PRAGUE — Old Town

At the centre of Prague is Old Town (Staré Měsot) and at the centre of Old Town is the Old Town Square. Markets have been held in the Old Town Square since the early 11th century. Houses and churches were built around the square and many of the streets surrounding it are centuries old. The Old Town is mostly free of traffic and contains a lot of the great historic buildings of Prague. It is a wonderful place to wander through and sit in giving you a true sense of the beauty and importance of the city of Prague.

The sights found here are:
Old Town Square
Municipal House
Powder Gate
Celetná Street
Church of St James
Estates Theatre
Carolinum
Church of Our Lady before Týn
Kinský Palace
Jan Hus Monument
Church of St Nicholas
Old Town Hall
House at the Two Golden Bears
Church of St Gall
Church of St Martin in the Wall
Náprstek Museum
Church of St Giles
Bethlehem Chapel
Clam-Gallas Palace
Mariánské Square
Charles Street
Palace of the Lords of Kunštát
Clementinum
Smetana Museum
Knights of the Cross Square

Old Town Square

Old Town Square
The Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměsit) is one of two main squares in the city centre. The other one is Wenceslas Square which is found in the New Town. With its ancient buildings and magnificent churches, this would have to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The square dates back to the 11th century and it was formerly the central marketplace for Prague. The only surviving piece of original architecture is the Pauline Monastery which is found on the north side of the square. On the east side is the House of the Stone Bell which was a town palace and the Kinský Palace. The square is a focal point of the city of Prague as well as being a place for tourists and locals to gather in the many cafes and restaurants found here.

Municipal House

Municipal House
Municipal House (Obecní Dům) is the most famous Art Nouveau building in Prague and is found on Republic Square which is is close to the Old Town Square. It is the home of one of the city’s best concert halls and a French restaurant. It was built in 1911 on the site of the former Royal Court Palace. It is famous as the place where the declaration of the independent state of Czechoslovakia took place in 1918. The building is beautiful with its intricate stonework, gold trimmings, frescos and stained glass windows. Of particular note is the large semi-circular mosaic found above the entrance which was decorated by Karel Spillar who was a leading Czech artist of the early 20th century. Inside you will find the magnificent Smetana Hall with its beautiful decorations and is used for concerts and sometimes as a ballroom.
For information about this building visit the website at: http://www.obecnidum.cz/web/en/guide-to-the-municipal-house-

Powder Gate

Powder Gate
Powder Gate (Prašná Bráan) is one of the symbols of Prague and its origins date back to the 11th century when the original gate found here was one of 13 entrances to Prague’s Old Town. The gate found here today was built by master builder Matèj Rejsek during the reign of King Vladislav II in 1475 and was modelled on the Old Town Bridge Tower. The gate was important to Prague as it was where the monarchs would pass through on their way to being crowned at St Vitus’s Cathedral. In more recent times its importance faded and it was renamed from its original name of New Tower to Powder Gate in the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder. It is one of the few remnants of the fortifications that once surrounded Prague.

Traveller's Tip

You can go inside the Powder Gate to see an exhibition including photos by Ladislav Sitensky. It is also possible to climb 186 steps to reach a viewing platform for views over the Old Town.
For information about the times and prices visit the following website: http://www.praguetowers.com/en/powderatower-1404036536.html
House of the Black Madonna

Celetná Street
This street runs from the Old Town Square to the Powder Gate and is full of souvenir shops, small cafes and restaurants. It is one of the oldest streets in Prague and is named after the the plaited bread rolls that were made here in the Middle Ages. Celetná Street (Celetná Ulice)is a part of the Royal Route where Czech monarchs would travel on their way to being crowned at Prague Castle. Many of the buildings on this street are decorated with wonderful signs including the most famous one which is at no 34 and is called the House At The Black Madonna. This building was the first cubist building in Europe and inside there is a small collection of Cubist paintings, sculpture and furniture.
For information about the House At The Black Madonna visit the following website: http://www.cmvu.cz/en1813m-/house-of-black-madonna/

Traveller's Tip

This is a wonderful street to stroll down with its beautifully decorated buildings and if you are interested in architecture it is a must.
Church of St James

