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Malá Strana

This time I will take you for a walk around Malá Strana, which is also my favorite district. Try to imagine for a while that car didn’t exist and cancel a few other details of the Modern times and here, more than elsewhere in Prague you will jump back into the past. This district has remained untouched for centuries keeping its renaissance, but mostly baroque dress. After a daytime visit I would also suggest to come here after dark to enhance your feelings about the district.

The name means Little Town, Lesser District or Lesser Town.The name has changed though… We know of existing settlements under the Castle already in the IX Century but we would have to wait until the XIII Century to have a town. King Otakar II founded in 1257 The New Town under The Castle; that was its name once but it was quite small for the growing population. A century later Charles IV founded in a larger area on the other bank of the river the New Town so from that time on it was named Malá Strana. The gothic look of this district was swept away by two events, one of human origin the other natural. The city was completely destroyed during Hussites war in 1400 and the little part that was restored was canceled by a fire that started in the lower part of the main square of the district. Several communities of Italians arrived in Prague in the second half of 1500 and chose this district as settlement. They brought with them the new styles born on the other side of the Alps, Renaissance and Baroque, so Prague started to change its look. In 1784, Joseph II joined the different cities to create the historic core of Prague thus also Malá Strana became part of the newly born city. All the families who arrived here with the Habsburg chose this district for their residences due to the vicinity to the Castle and now these palaces are Embassies so that we could say that Malá Strana is the District of Embassies.

How to get there

The nearest Metro station is Malostranská line A, Green. Tram 22 crosses the entire district with different stops.

A walk around Malá Strana

I will follow a route but I would suggest to wander around this district to discover its hidden spots. Let’s start from the Metro station and take Valdštejnská Street to Valdštejnské Náměstí. From the beginning of our route we passed along a side façade of a palace and now we have in front the main façade. This is the Valdštejn Palace. Valdštejn was a general who was on the Protestants side in 1600, but after 1620, when the Habsburg got the absolute power, he moved to their side to betray them later during the Thirty Years war. Thanks to his military victories the Emperor allowed him to build this Palace in early baroque style. A few years ago it was the Ministry of Culture but later it became the Senate This to demonstrate that Politics is more important than Culture… You can visit the Gardens from Letenská Street, opened from 9.00 to 19.00 from April to through September. From this square we turn to Sněmovní and then Thunovská. Before the street gets narrower you will find a bust of Churchill announcing the English Embassy. The narrowest part of the street was used in the movie Amadeus. Let’s go up and turn down into the first street on the left. We are now in the upper part of the main square divided by the ex Jesuit College-now the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the University-and the Church of Saint Nicholas, considered the Baroque Masterpiece in Prague. We turn to Nerudova, one of the most picturesque streets in Prague, which takes its name from Jan Neruda, a novelist who lived in this street and wrote novels placed in this district. Pablo Neruda, after reading these novels “stole’ the name to use it as a pseudonym.

This street has the most famous house signs in Prague:

N.12 House At the Three Violins, because a famous family of lute-makers lived here.
N.16 House At the Golden Chalice. There was a goldsmith shop.

Prague house signs

Before 1700 Prague houses had no numbers and they were marked with sign according to the profession of the inhabitants or something religious or natural. Marie Theresa of Austria founded the Land Register in the second half of 1700. This number is still in use and it’s the one on the red background; the other on the blue background is the modern civic number.

I would suggest you to look up to appreciate all the façades but this is effective around the whole city. A little further than the place when the street gets narrower we turn down the stairway on the left and turn to Šporkova with a little turn left we reach a little square dominated by the Lobkoviz Palace now the German Embassy. Look back and you will see the Italian Cultural Center part of the Embassy. They have many activities to join the two cultures.It has been for centuries the settlement of the Italian Community in Prague.

We go down along Vlašská and Tržiště. A little further we can see the American Embassy. This was a Palace of apartments at the beginning of 1900 and also Kafka lived her for a while. During the communist regime there was the flying flag of The Country of Liberty from the baroque pavilion of the Embassy. It was a contradiction or an unreachable dream for those who lived outside.

From Tržiště we take a detour to see the lower part of the main square, so we turn left. N.21. This was the Town Hall until 1784, now it’s a concert hall for pop music.
N.19 On the place of this Palace there was the construction from which started the big fire of 1541, which reached the upper part of Hradčany.
N.18 Now is the Parliament but the cellars in the past hosted the reunion to decide the Prague Defenestration of 1618.

We go back to Karmelitská and we visit, on the right side, the Church of Our Lady of the Victory, famous for the Holy Infant of Prague. This is a small statue of Spanish origin and it has been here in Prague since 1600. It’s made of wood covered with wax and people say that it has the power to help children and women with difficult childbirth.

From the church we turn left and cross the street to enter Harantova and continue to Maltézské Nám. In the square we turn left. We are in front of the Church of Our Lady under the chain, the oldest church in this district, which is part of a large ensemble of buildings belonging to the Maltese Knights. The church was founded in romanesque style but later turned down to be built again in gothic style, but the restoring never came to an end and instead of the nave we have a lawn. On the left we have the Maltese Embassy but before 1989 it was the Museum of Musical Instruments and was used for the movie Amadeus as Salieri’s House, Mozart’s rival in the movie.

We now enter the square nearby with the French Embassy. A little further on the left there is the John Lennon Wall. This wall was started soon after the assassination of the popular singer in 1980. At that time his music was forbidden here because it was praising a freedom that didn’t exist. Prague youth dedicated this wall to John Lennon and of course the police didn’t like it. They even placed cameras to monitor who was coming here to paint in order to arrest him. This is a symbol of the fight between youth and the regime. Unfortunately this is not the original. It was panted and painted again many times. You can find the original portrait on postcards or t-shirts.

We now cross the bridge and take the narrowest street at the end. This is the island Kampa. Kampa comes from the Latin Campus because in the past there was only a lawn here. Many houses were built from 1600 on to create the little square where we stand now. This square and the bank of the river at our right is famous for the movie Mission Impossible I. Let’s go to the bank to take advantage of a wonderful view of Charles Bridge and the Old Town. The last house on the bank near the snack bar has a sign marking the level of the water in the two most recent floods. People who lived on this island didn’t pay taxes because of the humidity in their houses…

From this square we can take the staircase to the Charles Bridge or pass under the bridge and continue to U Lužického Semináře and reach the Metro station where we began our tour.

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