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The New Town

The New Town is not so new as it might seem nowadays since it was founded by Charles IV in 1348. The purpose was to increase the population and to find a new place for the workshops out of the Old Town. The idea was very in advance for that time and included in the plan three large squares for the city markets connected by a long street to ease the commerce. The three large squares were the Horse Market, now Wenceslas Square, the Cattle Market, now Charles Square and the Hay Market that remained with the same name, Senovážné Nám.The long street is now composed by Vodičkova and Jindřiška. Not so much had been preserved of the gothic period since this district of Prague has evolved more than the others during the time and now is mostly composed by architecture from the end of 1800 to contemporary. Wenceslas Square witnessed all the events of contemporary history of this country from the Red Army “liberation” in 1945 through the Prague spring of 1968 until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

A walk around the New Town

We will start our walk from the top of Wenceslas Square, metro C stop Muzeum. This square is 700m long and 60m wide so you can use it to count the distances on the map. At the top you can see the National Museum; together with the National Theatre they were built at the end of 1800 during Czech National Rebirth.. During the Prague spring it was shot because soldiers thought it was the Government building and you can see traces of the restoration mostly on the columns. The exhibition includes history and natural sciences. Opened every day from 9.00 to 17.00 except from 1.5 to 30.09 opened from 10.00 to 18.00.Closed the first Tuesday of each month.

Going down the square we can see the Monument of Wenceslas placed here at the end of 1800.It had become the symbol of the nation; infact just in front of it Jan Palach burned himself on January 16,1969 to protest against the invasion of the tank from the Communist Block occurred one year earlier. Today is the most common meeting place of locals. They meet “under the tail” or “at the horse”. A few steps down we encounter the memorial to the victims of communism with the pictures of Palach, Zajič and Masaryk.

Let’s continue down the square until we reach the Hotel Europa, a nice example of Prague Art Deco. Art Deco here took the name Secese since it was the secession style from the official and academic style of the Habsburg Empire. In front of the hotel there is the publishing house Melantrich.From the balcony of the second floor Havel and Dubček had one of their biggest speech in front of a crowd of 1,000,000 people during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. We go to Štěpánská and turn right to the Lucerna Passage. These passages are typical of Prague both in the Old Town and here in the New Town. This is very famous because it was built by the grandfather of former President Havel. It ‘s a huge complex of buildings including a theatre and a disco underground and a cinema on the first floor. Entering the passage you can see the old elevators that never stops. You must jump in and out at the right time. A little further you can see a statue with a horse upside-down. It makes fun of the statue of Wenceslas on the top of the square and represents the horse tired of the weigh of the knight. Let’s get out of the passage and turn to the left in Vodičkova.Don’t forget to look at the house U Novaku, another nice example of Art Deco. We walk along the street to the end so we reach the Charles Square; this is the biggest square of Prague and once was the Cattle Market. You can see the old Town Hall with its tower from 1400. Here there was the First Prague Defenestration in 1419.

Looks like Defenestrations are a habit in this country since after this first one the Second followed. It was the most important in 1618 from the windows of the Prague Castle that was the starting point of the Thirty Years War. The most recent occurred in 1948 in the Černín Palace in Hradčany. The victim was the son of TG. Masaryk, the first president of the Czechoslovakian Republic. His name was Jan Masaryk and he was the only non-communist member of the government after the coup d’état in 1948 so he was found dead in the yard of the Palace. He was suicided! There is also a baroque church of Saint Ignacio of Loyola because it was part of a huge Jesuit convent now a hospital. We take Resslova Street and walk down to the river where we can see the Dancing House built in 1996 by F.O. Gehry, the American architect who built also the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From here we turn right on the bank of the river. While looking at the nice façades of the buildings we reach the National Theatre, the second great monument of Czech Renaissance of late 1800. Few days after the great opening it burned and Smetana, the Czech composer managed to collect the money in three months and it was built again in two years rejoining all the main artists of the period.

I guess you might want to take a break, do you? Well we are in the right place! In front of the theatre in Národní Třída there is the Café Slavia with a nice view to the most common Prague panorama: the Castle and Charles bridge. After your long meditation we start again along Národní Třidá keeping the right side, not to miss the two nice façades Art Deco on the opposite side. Near the theatre there is a modern building that was supposed to replace temporary replace the old theatre during reconstruction but then (sigh!) it remained. It is the Laterna Magika a special show created for the Bruxelles expo of 1958 and still playing. It is a mix of cinema and theatre.

Under the passage of the building n.18 there is a memorial of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution on Nov.17, 1989.

At the end of the street we arrive at Jungmann Square where we can see a unique building. It’s the Palace Adria built in Rondo-Cubist style. As the one on the opposite side of the street it belonged to the Italian insurance company Reale Adriatica di Sigurtà. In front of the Bata Building in the same square you can see a Cubist street light. Through 28 října street we get to the bottom of Wenceslas Square. This area is called Můstek, which means little bridge. There was a moat dividing the Old and the New towns in the past. We take the Na Příkopě, which means On the Moat, and let’s keep looking at the façades because they are very nice. We are now in Republic Square-Nám. Republiky- where we can admire the best example of Art Deco in town. This is the Municipal House or in Czech Obecní dům. It was built from 1906 to 1912 and now it is used for concerts and exhibitions. At the ground floor there are a cafe and a French restaurant. In the cellar there is a Czech Pub and at the first floor there is a huge concert hall, the Smetana Hall where is there is the opening concert of the Prague spring a musical festival held in May. Once there was here a Royal Court abandoned in the late 1400 when the kings went back to the safer Castle. On the left you see a tower that once was the gate of the Old Town, then it became part of the Royal Court and it was later abandoned to be used in 1700 as storage for the gunpowder. Now it is called the Powder Tower. We walk now to Hybernská where we can see another nice Art Deco building, the Hotel Central made by the same architects of the Hotel Europa in Wenceslas square. A little further there was the American Cultural Center. Wow! How History changes… this was the Lenin Museum in the past!

On the opposite side of the street on the corner it just opened again the Café Arco meeting place of Kafka, Brod and friends. They were named the Arconauts for this reason. Give a look around the corner on the left and you can see the first train station of Prague from 1845, now only for local traffic dedicated to the first president TG Masaryk. We take the Dlážděná Street to Senovážné Nám the old Hay Market. The buildings in the middle don’t allow us to see the whole square. We turn right and left to Jeruzalémská where we can see the Synagogue of the Jubilee built at the beginning of 1900 in Moresque-Art Deco style. At the end of the street we are in front of the Main station worth a look inside of the old part so we cross the park and enter the modern station to go upstairs. This is another nice example of Art Deco. We go back to the park and take Washingtonova to go back to our starting point, Wenceslas Square.

Enjoy your walk!

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