The History of Sova’s Mills


Museum Kampa occupies historic buildings that were formerly the Sova’s Mills. The reconstruction project and the addition of modern glass structures have transformed the dilapidated mills into a museum for the 21st century.

The mills on Kampa island were first mentioned in 1393, although they were certainly built much earlier, and research has traced them back as far as the 10th century. The mills were founded by the Benedictine Convent of Saint George.

During the Hussite Revolution the mill was set on fire, and it became the property of Prague’s Old Town. In 1478 the townspeople gave the land to a councillor, Václav Sova z Liboslavi, to build a house and a hammer mill here, and there was also to be a flour mill for Prague’s citizens. Václav Sova gave the new mill its name, which it has retained to this day. Over the years a grinding shop, sawmill, lime kiln, beater and fulling and tanning mill were added, and there was also a small farm and a fruit and vegetable garden.

In 1574 the Old Town acquired the site once more. In 1589 a new mill was built of stone in the Renaissance style after the previous one, largely made of wood, burned down. In 1648, during the Thirty Years’ War, Swedish troops used the mill to station their artillery.

František Odkolek, a descendant of the oldest knightly family in Bohemia, made substantial alterations to the Sova’s Mills’ appearance. He first visited the mills in 1840 and some time later married Marie Trödlová, the oldest daughter of the mills’ then owner. With his talent for business, Odkolek reshaped the site: in 1858 he made an application to convert the mill to steam power and then adapted the mill and built a new two-storey building that extended as far as the street, as well as a bakery and related facilities. He gave the buildings romantic façades and built an engine house and a tall chimney. In 1864 he bought the Liechtenstein Palace on the Vltava riverbank from the Princely Family of Liechtenstein; the mills, bakery and other buildings were connected to the palace by the Odkolek Garden, which occupied a substantial part of Kampa island.

In 1836 an architect, Josef Kranner, was brought in to build a sawmill and an outbuilding over the river. Later František Odkolek also worked with Josef Maličký and František Srnec, both builders. Rebuilding work in 1867 involved noted architects such as Josef Schulz and Josef Zítek.

In 1896 the mills burned down again. In 1920 the city bought them and undertook essential repairs. After World War Two the mills became home to the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, housing its Institute for Czech and World Literature, the Zdeněk Nejedlý Study and Library, and the Department for Czech Theatre Studies. Another part of the building was used for arts and crafts, and the city had metalwork and joinery workshops here.

At the end of the 1990s Meda Mládek acquired the entire site to use as a gallery of modern art run by the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation. In 2000 and 2001 the site underwent comprehensive and demanding reconstruction work, managed by Prague City Hall, which gave the building its present form and installed the facilities required for the functioning of a gallery that works with the world’s most prestigious institutions. The chief architect was Helena Bukovanská from Atelier 8000, and the building’s appearance was shaped by artists who included Václav Cígler, Michal Motyčka, Marian Karel, Miroslav Špacek and Dana Zámečníková. Josef Schulz’s late 19th-century neo-gothic façade was retained and has given Museum Kampa its distinctive appearance as part of the panorama of Prague Castle when viewed from the National Theatre.

In 2002 the Sova’s Mills fell victim to catastrophic floods in Prague, but thanks to the immense commitment of all of the museum’s employees and volunteers the museum was reopened to the public soon thereafter.