Staromeske Namesti, Prague’s Old Town Square
The Old Town Square, or Staromestke Namesti, is one of Prague’s busiest, most beautiful and most memorable corners.
Staromeske Namesti began life in the 10th century as a market place. Merchants from all over Bohemia and Europe came to buy and sell in the flourishing new city of Prague. In 1338, The Old Town hall was added to house Prague’s first city council and the square became the centre of civic administration and community life.
The Old Town Square has a stunning parade of Czech architecture, with Romanesque, Mediaeval, Gothic, Baroque and Cubist buildings side by side. The Old Town Hall, the Church of St Nicholas and the old baroque palace which now houses the National Gallery, are three of its stars.
At the centre of Staromeske Namesti stands the monument to the great Czech reformer and nationalist Jan Hus . Hus, who was the first Rector of Charles University, was a vehement critic of the corrupt Catholic Church and the Papacy. His incineration at the stake led to the 14th and 15th century Hussite wars. The statue was erected on July 6th, 1915, to mark the anniversary of Jan Hus’ death.
Today Staromeske Nemesti swarms with sightseers. The market tradition continues, but in a 21st century guise. Souvenir shops and galleries ply their trade to visitors from all over the world. It is fringed with restaurants and cafes where the people of Prague mingle with tourists. Staromeske Namesti is the meeting point for hundreds of different city tours
If the Old Town Square is the hub and heart of historic, touristic Prague, then Wenceslas Square is the centre of the modern, popular city.
Originally designed in 1348 by the Emperor Charles IV as a horse market, the 750 by 60 metre square is in fact more of a rectangle. More a Boulevard than a Square in function, it is lined with shops, hotels, casinos, restaurants, discos, offices and food stands. Traffic rolls continually up one side and down the other and trams cut across its centre. Its pavements and gardens are crowded with people day and night.
At the top end of Wenceslas Square the golden cupola of the National Museum dominates the skyline. From just below the grand old building, St Wenceslas, the legendary father of the Czech nation, surveys the scene through unblinking stone eyes. Interestingly, Wenceslas’ horse, or rather its tail, is a favourite meeting place for the people of Prague.
Just below the Wenceslas statue, a small round flowerbed with a modest memorial remembers the “victims of communism” Nearby a small bronze cross marks the place where 20 year ole philosophy student Jan Palach set fire to himself on January 16, 1969, in protest against the Soviet invasion. One million people attended his funeral which turned into a major demonstration against the communist regime.
Since the death of Jan Palach, Wenceslas Square has become a national symbol and the traditional centre for demonstrations and protests.