National Heritage Institute’s activities

The National Heritage Institute is a specialist organisation providing heritage conservation on behalf of the state. Article 32 of Law no. 20/1987 Sb. on state heritage conservation states: The specialist organisation providing heritage conservation on behalf of the state is an organisation for the delivery and coordination of all specialist activity in the field of state heritage conservation, with the aim of ensuring unity of cultural and political goals and of methodological, economic and technical approaches, as well as of the future development of heritage conservation.

What does this mean – how is the institution useful?

  • One of the National Heritage Institute’s most important tasks is the maintenance of a good-quality and well-arranged register of cultural monuments, both movable and immovable. A large part of this database is available on the internet, but each branch will provide further information upon request – for example, whether a building is listed as a cultural monument, or whether it is in an area with some form of blanket heritage protection, in other words in a heritage reservation or zone. When making a request it is important to give the name of the municipality, and where relevant the name of the cadastral district, plus the descriptive number (the number usually shown on buildings in red). The name of the street and the orientational (“blue”) number are supplementary information. Sometimes it is important to know the number of the land plot, because a plot of land may also be a cultural monument.
  • The National Heritage Institute systematically collects and classifies information on the history of historic buildings, their use, alterations made and so on. On this basis heritage conservationists establish what their merits are, what about them is most valuable and thus deserving of conservation and what is not. Part of this research involves historic building surveys, which are a highly effective way of finding out how the buildings have developed or been added to. If a historic building survey exists, which you can find out at the relevant specialist branch of the National Heritage Institute or in the catalogue of monuments, its beautiful coloured plans will show you many secrets.
  • The most visible of the National Heritage Institute’s activities is the issuing of opinions on alterations, conversions and building plans – in other words, the activities that lead to the transformation of towns and villages, as well as landscapes. This is probably the most sensitive aspect of conservation work, and one that gives rise to the most conflicts. The opinions and evaluations issued by heritage conservation experts are drawn up on the basis of qualified assessments, and show consistency of both specialist approach and opinion. They have to be justified, backed up and interlinked with specialist literature and other sources, such as archive materials, surveys and similar cases.

The many types of heritage conservation officer

“We wanted to do it differently, but the conservation officers wouldn’t allow us…“ Most people have heard this type of lament, but not everyone knows just who conservation officers are. They are not always employees of the National Heritage Institute – the term is often used for employees of local councils. This is because decisions are made in two steps: the National Heritage Institute (or, more precisely, one of its regional specialist branches) draws up an expert opinion on the specific case or application, which it then sends to the relevant local administrative body with decision-making competences (a municipality with extended powers, or in the case of larger towns and cities, the city hall or regional office) to aid it in its decision. Put simply, the specialist branches of the National Heritage Institute evaluate, advise and recommend, but it is the council that issues a decision for or against, with an official stamp. The highest instance over all of them is the Ministry of Culture.

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