A Walking Tour of Prague’s New Town and Old Town Historic Areas
The centre of Old Town Square is home to a statue of Jan Hus, a 15th century religious reformer who criticized the Catholic Church for many of its excesses. Denounced as a heretic, he was burned at the stake in 1415. He was a key contributor to the Protestant movement in Europe and his teachings had a significant influence on Martin Luther who initiated the Protestant Reformation about a century later.
The baroque-era Church of St. Nicholas
On a location that has held a church since the 12th century, the baroque Church of St. Nicholas dominates the northern side of the square. The western side of Old Town Square is home to one of Prague’s most popular sights: Old Town Hall, a striking Gothic building that was built in 1338.
Prague’s Old Town Hall holds one of the city’s most celebrated attractions: the Astronomical Clock, which delights the crowds with its hourly ritual when 12 carved apostles make an appearance, followed by the crowing of a rooster and the chiming of the bell on the hour. Big crowds of people gather here every hour, and we were lucky that we caught the 6 o’clock performance.
Prague’s Old Town Hall, another beautiful medieval building
The north side of the Old Town Hall was destroyed by fire on May 7 and 8, 1945 when the Nazi army tried to suppress the Prague Uprising at the very end of World War II. Unfortunately the Prague archives were housed in this building, and with the fire all the city’s records were destroyed as well. This is the location of a small park on the west side of the square today. A plaque with the inscription “Dukla” on the east façade of the Old Town Hall reminds us of an important WWII battle that helped to liberate Czechoslovakia from the Nazi occupiers.
Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock
In front of Old Town Hall are 27 white crosses embedded in the pavement, a memory to 27 Protestant leaders that were executed here in 1621. Obviously Old Town Square has seen many significant events over the last many centuries. From here Jitka and Karel took me to a gorgeous historic hotel, the Hotel By the Prince.
Impressive wooden portal of Prague’s Old Town Hall
We walked all the way up to the roof terrace from where a magnificent view over Old Town Square and beyond opened up. Jitka added that this hotel probably provides the best view of Old Prague anywhere. We could even see the far away Siskov Hills and Prague’s unpopular TV tower. Looking westwards we had a great view of Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery and Petrin Hill with its miniature Eiffel Tower. Jitka added that the Hotel By the Prince is very popular with British tourists as a wedding location.
Phenomenal viewo over Old Town Square from the Hotel by the Prince
We then walked through the Clementinum, an expansive Baroque-era university complex, and Marianske Square which features Prague’s modern Town Hall, built in 1912. This building is adorned by a statue of Rabbi Loew, an important Talmudic Scholar of the late 16h century who, according to legend, created a human being from clay, the golem.
Prague’s modern Town Hall
Our walk then took us to the Knights of the Cross Square which is the entrance to the historic Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most popular sights. The Charles Bridge was started in 1357 under King Charles IV and was finished in the early 1400s. This stone bridge was built to replace an earlier bridge from the 1100s, the Judita or Judith Bridge. This more than 500 metre long bridge forms the connection between Old Town and Prague Castle and is an important part of the Coronation Route that Czech kings took when they ascended the throne.
The Old Town Bridge Tower on the east side of the Vltava River
The Knights of the Cross Square also features two baroque churches: the Church of St. Francis, on the north side, and the Church of the Holy Saviour on the east side which is also part of the Clementinum complex. A large, dark brown Gothic tower marks the eastern entrance to the Charles Bridge and we walked about half-way onto the bridge from where we had a phenomenal panorama of the riverfront and Prague Castle. 30 stone statues of religious personalities adorn the bridge. Prague is also known as the “City of 100 Spires”, and from the bridge we were able to see a whole assortment of church towers on both sides of the river.
One of the 30 religious statues on the Charles Bridge
After our visit on the Charles Bridge we turned around, and Jitka announced our plans for the evening: a visit to a real Czech beer hall!