Old Wastewater Treatment Plant
Old Wastewater Treatment Plant in Prague-Bubeneč is part of the Tentative list of Czechia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Old Wastewater Treatment Plant in Prague-Bubeneč is an early 20th century testimony to the advance of water management and technology. Its uniqueness for the time lies in the quality treatment of wastewater prior to discharge into the river. Its technological features have been preserved very well.
Map of Old Wastewater Treatment PlantLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
As an extended lunch break from Prague, I visited the wastewater treatment plant in Bubeneč. The plant lies on the banks of the Vitava (Moldau) and is situated at the lowest point in Prague. Seeing that sewage needs to flow, building a wastewater treatment plan here was the sensible thing to. So sensible indeed that the modern wastewater treatment plant built in communist times is situated just across the river.
Thankfully the communists didn't tear down or redo the old plant, so Bubeneč has retained much of its original setup. The steam engines are still operational and are turned on occasionally. However, it's not longer connected to the sewerage, so you don't have to worry about smells. At the time, when all of Prague's sewage passed through, it must have smelt terribly.
The facilities are nice to explore. They offer tours, most in Czech, but you can ask questions in English. In addition, they pass out a guide. Small tip: Just read the guide before you go on the visit and put it away. You will be busy with your camera anyhow... The site is very photogenic emanating a quirky 30s, Metropolis charm. And it's quite interesting to see how a treatment plant operated.
The Czechs are very good at finding niche topics that have OUV appeal; Kladubrny . Wastewater treatment, sewerage, and safe water were key developments to make cities safe and extend human lifespans to where they are now. It's telling that we judge countries on the safety of their drinking water. And we consider civilization to break down, as soon as the water supply breaks down. Well, catching Cholera is one experience I can do without.
I can't judge, though, if Bubeneč is the best/earliest example to use. Without a comparative study this is hard to tell. What I did pick up from the guided tour is that a similar plant was built in Frankfurt first, but has been demolished since. In my native Hamburg, you will also find a water filtration plant from the same period. The Wikipedia article on the history of water supply and sanitation lists plenty of places, but not Bubeneč. The Bubeneč Wikipedia article, meanwhile, is a stub. I think ICOMOS should review and find the best candidates first, before any sites are inscribed.
It's well within walking distance of Prague old town.
Just 2 weeks before my summer weekend trip to Prague, Czechia added the Old Wastewater Treatment Plant in Prague-Bubeneč to its Tentative List. Of course I immediately put it on my schedule, despite (or thanks to?) the odd subject. The site represents early 20th century state-of-the-art sewage technology and has been preserved in its original form. It is already part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage and is featured in the thematic study ‘The Water Industry as World Heritage’ from 2018. The latter states that heritage of the modern water industry is underrepresented on the List "despite its unarguable relevance to human development".
The Plant proved to be easy to reach from the Old Town where I was staying: I took the commuter train S4 for 2 stops to Praha-Podbaba, and from there it was an 8-minute walk. I arrived at 3pm, just in time to take part in one of the guided tours. These tours are conducted five times a day in the weekend and less frequently on weekdays. I joined 4 elder Czech visitors. The tour was in the Czech language, but I was given a document with explanations in English. The friendly guide also made sure in each room that I knew what I was looking at.
Although the site has interesting surface structures (such as the Main Hall which nowadays is used for exhibitions and events), most of it lies underground. This means that a lot of climbing up and down stairs is involved in the tour. The first hall of interest holds a ‘sand trap’, where the sand was filtered and raked out of the water in 3 stages – the machinery here still works though of course no contaminated water is present anymore. Mechanical treatment such as this ensured that dangerous materials were removed from wastewater of Prague’s sewers before it was discharged into the Vltava river. Entering this hall I was wowed mainly though by its wonderful brickwork, including arches and air holes.
