One thing is certain. If you have an address on Na Příkopě, you are certain to escape the sad fate of those palaces which happened to find themselves on the periphery due to historical circumstances. Slovanský dům is situated right in the heart of a bustling city on one of the most expensive boulevards in the world, a place which all of the guidebooks describing Prague make a beeline for. This means that all of the tourists do find their way here, but not all of them make a full-on assault on the place. And that is a lucky thing, because its medieval foundations need not necessarily be able to handle that sort of onslaught. The more curious however are not satisfied looking at the well-maintained facade or the radiant windows of the shops here and step inside.
Those who find themselves inside will be immersed in the opulent luxury of this splendid property and also in the history of the building. That is almost palpable here. The perceptive visitor will sense that this place artfully hides not only state-of-the-art technology but that at some time down below, under the ground, there could for example have been a dungeon under the Gothic arches. Cheese was produced here at the end of the 14th century, armour may have been stored in the building at the start of the next and Jan Žižka even lay down to sleep here. The building changed hands several times over the years, the owners ranging from artisans and knights, all the way through to noble lords.
Major change came at the end of the 17th century when Jan Bartoloměj baron Vernier de Rougemont became the new owner. He was an imperial cavalry captain and lord of Lipnice and Světlá nad Sázavou who converted two town houses into a Baroque palace. The facade preserved to this very day is the work of the Prague-based architect Filip Heger and dates back to 1797. The building probably experienced its greatest social boom during the second half of the 19th century, when it was acquired in 1873 by the Deutsches Kasino society and you would have been a pariah among the Germans of Prague if you had not at least occasionally visited the “German” building to go to the casino, to enjoy some good food or to attend a political meeting of nationalists. Take note, not much Czech was spoken here at that time. After World War Two, the building was expropriated by the state and paradoxically renamed “Slovanský” or “Slav”, although its purpose did remain roughly the same for the next forty years under the communists: a restaurant, parties, balls, dance lessons, conferences and those meetings.
In the end, the Baroque style predominated over various architectural alterations (after the then owners, the building is to this very day registered in heritage records as Vernierovský). The current Baroque-Art Nouveau style, including the three administrative buildings which have been added dates back to the turn of the millennium and cost more than a billion crowns. Helping to create the unique nature of the whole complex since the end of the 17th century is the French garden, the only vestige of green left in the bustling development of the New Town of a time when only a few buildings were surrounded far and wide by dikes, gardens and plains.
The Slovanský dům of today is first and foremost a multifunctional centre. It combines high-quality services in the form of luxury boutiques and a number of stylish restaurants offering international cuisine, a cafe, a wine bar, a hairdressing salon, a massage parlour, a dental surgery, premium office space and apartments with a unique view. You will find here in the historical centre, the only multiplex in Prague with ten screens, and will feel like you are on a trip back to the start of the last century in the Empire Hall which is decorated in an Art Deco style, a place where all types of social functions are held.
The ambition held by the management of Slovanský dům is to make this palace more than just an attraction for foreigners and a pleasant place to do business. They want the people of Prague to go there too, people who know that they can take a shortcut through the recently revitalised Baroque garden from Senovážné náměstí to Na Příkopě. And when they pass through, they want them to have a rest in the inner courtyard under sycamore trees hundreds of years old which still remember times when the Russian commander Suvorov stayed here in 1799 awaiting renewal of war with Napoleon. So why not relax and feast your eyes on the “Subtile” installation by the Czech-Argentinian artist Federico Díaz or the original steam fountain while enjoying a coffee or ice-cream? Or why not experience the garden decorated in Christmas lights where you can enjoy some special mulled wine in a heated see-through igloo?
Slovanský dům combines the past and the present into one unique whole, a place which has no equivalent in Prague. It is located in an imaginary triangle which joins three squares: Václavské – Staroměstské – Republiky. Na Příkopě on its perimeter is one of the busier streets and you will not find any peace and quiet there. But it is precisely this which the large building at number 22 is able to offer. And most certainly a lot more. Step inside and you will see. A Japanese proverb says that: “Happiness likes to visit a house where goodwill reigns.” Here you have one.
As we said at the start: Slovanský dům has the undeniable advantage of being a place which everybody ultimately finds their way to. Many people do of course pass by without noticing it, but that can be avoided too. See this as an attraction and as the icing on the cake: those who truly want to see “what lies below” have the option of exploring the underground tunnels – service tunnels which lead for dozens of metres below the historical centre of Prague. The underground route along the service tunnels ends up directly in the shopping arcade of Slovanský dům. There is no escape from there.