Church of St James
The huge Church of St James (Kostel sv Jakuba) is one of the most beautiful churches in Prague with its wonderful interior decorations of red, green and black marble inlays, carved angels and paintings. The church has 23 chapels and is the second largest church in Prague, after St Vitus’s Cathedral. The original Gothic church was built in 1373 but was destroyed by fire and in 1689 a new Baroque church was built for an Order of Franciscans. Inside the church there are around 20 altars decorated by the artists Jan Jiří Heinsch, Franz Voget, Petr Brandl and Václav Vavřinec Reiner. A mass is held every Sunday and the choir and organ which dates from 1702 are considered one of the best in the country, especially because of the wonderful acoustics of the church. There are concerts and recitals held here on a regular basis.

There are a few ghoulish stories associated with this church including the one about Count Vratislav. After he was buried, people could hear dreadful sounds coming from his tomb and it was thought that his spirit couldn’t find peace so holy water was sprinkled on the tomb. After few days the sound stopped but when the tomb was opened again several years later, they found the coffin damaged and the remains of the count outside the coffin. He had been buried alive and when he woke inside the coffin he had tried to alert the people in the church but to no avail. There is another story about the artist, Václav Vavřinec Reiner who decorated the main altar. He was apparently protected whilst painting a picture on the altar when everybody around him died of plague but the moment he finished painting his last brushstroke he was infected and died the same day.

Traveller's Tip

When you enter the church you will notice on the right a mummified forearm hanging there which is more than 400 years old. It belonged to a thief who tried to steal some jewels from the Madonna on the high altar. Legend has it that the Madonna grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let it go until the next morning when the monks came and tried to separate the thief from the Madonna. They had to cut his arm so the Madonna would let go of his hand. The monks hung the arm as a warning to other thieves.

Estates Theatre
The Estate theatre (Stavovské Divadlo) in Prague is one of the most beautiful theatres in Europe. It was built by Count Nostitz in 1783 in the Neo-Classical style and over the years has changed very little. It is famous for being the venue that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart chose to launch his opera Don Giovanni. In 1934 a musical comedy Fidlovačka was performed here for the first time and one of the songs from this show — Kde domov můj? (Where Is My Home?) became the Czech national anthem. The Estates Theatre is connected with other great names including the leader of the theatre orchestra Carl Maria von Weber, singer Angelica Catalani, Niccolo Paganini, conductors Anton Rubinstein, Carl Goldmark, Gustav Mahler and many others.
For information about the theatre visit the website at: http://www.estatestheatre.cz/

Carolinum
The Carolinum (Karolinum) complex is found at the centre of the Charles University that was founded by Charles IV in 1348. The university had lecture rooms, assembly halls, accommodation for lecturers, a spa and even a prison. After 1620 the university was taken over by the Jesuits who connected the Carolinum with their college in Clementinum. The Carolinum consisted of 17 houses including a chapel and a large hall for university ceremonies and graduations. This hall has a wall that is decorated with a tapestry of Charles IV kneeling in front of St Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia. This is the motif seen on the Charles University’s seal. You can still see the original chapel, arcade and walls of the Carolinum today. Worthy of notice is a fine Gothic oriel window from 1370. The Carolinum is open during ceremonies, special events or on open days.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Church of Our Lady before Týn
The Church of Our Lady Before Týn (Kostel Matky Boží Před Týnem) dominates one side of the Old Town Square and its two spires can be seen from all over Prague. The Gothic church you see today was founded in 1385 which was a time of reform in Bohemia. From the early 15th century until 1620 it was the main Hussite church in Prague complete with the Hussite symbol of the gold chalice. After 1621 the Catholic Jesuits took over the church and replaced this symbol with a large figure of Mary nailed between the towers. This church is magnificent by day but at night it is absolutely striking when it is lit up against the dark night sky.