The pride of the Plant lies in its steam engine room and boiler rooms, apparently the best preserved Czech examples of steam power. Here still-functional pump units from 1903 can be seen as well as 2 coal boilers. They pumped the sludge into tanks, so it could later be transported and sold for fertilizer. There used to be a huge water wheel as well, but that has gone. The site also had its own narrow-gauge railway, some tracks and carts are still left.
The tour ends with a walk and a boat ride through the sewers, accessed via an inconspicuous entrance at the back of the Plant. Here at the entrance we – the 5 sewage tourists - mingled with the nicely dressed guests of a wedding party which had taken over the adjoining beer garden. The sewerage is an extensive underground network, also completely built in brick.
The visit reminded me a lot of the Woudagemaal: all those blinking machines and the pride that the current conservationists (the site in Prague-Bubeneč is managed by a NGO) take in keeping them in good shape. What I enjoyed most though was the skillful brick architecture. It undoubtedly is an interesting piece of European industrial heritage, but becoming a World Heritage Site might be a bit too ambitious.
Read more from Els Slots here.
This was another surprise, just after the nomination of Czech beech forests, that very new addition to the Czech T-list is the old wastewater treatment plant in the northern outer part of Prague city center - in Bubeneč, very close to Vltava river. Well, it is not such surprising as the water management-related sites are now in the focus of the UNESCO experts and state parties. Nevertheless, my secret guess to a new addition to TWHS would be another site in Prague related to water - a monumental building of the water treatment plant in the southern edge of the Prague center - in Podolí, also close to Vltava river (visit highly recommended as well). Thus, the water treatment plant in Podolí for producing drinking water is upstream but the wastewater treatment plant in Bubeneč is downstream - That sounds logical! However, I must admit that the structure in Podolí is monumental but not such unique from the point of view of industrial architecture as the waste water treatment plant in Bubeneč, which was declared as the Czech national monument in 2010 and praised by the experts on the industrial heritage. Thus the selection made by the Czech state party is understandable.
I am not such an expert and could not recognized qualities of this old building from 1906. I was aware of its existence but there was not reason to go around too often because the old wastewater treatment plant is very close to the new one, which is not obviously a place for evening strolls... However, the Bubeneč district has very residential, almost posh character, and the area with the TWHS is separated only by railway tracks. The site is very close to already cancelled railway station Praha-Bubeneč and not far to another one that is in the operation, Praha-Podbaba, with the tram stop.
I have not been inside yet but the site is open for visitors all year long (check their web pages). From the outside, the structure is quite large and it looks like quite interesting old factory. There are also cafe and beer bar in the "garden", but the vast green area just covers the underground parts for the wastewater treatment (PHOTO).
To conclude: the site is certainly interesting and perfectly preserved, but I cannot decide if this TWHS deserves the inscription and has any OUV, I would intuitively say YES - but we will see once the comparative analysis is released. As this site is explicitly mentioned as the case study site in the Water Industry As World Heritage document accessible via the link in the nomination text (it is there together with Augsburg and Tarnowskie Gory water management systems - WHSs with very low ratings by our community...), I would expect this nomination is supported also by experts. For sure it has better chances to be inscribed than some Czech TWHSs such as early medieval excavations in Mikulčice and renaissance houses in Slavonice.
Updates: I visited the interiors of the plant with my friend in September 2020 during a weekday, thus, we were only visitors. All the important details about the brick architecture and the plant function have been already described in the review by Els. Though, the plant is in reasonable shape and very authentic, I noticed that some bricks are already falling apart. It is understandable and at the same time impressive after 100 years after foundation and many years in rather harsh conditions. However, I cannot imagine how expensive would be a reconstruction of the plant. The WHS nomination is now supported mainly by NGOs and the support of the state party is still lukewarm.
To conclude, this is an important monument of industrial architecture, but I change my mind and I am not sure if it is unique enough for the inscription to the list. We will see what will happen with this nomination...
2020 Added to Tentative List
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