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10 of the best European cities for art nouveau

Art nouveau was the curvilinear, nature-inspired style that dominated everything from jewellery to architecture at the start of the 20th century. As it spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic it followed two main strands: the curvy, whiplash decoration that flowed out of Paris-Brussels and the more linear, geometric style seen in Vienna and Glasgow. East European centres such as Prague, Riga and Budapest merged art nouveau with their own local traditions and the outstanding buildings of the era are found in those cities. By 1915, the craze for art nouveau had been crushed by the advent of the first world war and the arrival of a new style, art deco.

Over the last 100 years the demolition of art nouveau structures has been ruthless. French architect Hector Guimard’s innovative Parisian concert hall was pulled down as early as 1905 and only three of his roofed entrances to the Paris metro remain. While Barcelona, Vienna, Munich and Subotica claim stunning yet isolated art nouveau buildings, other cities have managed to preserve the style as part of their dominant architectural heritage.

Prague’s art nouveau credentials are based around one man: Alphonse Mucha. Ironically, he barely set foot in his Czech homeland until the style was waning. Mucha’s sassy artwork was used to advertise cigarette papers, champagne and Sarah Bernhardt plays, and propelled him (reluctantly) to the forefront of the movement. While Mucha was away in Paris and the US, it was left to architects, Ohmann, Bendelmayer and Dryák to promote Prague’s art nouveau and they did so by combining floral motifs and looping metalwork with a more traditional neo-baroque look. The Hotel Central (rooms from €125 a night) was one of the city’s first art nouveau structures and is still open for business today. As for Mucha, there’s a museum dedicated to him in the Kaunicky Palace, his symbolist murals adorn the Municipal House, and the Zbiroh castle nearby is where he painted a series of giant works about the Slav people.

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