From the convent garden to the city park

As a result of the church reforms of Joseph II, the order of the Discalced Carmelites was abolished in 1782. The nuns first took refuge in the castle in Pohled, and then in the 1890s acquired a replacement residence in the former Barnabite monastery in Hradčany. Once vacated, this extensive complex was subsequently acquired by the congregation of English Virgins (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary), which was dedicated to the upbringing and education of girls. During the course of the 19th century, only minor alterations were made to the convent, such as the completion of classrooms in the raised part of the garden, the reconstruction of the greenhouses and possibly also modifications to the Chapel of St. Elijah. The period sources show that the axial layout of the garden was preserved, including the small buildings. 

At the end of the 19th century, the neighbouring garden facing Letenská ulice was divided into seven building plots. Apartment buildings were erected on four outer plots in 1896–98; the middle plot was intended for the new Ministry of Finance building. That was constructed here in the neo-Classical style in the early 1930s following plans by arch. František Roith and a low connecting wing linked it to the former convent building, purchased by the ministry from the congregation of English Virgins in 1921. Another block of narrow curved new ministerial buildings completed the garden on the south side; the southern tip of the garden was set aside for a tennis court. During World War II, an air raid shelter was set up in the cellars of the eastern wing of the former convent, and there was still a military bunker on the terrace of the Chapel of St. John of Nepomuk after 2000, although it has since been removed.

In 1954, the garden was landscaped as a park following plans drawn up by Josef Chlustina and was opened to the public. Most of the alterations were in the northern part, where grassy areas, a lake and a circular path were laid out. 

Despite the adjacent Ministry of Finance buildings, Vojanovy sady has retained much of the character of the original enclosed convent garden and is a haven of peace and quiet, as well as a place for meetings, rest and quiet meditation.

As most monastery and convent gardens were enclosed, their period iconography is very rare. This hypothetical reconstruction has been prepared to give a better idea of how the garden might have looked in the 19th century, evoking the atmosphere from the time when it was worked by the congregation of English Virgins. The view looks towards the northern tip of the garden, where there is a gloriette, shown as open.
That is accompanied by a greenhouse, or orangery. The scene is enclosed by a high wall, today significantly shortened by the ministry building. In front of us we can see the utility part of the garden, with the figures of nuns in their typical habits. The beds are drawn as raised and surrounded by wicker structures; the scene also shows garden tools. Drawing © Ondřej Šefců.

View of the southern part of the convent garden in the early 19th century. The image comes from a paper model of Prague, made on a scale of 1: 480 in 1826–37 by Antonín Langweil (1791–1837), who worked in the university library. This unique model is an excellent source of information about how historical Prague looked in the first half of the 19th century. It shows the southern enclosure wall, now half covered by the neo-Classical Ministry of Finance building. Both chapels, the axial arrangement of the garden and the western terrace are also evident. In the background, we can admire the picturesque jumble of the buildings of Malá Strana surrounding the towers of Charles Bridge. Langweil’s model of Prague, photo: Jan Vrabec, Prague City Museum archive.

View from the north of the fascinating sequence of the three Malá Strana gardens. The first plan shows the garden of the Wallenstein Palace, then the surprisingly narrow corridor of Letenská ulice (then Senovážná) behind it; the garden of the Daun (Vrtbov) Palace is behind the enclosure wall, and the scene is topped off by the view of the convent garden of the congregation of the English Virgins, now Vojanové Sady park. We can clearly see the part of the garden used to grow produce, and it is interesting to note the kind of gazebo in the middle. This could have been used to store produce, tools, or as a place to take a break. Langweil’s model of Prague, photo: Miroslav Fokt, Prague City Museum archive.

View of the convent garden from the southwest. The picture clearly shows the extensive cultivated part of the garden and the distinctive curved wall, on which there seems to be a trellis with climbing plants. The view towards Klárovo is surprising in many ways, as behind the Malá Strana armoury building we can see large piles (stacks) of firewood. Langweil’s model of Prague, photo: Miroslav Fokt, Prague City Museum archive.