1881. Fire of the National Theatre. Description by a contemporary (from František Vejdělek: The Memorial to the Fire Brigade of the Royal Capital City of Prague 1853-1903. Prague 1903.) The proud building on the banks of the Vltava that the nation had built with exemplary sacrifices after more than twenty years of effort, this petrified monument of our national resurrection, fell victim to a horrible ravaging element, our National Theatre was completely destroyed by fire. The nation was bracing itself for a grand occasion of a definitive opening of its theatre, the whole country was getting ready for monumental festivities when, one day before the great day, a furious element, against which all human efforts proved fruitless, turned our National Theatre, our pride, into ashes. It is impossible to convey the impact such news had on Czech people. At first, nobody wanted to believe that such a misfortune was possible, it was thought that some petty fire had occurred as it had happened before. Everybody was rushing to the embankment to see with their own eyes whether that horrible news was correct. Unfortunately, mighty flames were already flaring up from the gilded roof and bore a dreadful testimony to what had happened and what no one had expected. In the preceding days, works had been under way, at an eager pace, to finish the adornments of the beautiful building. Tinsmiths had been working at the southern end of the attic and they are blamed to have caused that terrible misfortune through their carelessness. It was about half past five in the afternoon when people walking on the chain bridge saw smoke rising from the roof of the theatre. No one paid closer attention to it, though. Shortly afterwards, a couple of workers employed in a nearby factory in the Smíchov neighbourhood, having spotted the danger from there, were rushing to contribute to the salvation of the precious national gem. How surprised they were when the whole setting looked perfectly ordinary. People had no idea that fire was raging under the roof of the National Theatre. The factory workers immediately started yelling, entered the building and wanted to put the fire out but everything was locked and so they had to go back. In the meantime, a crowd had gathered in front of the theatre. At about 6 o'clock, flames shot up from the roof. It was a horrible moment. The exclamation of panic spread through the crowd which was growing ever more numerous. “Where is the equipment for opening the hydrants, flood the theatre,” could be heard from all sides. Only after a longer period of time, a lot of water was released into the theatre from water tanks in the attic. The roof was burning on and the fire, ever growing, started to spread from the provisional theatre towards Ferdinand Avenue. There was an iron curtain that was supposed to go down so that at least the auditorium could be saved but this proved impossible since a large scaffolding erected for stucco workers was under it. The fire, fed by a strong wind, got hold of the roof in its entirety. All the efforts of the firemen were vain. Weak streams of water spurted into the sea of flames, but could not tame the angry element. It was at the same time a terrible and majestic moment. People, tears in their eyes, were standing around the burning building, in which they were, several weeks later, to sing the greatest song of them all, a song full a life, were emerged in mute thoughts that were lacerating their chests. The roofing disappeared and a whole sea of flames was flaring through the hot iron truss accompanied by clouds of blood-red smoke and yellow sparks. It started to rain lightly and the smoke above the National Theatre grew so thick that only a beast-like lower wreath of flames could be seen. Huge arches of water gushed by a number of fire engines onto the burning roof were disappearing in the heat without any impact. All of a sudden there was a gust of wind , the smoke rose and thousands of mouths gave out a heartbreaking cry. The flames had become three times as strong and it was apparent that the fourth gallery, i.e. the inside of the theatre, was on fire. At a quarter to eight, a huge white column of fire shot up from the sea of red flaming tongues towards the sky and cries could be heard: “The gasometer has burst!” The flame of gas was colossal but the gas piping had been closed already so only the gas remaining was beyond the main cock. In the meantime, it had grown dark and the whole of the surrounding part of town blushed with the dreadful bloody flood. The Vltava flowed red like a huge stream of glowing metal and windows facing the fire were lit up by the flames. Suddenly, a huge bang could be heard from the inside, like a cannon ball leaving a cannon or explosion of a steam boiler, and cries rose around: “The huge beautiful chandelier has fell onto the auditorium!” The burning theatre was enveloped again in smoke and a flood of sparks. The majestic structure started to sink and crack, the iron trusses were collapsing, pieces of hot iron and wood were flying into the thickening rain and the flames were flaring out of the upper windows of the building. The second and third galleries were on fire. A new gigantic noise announced that the ceiling had collapsed. In the meanwhile, the rush, flutter and also furore around the theatre, especially on the embankment side, had reached new levels. Crowds of people were carrying paintings, vases, bundles of costumes, weapons, and books out of the building and taking it all to the Žofínský Island. With great roaring, various iron and metal equipment, decorations, wardrobes, linen, bundles of velvet cloth, bundles with clothes and so on were flying out of the windows. The horrible element kept moving to the lower floors of the building: the changing room, the director's office, the royal box, all were already on fire! The flames were flaring out of the arched windows of the provisional theatre – the decorations were