory and the conversion of the factories means there are now more possibilities of orginal development capable of enhancing the areas and helping to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. You can bet on the fact that the Prague inhabitants will not let the opportunity slip away.

by Mauro Ruggiero