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The Old Town

Back in the X century the two oldest settlement of nowadays Prague were Hradčany and Vyšehrad. Between them there was a small settlement that soon started to get bigger and it was called the Town between the Two Castles. Thee town started its expansion in the XII century from the market square because it was at the crossing point of many international commercial routes. It was surrounded by walls only in 1232 and a town hall was founded in 1338 after the permission by John of Luxembourg. During the last battles of the Thirty Years War was not conquered by the Swedish armies who had already conquered the castle and Mala Strana. Joseph II joined the 4 cities to create the historic center of Prague in 1784 and the Old Town acquired the most important position that still last today.

A walk around the district

We start our walk from Republic Square in front of the Municipal House built at the beginning of 1900 and considered the best building in Art Deco style. On the left we can see the Powder Tower so called because in 1700 was used to store gunpowder. Let’s walk under the tower and proceed along Celetna Street. The name comes from a kind of a flat cake made by bakers here in the Middle Age. This is also one of the main streets since it connected the market square with a village of German merchants outside the walls. At the first crossroad we can notice the Cubist house At the Black Madonna now Museum of Cubism. We continue on Celetna and we turn right into the passageway near the Restaurant u Supa. We go to the end of the street to visit the Church of Saint James; of Gothic origin, founded in 1232 but with a Baroque façade and interior built after the fire of 1689. The nave is very decorated and the organ is one of the most imposing in Prague. When we get out we trace back our steps and turn right into the passageway to reach the Tyn Court. Tyn means fortified area because in the XII century Romanesque walls to protect foreign merchants with their precious goods surrounded this courtyard. Nothing has been preserved from that time and we can see around us Renaissance and Baroque buildings. The second name of the Court is Ungelt which means tax because here lived also a tax collector. We go out from the other side and turn left and cross again Celetna. I know you would be attracted by the main square on the right, but please follow me again… We go into the passageway on the right of Belgian chocolate and at the far end we turn left. We are in front of the Tyl or Estates theatre built in Classic style in the second half of 1700. Mozart had here is Premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787 and at present there are several of his operas in the monthly program. It was also used in the movie Amadeus. On the left there is the historical building of the University of Prague or Karolinum from the name of its founder, Charles IV. It’s the oldest University in Central Europe. We take Havelska Street just in front of this building and reach the market. This market was founded in 1232(fruits and vegetables are not from that time…) but the area is older founded in XI century, it was called city of Saint Havel and it was a town within the town. We are now halfway between Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. We turn right in Melantrichova Street and then left .in the passageway. After the little square we turn right in the other passageway to the end. This is Malé Náměstí (Little Square) and it was the meeting point of foreign merchants .In the second half of 1300 an Italian herbalist, Angelo from Florence, opened the first Pharmacy in town. The Rott family owned a building in this square with a hardware store already back in 1800 and decorated the façade with the things they sold in the shop. We turn right and now we are in Staroměstské Náměstí, the Old Town Square.

Old Town Square

This is one of the most suggestive squares in Europe and is a summary of many art styles. On the left we have the Astronomic clock built in 1400, an era when it was not important to know the exact time but rather astronomic information also connected with agriculture. What we see now is a copy because it was destroyed many times.It is the pleasure of tourists from 8am to 10pm at the hour. We go to the middle of the square to appreciate its beauty at the most. We will not see Romanesque style because it’s underground Prague was raised in the Middle Age to avoid water floods. Gothic is represented by the House at the Stone Bell and late Gothic by the Church of Tyn. Renaissance and Baroque by the facades in front of the Clock There is also a Rococo building, the Goltz-Kinsky Palace on the left of the House at the stone bell. The monument represents Jan Hus an ancestor of Calvin and Luther burned at the stake as heretic in 1415. There is also a Baroque church, Saint Nicholas, but the other church with the same name in Mala Strana is more important. This church was designed for a close view because in the past buildings were just in front of the façade. There was a Neo-Gothic wing of the Town Hall that was later destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War when the population rose on May 5th 1945. This square and few other places were damaged.

From the church we go left to Franz Kafka Square. Kafka was born here in 1883. We go now left and turn to the right until the end of the street. We are now in Marianské Náměstí. In this square there is the New Town Hall built in Art Deco style by the same architects of the Municipal House (what a difference!). This is also the main Town Hall of Prague. On the left there is the Municipal Library .Go inside and don’t miss the book sculpture. I named it the monument to Culture. In front of the Town Hall there is one of the entrances of the Klementinum built in 1600 as a Jesuit college and now National Library. Let’s go inside and walk in two yards to the other exit to reach Liliova Street. We turn left to Řetězová and few steps on the left we enter a yard with a nice house worth a visit. This is the House of the Lords of Kunštat and Poděbrady that once belonged to George of Poděbrady elected king of Bohemia in 1458. This is one of the few Romanesque cellars that can be visited. Closed from October to March. We turn right to Husova to visit the interior of the Saint Gilles church. Behind a sober Gothic façade hides one of the most shining Baroque interiors of Prague also used in the movie Amadeus. After the church we continue in Husova and turn right to Betlémské Náměstí. We can see a modern reconstruction of 1950 of the Chapel of Bethlehem where Jan Hus did his speeches. From here we take Naprstkova Street to the end and we reach the river where we cross the street and go straight on the sidewalk. Here is the Monument and Museum of Smetana, one of the greatest Czech composers. We go back and turn right in the passageway of shops. Right in fornt of the Charles Bridge you cann see one of the entrance of the Klementinum a former Jesuits College now National Library.It is worth a visit. For further details: Klementinum. This is the Charles Bridge:

The Charles Bridge

Before the Charles Bridge there was an older one; the Judith Bridge built in 1157 and destroyed by a river flood in 1342. Charles IV was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1355 and decided to build another bridge to imitate the ancient Rome where Caesars had a trail across the Tevere. At that time people believed a lot in Astrology so to set the first stone they drew a pyramid composed by the numbers of the date, all odd numbers on a scale of 2: 135797531. The first stone was set on July 9th at 5.31am. The architect was Peter Parler, the same of the Cathedral. Well, it was a lucky choice for the bridge because it never collapsed completely but only 2 arcades the last time in the second half of 1800.Charles IV asked every village of the kingdom to send a cart of eggs whose white strengthened the mortar. This is not a legend; also for the Cathedral we have proofs of the use of eggs. The legend tells that a village of naives sent a cart of hard-boiled eggs…

The bridge has a Gothic origin but the statues are more recent. They were placed from 1600 upon requests of the Jesuits who had two colleges at the two ends of the bridge and wanted to create a sort of spiritual passage between them taking the inspiration from the Saint Angel Bridge in Rome. The saints are all the one we know plus the national patrons. At the beginning of 1900 trams passed on the bridge and in the ‘50s also cars. The statues are so dark because of the Prague pollution .the stones used for the statues is calcareous so it absorbed so much that it is impossible to clean. For this reason the statues are being replaced with copies.

This is the end of our walk. We are in Mala Strana, but this is another story…


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