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Sweerts-Sporck Palace

The Institute of Translation Studies is situated in the Prague city centre at the Sweerts-Sporck Palace on Hybernská Street, No. 3. The palace is thought to be the last Baroque building to have been erected in the city.


The building known as the Sweerts-Sporck Palace is first mentioned in sources referring to several mediaeval houses on this site in 1463 and 1464.


The Palace frequently changed hands in subsequent decades. At the beginning of the 17th century it was owned by Valentin Kochan of Prachová, who paid with his life for participating in the Estates Uprising, then by the financier Jean de Witte, and later by the father of the engraver Václav Hollar. The premises were evidently unoccupied in the latter half of the 17th century; then in 1694 the dilapidated building was purchased by Count Karl Joachim von Breda, who built a splendid three storey Baroque palace on the site. The appearance of this palace has been preserved for posterity in the engravings of Martin Engelbrecht of Augsburg. Unfortunately, this building work exhausted all the Count's funds and he fell into debt. Only a few years later, in 1699, he sold the palace to one of the most prominent personalities of Prague Baroque culture, Franz Anton Sporck (1662–1738).


The Count was a renowned patron of the arts, employing, amongst others, the Baroque painter Peter Brandl and the sculptor Mathias Bernard Braun. Material produced on his printing press at Lysá nad Labem included unconventional religious texts which were regarded with suspicion by the authorities. Consequently, the substantial library of the Sporck Palace was repeatedly visited by senior officials who took suspicious titles away to be censored. Contemporaries were intrigued by the skull of the Count's mother, displayed in his bedroom as a reminder of the transient nature of life on earth.


However, the palace's place in the cultural history of Prague owes more to performances by the Italian opera ensembles of impresarios Antonio Denzio and Santa Lapis which continued for a period of almost two decades in a theatre open to the public.


In the second half of the 18th century, Sporck's grandson Johann Franz Christian carried out extensive reconstruction. His father Franz Karl Rudolf von Sweerts had been adopted by his father-in-law, Franz Anton Sporck, who had no male offspring.


The first reconstruction was undertaken in the sixties, to restore the building after it had been devastated by a fire in 1757; the second followed twenty years later after Johann Franz Christian purchased the adjoining properties, seeking to erect buildings that would outshine all existing Prague palaces. The architect responsible for this development, which began in 1783, was Antonín Haffenecker, responsible also for the redesign of the Prague Castle in Theresian style. At Hybernská Street he implemented his plan to create a monumental facade with fifteen window axes, a balustraded attic gable and massive portals decorated with allegoric sculptures from the workshop of Franz Michael Platzer, which has an important place in the history of Czech Baroque art. Art historians point out the classical elements, festoons and portrait medallions, on a facade which is otherwise Baroque. In 1789, Haffenecker died and the reconstruction continued under the direction of Ignazzio Giovanni Palliardi. The latter's work involved in particular the alteration of another part of the palace complex on the site of the newly acquired adjacent building, No. 1034. This development required substantial investment, which was beyond the means of Sweerts-Sporck at a time when wars were raging at the turn of the 19th century. He therefore sold the whole complex in 1803 to a speculator, Josef Černač, who then divided it up and sold it off piecemeal.


The palace proper changed hands several times in the years that followed until it was taken over in 1844 by the state. It then housed, in succession, a number of institutions, which carried out conversions aggravating the damage to the original character of the building. At one time it was even a customs house. In the 1970s, the palace, which had by then fallen into a state of acute disrepair, came under the administration of Charles University. It was the University which had the building renovated in 1998–1999, returning it to its former splendour. The newly renovated building was officially opened on 27 October 1999.


The Sweerts-Sporck Palace currently houses four departments of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University – the Institute of Translation Studies, the Centre of Comparative Studies, the Centre of Ibero-American Studies and the Department of Romanian Studies. The Institute of Translation Studies occupied a substantial part of the building since its establishment in 1963. As a part of the restoration process, carried out in 1998–1999, the teaching, study and library facilities of the Institute were expanded and improved. Specialized labs equipped for courses in conference interpreting, computer-assisted translation and in subtitling teaching are available, and in the attic space under the restored Baroque roof, there is a spacious room suitable for conferences, symposia and workshops. The newly refurbished academic library holds about 12,000 volumes and periodicals in the fields of language studies, applied linguistics, cultural studies, translation studies and lexicography. The basement rooms, believed to have been originally a Masonic lodge, have been converted into a modern library repository.