This post is sponsored by CzechTourism as part of their #CzechIn2021 campaign.
Every town I have visited in the Czech Republic has had impressive architecture. But Ostrava, capital of the Moravian-Silesian region, was the most intriguing. Here you will find traditional Czech buildings, a Soviet planned community, and the unique post-industrial landscape of Dolní Vitkovice. It is all part of the amazing architecture of Ostrava.
Historic Architecture Of Ostrava
Ostrava might be a bustling industrial town, but it still has the historic heart, complete with central square, that you would expect in a Czech city. It is more modern than most, but you can see fragments of some medieval structures, and of the old city walls.
The old town is based around Masaryk Square, and has several grand buildings, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Look out for the gleaming Cathedral of the Divine Saviour, built in 1889, and for the street art and sculptures dotted around the old town.
One thing that surprised me was what at first I assumed was Soviet architecture: functionalist buildings decorated with images of workers. I found out later that this was actually early 20th century Czech design, and that this particular style pre-dated the Soviets.
Poruba: The “New Ostrava”
For a complete contrast, take the tram to Poruba, 10 km from the city centre. This is a Soviet planned village, built in the 1950s. As industry flourished in Ostrava, workers arrived in the city and needed somewhere to live. New suburbs and estates were created, but Poruba was part of an ambitious plan to relocate the city itself to a new site. This was partly for the benefit of the residents, as the air was much cleaner in Poruba. However, the planners also wanted a way to access the rich seam of coal that lay beneath the city.
In the event the project ran out of money, and the mass relocation never happened. However a large part of the town was completed, and today Poruba is a popular suburb with 100,000 residents. People are attracted by the parkland, the community facilities, and the quality of the housing.
Poruba was built in the “Socialist realism” style. As you walk around note the columns, sculptures and other decorative features on the houses and apartments. And there are grand arches and civic buildings. I had always tended to think of Soviet architecture as featureless, but as I explored the area I concluded that the houses in Poruba were much nicer than equivalent British buildings from the 1950s!
The Industrial Landscape Of Dolní Vítkovice
I can guarantee that you have never seen anything like Dolní Vítkovice. This is a vast startling landscape of rusting iron and steel, the abandoned buildings of an old ironworks and coal mine. At first sight it is like a dystopian sci-fi film set, an eerie silence penetrating the faint whiff of sulphur, and no sign of life apart from the weeds pushing their way through the cracks in the concrete. But look closer and you will see the transformation that is taking place.
Buildings are gradually being repurposed for commercial and leisure use. At the centre is The Gong, a former gas cylinder that is now a multifunctional centre, with meeting rooms, a conference hall and an art gallery. The inside of the building is a work of art in itself, with remnants of the industrial building among the ultra-modern fittings and décor.
Exploring Dolní Vítkovice
Equally astounding is the Bolt Tower, a tall structure built on top of an old blast furnace. You can take the lift to the top for the café and the views over the entire site, with the Beskydy Mountains beyond. There is even an outside walkway that snakes its way to the very top (although I don’t recommend this if you suffer from vertigo!).
Then there is Hlubina, a multi-arts facility housed in a former coal mine. And, coming right up to date, The Science and Technology Centre, a family-friendly museum, occupies a purpose-built modern building.
Dolní Vítkovice also seems to be a leisure facility for the locals: I watched an outdoor cross-fit session, and families queuing up for guided tours of the site. And Colours of Ostrava, a massive music festival, takes place here each year. It is all part of Ostrava’s architectural journey, from pre-industrialisation to the 21st century and beyond.