Národní třída is central Prague’s ‘high street’, a stately row of midrange shops and grand public buildings, notably the National Theatre at the Vltava River end.
Fronting Jungmannovo náměstí, at the eastern end, is an imitation Venetian palace known as the Adria Palace. Its distinctive, chunky architectural style, dating from the 1920s, is known as ‘rondocubism’. Note how the alternating angular and rounded window pediments echo similar features in neoclassical baroque buildings such as the Černín Palace.
Beneath it is the Adria Theatre, birthplace of Laterna Magika and meeting place of the Civic Forum in the heady days of the Velvet Revolution. From here Dubček and Havel walked to the Lucerna Palace and their 24 November 1989 appearance on the balcony of the Melantrich Building. Wander through the arcade for a look at the lovely marble, glass and brass decoration. The main atrium has a 24-hour clock from the 1920s, flanked by sculptures depicting the signs of the zodiac. It was once the entrance to the offices of the Adriatica insurance company (hence the building’s name).
West of Voršilská, the lemon-yellow walls of the Convent of St Ursula frame a pink church, which has a lush baroque interior that includes a battalion of Apostle statues. Out front is the figure of St John of Nepomuk, and in the facade’s lower-right niche is a statue of St Agatha holding her severed breasts – one of the more gruesome images in Catholic hagiography.
Across the road is the art-nouveau facade (by Osvald Polívka) of the Viola Building, former home of the Prague Insurance Co, with the huge letters ‘PRAHA’ entwined around five circular windows, and mosaics spelling out život, kapitál, důchod, věno and pojišťuje (life, capital, income, dowry and insurance). The building next door, a former publishing house, is also a Polívka design.
On the southern side, at No 4, looking like it has been built out of huge glass blocks, is the Nová Scéna (1983), the ‘New National Theatre’ building, now home of Laterna Magika.
Finally, facing the Vltava near Smetanovo nábřeží is the magnificent National Theatre. Across from the theatre is the Kavárna Slavia, known for its art-deco interior and river views, and once the place to be seen or to grab an after-theatre meal.