History of Sova's Mills

While the earliest surviving records mentioning the existence of a flour-mill on Prague's Kampa island on the Vltava river, dates from the year 1393, there is no doubt that the facility had actually been established much earlier than that: scholarly research has traced it to as far back as the tenth century, and established by members of the Convent of Benedictine Nuns at Saint George’s.

During the Hussite Revolution the mill was destroyed, and the premises subsequently passed into the hands of the municipality of the Prague Old Town. In 1478, the city fathers handed the site over to Václav Sova of Liboslav, who built a house with a combined water-propelled plant consisting of a hammer-mill and a flourmill, the latter operation serving as purveyor to the burghers. The restored mill was named after its new owner, an identity it has retained to this day. At various stages of its subsequent history, it came to incorporate pulp and sawmill facilities, a limekiln, a barley-mill, a fulling and draper’s mill, as well as a farmstead with fruit and vegetable gardens. Local millers were experts at channeling water where it was most needed: millraces, fountains, even uphill. The mill’s original wooden structure was constructed by their own hands.

The Old Town municipal authority purchased the site once again in 1574. New building began again in 1589, after the mill’s heavily timbered structure was destroyed in a fire, with the newly built house made of stone. During the Thirty Years War, in 1648, it served the Swedish army as an artillery bulwark.

The history of the mill on Prague's Kampa Island has been interspersed with fires, floods, and devastating wars. Major transformations in the appearance of the historical premises of Sova's Mills were also implemented by the eminent local businessman, František Odkolek. His enterprising spirit succeeded in giving the location an entirely new face. In 1858 he applied for permission to convert the works to an American-type (i.e., steam-propelled) mill. He then adapted the facility, extending it by a two-story building, whose perimeter reached as far as the adjoining street. The reconstruction was completed with the addition of new facades in the romantic style, as well as an engine-room and a tall chimney.

In 1836 the Sova's Mills compound underwent further significant architectural renovations by Josef Kranner, who designed a sawmill and a new annex to the premises, overlooking the river. The entrepreneur František Odkolek then placed commissions for further extensions with the architects Josef Maličký and František Srnec. Later reconstruction, which came after 1867, was carried out by Josef Schulz and Josef Zítek, a team of pre-eminent Czech architects of the time.

In 1896, however, a fire devastated the premises. In 1920 the burnt-down mill on Kampa was purchased by the City of Prague, under whose care it has entered the present era. After World War II the premises housed three sections of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences: the Institute for Czech and World Literature, the Zdeněk Nejedlý Study and Library, and the Cabinet for the Study of Czech Theatre. Part of the building was rented out to a local applied arts firm and the City used another tract for its own cabinet-making and metal workshops.

Considering the premises' present-day use, it might be interesting to note that the first tentative plans for converting the place into a modern art gallery date back to as early as the period between the two world wars.

Reconstruction of Sova's Mills 2000 -2001

Chief Investor: City of Prague

Investor: Trade Centrum Praha a.c.

General Supplier: Pozemní stavby Jihlava, Holding a.s.

Design Studio: Atelier 8000 Praha

Design Concept: Helena Bukovanská

Executive Designers: HABENA s.r.o. Praha

Artistic Team: Václav Cigler, Michal Motyčka, Marian Karel, Miroslav Špacek, Dana Zámečníková

Idea: The locality’s principal asset consists of its specific configuration in size, coupled with its purely architectural qualities. For over a century, it has constituted an organic and dominant skyline feature of the visually prominent Kampa embankment. Sova's Mills is a monument of national cultural heritage; preserving its genius loci was therefore a task of the uppermost importance.

In compliance with the results of qualified expertise, the initiators of the Sova's Mills reconstruction project had to take into account the site’s extreme natural hazards, including exposure to periodical major flooding (such as the “centennial inundation”) with levels well above the average water-marks both in the Vltava river-bed and in the Certovka canal/mill-run. In the case of flooding, water could reach up to the second story floor level. The design likewise had to tackle problems involving the potential emergency transportation of exhibits and persons, including the handicapped, to the upper floors, taking into account the premises´ capacity. The size of the building was inadequate.

All of the premises´ structural systems were perfectly reparable and re-adjustable to the purposes of the prospective museum. In terms of architectural value, the most distinctive elements include a Renaissance stone outside corner, the main building’s south gable, and the outer wall with tower. A key task of the reconstruction project was to make the structure safe from the static and hydrological points of view.

The architect Josef Schulz made an aesthetically crucial contribution to the appearance of Sova's Mills in the past. In an erudite and sensitive approach, the reconstruction showed respect for the spirit of Schulz’s creative message, which left its indelible imprint on the appearance of the premises.

The official ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the reconstruction of Sova's Mills took place on May 25, 2000. The reconstruction was completed, and approval from the building inspection authorities was issued, in August 2001. The grounds of the reconstructed Sova's Mills were first open to the general public at an open house that took place September 26 - 29, 2001. Around 15,000 visitors came to see the place restored to its - more than - former glory.

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