burning, as well as the ropes and the upper part of the stage. The firemen were trying to save at least the provisional theatre and they managed to do that. But only very little was saved of the National Theatre. Some valuable paintings and large mirrors were taken out, as well as Hynais's murals, large part of the changing room and library, some decorations and other smaller objects. In the provisional theatre, almost all the decorations were saved and other things too. Three firemen were fairly seriously injured while extinguishing the fire. Kobra's printing works, Lažanský Palace and the Czech Savings Bank were all in jeopardy. After the high-flaring flames, that had been rendering the sky red till late at night, disappeared, the burnt-down monument offered a terrible view. Dead silence fell on the place where, a short time before, buzzing and roaring had been heard. The prideful silhouette of the monumental building did tower towards the sky but its golden crown had vanished. And those who ventured inside the building must have shuddered in horror over the disaster that offered itself to their moist eyes. Where, a short time before, beauty had vied with artistic taste, where hundreds of golden ornaments had shone in the flare of thousands of flames, where velvet had created an impressive scenery of refinement and beauty, nothing was left but a huge pile of broken and curved iron and burnt beams emitting clouds of smoke till the evening. Instead of marble, only four bare shabby walls stuck up towards the sky. People thronged to the place of the great national misfortune, crowds kept gathering around the building for the whole day; there was not one eye that stayed dry. The stage and auditorium had been completely destroyed. Only the adjoining rooms of the royal box survived to a certain extent. The beautiful decorations of the Libuše opera had been destroyed and everything on the stage had fallen victim to the angry element. The furniture in the auditorium had been almost completely destroyed. As to the walls, the main central wall had been seriously damaged and the vaulting had cracked as well as the blocks above the loggia. The granite pillars, in which the cloakroom of the fourth gallery had been located, were cracked as though they had been in a burning furnace. The sculpture works, with the exception of minor damages, survived. The galleries had collapsed mainly into the auditorium. The spectacular chandelier had fallen to the floor when the ceiling collapsed. Single glass crystals shone in the horrible blend of iron and reminded people of the beauty of the proud building that had been turned into ruins in such a dreadful manner. Fortunately, a number of rooms leading towards the embankment and containing the office, archive, library and changing room of the theatre had been saved. Beautiful costumes had been taken away from the changing room while a quantity of velvet, silk and other textiles had been destroyed. The stairs leading from the theatre office onto the embankment were covered in silver coins, pieces of various textiles and other things in making costumes. With several exceptions, musical instruments survived as well together with musical scores of new Czech original operas. The loss the whole nation had suffered was horrible, irreparable. Fire engine made in Britain corresponding to the one used during the fire. Very probably, it is the one actually used. Fire of the National Theatre in Prague on 12 August 1881 The steam fire engine involved in putting out the fire of the National Theatre in Prague was the only one of its kind and it was a complete novelty that had been at Prague firemen's disposal for a short time only. Although it was a very efficient piece of machinery capable of gushing such amounts of water that the water mains were usually insufficient and water had to be, like in this case, pumped from the river, the fire was so vast that even with this fire engine it proved impossible to quickly put it out. Fire of the National Theatre in Prague on 12 August 1881, MMP Fire of the National Theatre, 1881, MMP Postcards from Prague, number 2945-2951. Fire of the National Theater on 12 August 1881, MMP Print commemorating the fire of the National Theatre in Prague on 12 August 1881, MMP View of the National Theater after the fire on 12 August 1881, MMP View of the stage of the National Theatre after the fire of 12 August 1881, MMP Stop 4 – National Theatre A fire started during the finishing work on the building of the theatre in the late hours on 12 August 1881. The consequences were very damaging due to a series of unfortunate coincidences (bad functioning and use of hydrants as well as water tanks in the attic, low water pressure…). The fire began on the roof where tinsmiths were working with naked flame. They were later accused of not having properly extinguished smouldering charcoal. Flames flared up on the roof at about six o'clock in the evening. Strong wing caused the whole roof to catch alight and made all the strenuous firefighting efforts futile. The auditorium was also lost too because of the safety iron curtain that was supposed to protect it in such cases was out of order due to scaffoldings erected for stucco works. The theatre had been in use for makeshift performances already from June but now the building was closed so that it could be completely finished. Most of the interior furnishings, including valuable props, was destroyed. The fire was watched by multitudes of people with a great sense of tragedy. It was very impressive when gas flared just before 8 pm. A tall white flare of flame from the residual gas in the pipes shot skyward. The fire died down late at night. Large numbers of firemen who fought the fire for a long time, managed to save at least the adjoining buildings. The building of the National Theatre was repaired within two years (also thanks to a new nationwide collection of money) and it was ceremonially opened on 18 November 1883.