The official residence of Czech prime ministers, the Kramář Villa overlooks the Vltava from a wonderful vantage point between Prague Castle and Letná Plain. It was built in the 1910s by Karel Kramář, who himself served as the first prime minister of Czechoslovakia following its foundation a century ago this year. However, the politician had already been extremely well-known prior to 1918, guide Irena Saidlová told me at the Kramář Villa.
What were his politics? Was he a Czech nationalist? Or more of a Slav nationalist?
“I would say he was more a Slav nationalist, because he wanted all the Slavonic nations to join up and cooperate within the Austrian empire.
“But he was a member of the so-called Mladá Česká Strana [formal name Národní strana svobodomyslná], the Young Czech Party.
“After the establishment of Czechoslovakia he was a member of the National Democratic Party, which was on the right side of the political spectrum.”
I was reading that not long after this building was completed in 1914 he was arrested. Why was he arrested?
“He was arrested for pan-Slavic agitation in the time of the first world war. And he was sentenced to death because of it.
“But he was lucky. Fortunately the new emperor, Charles I, changed the death sentence to just 15 years of imprisonment.
“Karel Kramář was arrested for pan-Slavic agitation in the time of the first world war. And he was sentenced to death because of it.”
“And later, in the middle of 1917, Emperor Charles I announced an amnesty for all political prisoners, so Karel Kramář was freed.
“He returned to Prague, or to Czechia, as a national martyr or hero.”
This building is incredible and the view is amazing, right across the Vltava and down over the whole of Prague. It’s very near Prague Castle, it’s near Letná. How did he get this site to build this villa, do you know?
“If he wasn’t such a well-known politician, he wouldn’t have got this place to build his own villa.
“So it was a bit of ‘protection’.
“But there were a lot of people who didn’t like the fact that Karel Kramář became the owner of this place, which is very well seen from many places in Prague, from the Vltava River, and were against this building.”
“On the outside, the style is a combination of neo-Baroque and also some Art Nouveau decorative items on the façade.
“But the interiors are also different. They are in a Slavonic, Russian or Byzantine style – it’s a combination of different styles.
“It’s not easy to say which style is the most important or the main one.”
His wife was Russian. Did she have an impact on the interiors here at the villa?
“Definitely. Because Naděžda Kramářová really heavily influenced this villa, the décor.
“She wanted to have it in a Russian-like or Slavonic-like style.
“Of course Karel Kramář’s orientation was also to Russia. But it was because of his wife, mainly.”
“If he wasn’t such a well-known politician, he wouldn’t have got this place to build his own villa.”
You were saying earlier that they had a great love story. Tell us something about their love story.
“Well the love story is very nice and for that time, at the end of the 19th century, it was a strange one. It was not usual.
“They met in Moscow in 1890 and they fell in love with each other.
“But unfortunately Naděžda was already married for 10 or 11 years and she had four children.
“So it was not so easy to dissolve that marriage and also to decide to leave the husband and the children. But they did it.
“They waited 10 more years until Naděžda’s marriage was dissolved and she was able to marry Karel Kramář.”
“After the death of Karel Kramář in 1937, this building became the property of the Karel Kramář Society, who had a small exhibition here about his life.
“Also several parts of this building were used as an exhibition venue for the National Gallery.
“After 1948 the Karel Kramář Society was abolished by the government and the villa became the property of the National Museum.
“That’s why everything left by Karel Kramář is in the National Museum – all his books, papers and works, as well as things left by Naděžda Nikolajevna.
“In 1951 this building became the property of the Czechoslovak government and served as a place of accommodation for visitors from abroad.”
I understand this building went through a major renovation in the 1990s. What state was it in before that? Because now it looks fantastic.
“The Kramářs’ love story is for that time, at the end of the 19th century, a strange one. It was not usual.”
“It was also renovated in the 1950s. But of course in the middle of the 1990s this building didn’t look as good as it looks now.
“Also the interiors were not so modern, or up to the high standard that they should have been.
“So it was really necessary to renovate it totally.”
Czech prime ministers have the choice of living here, if they want to. How many of them have actually lived here since 1998, when the renovation was completed?
“Only two prime ministers have lived here: Prime Minister Špidla and Prime Minister Zeman.”
Are they allowed to make a lot of changes during their period, like presidents at the White House?
“But it’s not possible to change it totally, because there is some furniture which is already a given here and should stay here.”
Does that mean then that if no prime minister is living here, the building is largely unused? Or does it have some other purpose?
“This building is not only where prime ministers can live – it also has a representative function.
“Prime ministers are visited here by guests, from abroad and from within the Czech Republic.
“For example, after the summer Olympic Games, members of the Olympic team who had won medals visited the prime minister here and he congratulated them.
“Also such representative activities can be done, and are done, here.”
“The garden was mostly done by the garden architect František Thomayer.
“It looks like a park, because we are not far away from Letná park, which his very famous for walks.
“So this garden is also in the park style, with very nice views of Prague – either Prague Castle or the centre, the Vltava River, many bridges.”
Also it must be one of the best views of Prague, in part because for most people it must be unusual. For example me – I had never seen Prague from this angle before.
“Yes, of course. You couldn’t have seen Prague from here before, because this is a very unique place.
“Even from nearby Letná the view is not as good as from this villa or this garden.
“Because you can combine here both viewing the centre of Prague and also Prague Castle.
“This is the reason why it is so unique – because of the view of everything.”