It isn’t the most enticing of station names, is it? Invalidovna literally means ‘disabled’, conjuring up images of narrow-minded backwardness from the Czechs when it comes to physical and mental disabilities, but once again these looks can be deceiving. Invalidovna the metro station has nothing to do with disability, or at least not in the assumed sense. The station is named after the massive yet seemingly abandoned building nearby. Built between 1731 and 1737, Invalidovna (the building, not the metro station) was modelled on Les Invalides in Paris and served much the same function, namely acting as a dormitory for war veterans. It was a place of rest for those who served the Bohemian lands and gave their lives and limbs for the sake of King (well, the Emperor) and country (actually, the empire).

But something must have stood here before the veteran’s home, right? Of course. We must look in the direction of the Kings of the Cross with the Red Star, the extravagantly named religious order that was established in this part of the world way back in the 13th century. The grounds belonged to the KotCwtRD (not an official acronym), but any plans they may have had for them were curtailed somewhat by the plague in the 16th century. A hospital and a cemetery took over, as was fairly standard during plague time, along with a church that lasted until the 18th century before being destroyed.

With the plague firmly in the rearview mirror, plans were put together to build a veteran’s home on the land. The initial plans were ambitious to say the least, and the home was supposed to be able to accommodate some 4000 veterans and their families, but only one ninth of the original design was completed. It became abundantly clear that the fledgling plans were nigh on impossible, and that neither the money nor the space was on hand to complete them. This was a massive, massive shame, as this was going to be so much more than simply a home for invalids. Invalidovna was to become a mini-city of sorts, with its own brewery, distillery, slaughterhouse and cemetery to be built nearby, although hopefully those last two weren’t going to be too close to each other. The building itself was going to house schools, workshops, kitchens, ceremonial halls and hospitals. The veterans who found themselves taken from the battlefield and plonked here were going to be made for life, albeit made for life with terrible physical injuries and no small amount of mental trauma.

Where did all this ambition come from? As it happened, Invalidovna was the dying wish of a Czech count with Italian heritage, a man by the name of Petr Strozzi. The Strozzi family came from Florence but settled in Bohemia during the Thirty Years’ War, which doesn’t seem like the brightest idea. Petr worked his way up the ladder and eventually became a high-ranking diplomat and military commander, a level of importance that may protect you from the basic struggles of life but won’t save you from a stray bullet, and it was one such assault that eventually ended Petr Strozzi’s time on this mortal coil. He was just 38 years old. Strozzi was remarkably aware for such a high-ranking diplomat and often spoke of his despair at the misery wounded soldiers faced once their time at the front was over, speaking of the hellish existence that awaited an individual rewarded for sacrifice with abandonment.

Petr didn’t have any children during his life (he presumably didn’t have any in death either), and the key part of his will stated that he bequeathed the majority of his riches to the Prague Archbishopric, with one demand — it would be used to build a veteran’s home. Strozzi initially wanted this to be built in the town of Hořice, but the Emperor intervened and decided a more central location was required. Enter Karlín, although it wasn’t Karlín at the time, it was just land. Strozzi had been dead for 60 years before work on the home began, with the first stone going down in 1732. Less than five years later the work was stopped, as it had become abundantly clear that the whole project was a little too ambitious. Within a year it housed a much more realistic 200 invalids and their families, giving hope to soldiers empire-wide that when their time in battle came to an end there might be something waiting for them that is a little more caring than the cold streets of Bohemia or an anonymous grave in the middle of nowhere.

The house was ran with military discipline, so it wasn’t exactly a whole lot more caring. But it was warm, meals were regular and there weren’t faceless individuals trying to kill you, so it was definitely a move in the right direction. Strozzi was honoured with a statue in front of the building, a monument that was built in 1898. Invalidovna was the first of its kind in this part of the world, and without the empathy and financial clout of this Florentine military commander it may never have come to be. The veteran’s home was eventually moved to Hořice, fulfilling the dying wish of the great Petr Strozzi.

In Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, John Bills takes the reader on a tour of Prague using the underground network as his guide, from the birth of the city at Vyšehrad through to the Velvet Revolution at Národní Třída and everywhere in between, including blokes who loved orchids and no small amount of executions. This is everything you ever wanted to know about Prague, and then some. The eBook available in our splendid little shop here.

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