A Walking Tour of Prague’s New Town and Old Town Historic Areas
Jitka also explained that Wenceslas Square played a major role in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution when Czechoslovakia transitioned from Communist rule to a democratic nation. She personally remembers the events very clearly because she had just moved to Prague shortly before and witnessed many of these events first-hand.
Prague’s Hotel Ambassador on Wenceslas Square
On November 17, 1989, thousands of students participated in a peaceful demonstration that came in from National Avenue and moved onto Wenceslas Square. The demonstration was suppressed by police. As a result demonstrations continued for the next few days, even a general strike was held on November 27, 1989. Finally on November 28, the Communist Party announced that it would give up power and allow a multi-party state. Communism had fallen, and Wenceslas Square had played a major role in these historic developments as a location of many of these history-making demonstrations.
Facades on Wenceslas Square
Crossing the Na Prikope Street we now entered Prague’s Old Town district. Karel pointed out the open air Havaski Market that is open daily and sells vegetables, flowers and souvenirs. This market dates back to 1230 when the first small market was opened in this location. The original market was an egg market. Walking on cobblestone streets that got ever narrower, I started to get a feel for the historic core of Prague.
First impressions of Old Town Prague
One of the things that really fascinate me about Prague are the many interconnected passageways, many of them with picturesque inner courtyards, that connect historic buildings in the inner city, giving the place a very romantic feel. Through a narrow street we finally reached the Little Square, a triangular shaped square that features a historic well in the centre. Karel stopped to explain some examples of historic house signs that can be found in the centre of Prague.
Example of some of Prague’s medieval house signs
House signs started to come into being in the early 15th century since there had been no numbering systems on houses. Frequently used symbols include lions and various coats of arms of established families. Karel pointed out places like the House of the Golden Lily, House of the Golden Crown, the House of the Little Blue Horse etc. All the images on the house signs correspond exactly to the names of the houses.
Prague’s Old Town Square: a magnificent collection of architecture
From Little Square we were just steps away from Old Town Square, the heart of Prague’s Old Town and probably the city’s most visited area. I was simply blown away by the gorgeous Gothic-era architecture that frames this medieval square. Starting first and foremost with the Church of Our Lady before Tyn on the east side, I was marveling at the unusual towers of this church that was started way back in 1365. Karel explained that the towers are of unequal size, that’s why they are often referred to as Adam and Eve.
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn: my favourite building
The square itself was originally used as a fish market, starting in the 9th century AD. From the 12th century onwards, Czech, Jewish and German merchants came together here to sell their goods. Due to its proximity to the Vltava River, the square often got flooded, and in the Middle Ages it was decided to raise the level of the square by filling it in up to a height of 4 metres. This means that many of the ground floors of these buildings now became cellars. Many of the Romanesque area cellars have today been converted into restaurants and bars, and the original rounded vaults can still be seen today.
The brightly painted facades of Old Town Prague
The east side of Old Town Square features a beautiful collection of historic buildings, including the Gothic-era House of the Stone Bell, which used to be the seat of the Czech royals. Beside it is the Kinsky Palace, one of the most outstanding examples of Rococo architecture. Originally built as a palace for an aristocratic family, this palace was turned into a grammar school in the early 20th century and today is used by the National Gallery for temporary exhibitions.
The monument to Jan Hus in the middle of Old Town Square