Polská 2400/1: Sokol building, Vinohrady

Thirty years before the foundation of the modern Olympic movement, the German-born art historian Miroslav Tyrš revived the ancient ideal of physical and spiritual improvement in the Czech lands. His brainchild, the Sokol (‘Falcon’) organization, proposed a strict regimen of marching, fencing, weightlifting and other activities designed to further the overall health of the population.

Despite its early idealism, Sokol became strongly associated with the struggle for independence from Austro-Hungary; and ensuing governments, fearful of the popularity of an unofficial Czech army, banned (or, in the case of both the Nazis and the Communists, forcibly suppressed) membership of Sokol. Ironically, the famous Spartakiada, mass gymnastic displays that we associate with the communist years, were simply rebranded versions of existing displays mounted by Sokol.

Between 1863 and 1948, twelve hundred ‘sokolovny’ were built throughout the country, to service a membership that before the Second World War numbered 630,000. There had been an early Sokol centre in Riegrovy sady in Vinohrady at the end of the nineteenth century, but it was in 1938 that František Marek, Václav Vejrych and Zbyněk Jirsák came up with the design for this extensive building in the functionalist style – its tall rectilinear columns giving a modernist twist to the ideal of a classical colonnade.

In 1941, the building was commandeered by the SS as a sports centre, and after the Second World War it became a military hospital and repatriation centre for returning Czech soldiers. Today the Vinohrady Sokol has reverted to its intended use, offering facilities for community sports and leisure activities. In 2012, the statue below was unveiled just outside the Vinohrady building to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Sokol movement.