Traveller's Tip

Take a close look at the two spires and you will see that they are not symmetrical. This is characteristic of Gothic architecture of the time and is a representation of both the masculine and feminine sides of the world.
Kinský Palace

Kinský Palace
The Kinský Palace (Palác Kinských) is a Rococo palace with a beautiful pink and white stucco facade and is found on the Old Town Square. It was originally built for Count Jan Arnost Goltz in 1755-65 and after his death it was bought by the Kinský family who stayed in the palace until 1945 and until recently it housed exhibitions for the National Gallery. The palace is connected with the names of some famous people. These include the Austrian writer, Baroness Bertha von Suttner who was born there in 1843 and who was the first person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. The palace was used as a German speaking grammar school that was attended by Franz Kafka. On 25th February 1948 Klement Gottwald, the leader of the Communist party of Czechoslovakia, addressed the crowds from the balcony of Kinský Palace to inform them about the beginning of the Communist era and on the same day 42 years later, President Vaclav Havel declared that the Communism era had ended.
For information about the Kinský Palace visit the following website: http://www.ngprague.cz/en/6/sekce/kinsky-palace/

Traveller's Tip

When you look at this building from the outside note that it isn’t in line with the neighbouring buildings but protrudes a bit into the square. There was a rumour at the time that the town council didn’t want to allow the palace to have a special position so Goltz bribed three councilmen to obtain the permit. The position of the palace was only noticed by the other councilmen when it was almost finished and so nobody wanted to destroy it. Goltz was taken to court but because he had the permit from the three councilmen in his hand, he was released. The three councilmen, however, were hanged in front of the palace. This rumour was proved wrong as the architect only followed the original position of previous buildings.
Jan Hus Monument

Jan Hus Monument
The Jan Hus Monument (Pomník Jana Husa) is a large monument found in the middle of the Old Town Square. It is a statue of the religious reformer and Czech hero, Jan Hus who was burned at the stake for his heretic views by the Council of Constance in 1415. This statue was designed by Ladislav Saloun and unveiled in 1915 on the 500th anniversary of Hus’ death. The monument consists of victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants forced into exile 200 years later. There is also a young mother symbolising national rebirth as well as the dominant figure of Jan Hus.

Church of St Nicholas Old Town

Church of St Nicholas
The beautiful Baroque church of St Nicholas (Kostel sv Mikuláše) is found on the Old Town Square and was completed in 1735. It replaced a parish church dating back to 1273. The brilliant white facade of St Nicholas is magnificent especially when the sun hits it during the day and at night when it is lit up with strong white lights. The interior of the church was inspired by the chapel of St Louis des Invalides in Paris. The church is decorated with sculptures by Antonín Braun and frescos by Kosmas Damian Asam. In 1781 Emperor Joseph 11 closed a lot of monasteries and the church was stripped bare. From 1870-1914 St Nicholas became Russian Orthodox. In WW1 the church was used by troops and with the help of artists the church was restored to its former glory. After the war, St Nicholas was handed over to the Czech Hussite movement and it remains with them today. It now serves as both a church and a magnificent venue for classical concerts.
For information about the church and concerts visit the website at: http://www.psalterium.cz/en/start_en.php

Traveller's Tip

You can visit the tower of the church for a wonderful view over the city.
For information about the times and prices visit the following website: http://www.praguetowers.com/vez-kostelu-sv-mikulase-na-male-strane.html
Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice) is one of the most prominent and striking buildings found in the Old Town. It was established in 1338 when the population of Prague were given their own district council by King John of Luxembourg. In former times the building first served as the city hall of the Old Town and later for the whole of Prague but these days it is only used for ceremonial functions as well as housing the Prague Tourist Information Centre. Over time the building has suffered damage but has also been fully restored and there have been many additions made including the Old Town Hall Tower which was added in 1364. Some of the other striking features include the Oriel Chapel with is beautiful stained glass windows and ornate ceilings and the late Gothic main entrance door. Probably the most famous addition to this building would have to be the Astronomical Clock which is found on the tower. It has mechanical figures of the 12 Apostles who perform above the zodiac signs and there is a calendar below. Most of the mechanism of the clock is still used today and was made by Jan Táborsch between 1552 and 1572. This clock is one of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions and the crowds gather before it every hour on the hour. At night it is lit up and the sight is quite spectacular.

Traveller's Tip

Inside the Old Town Hall Tower there is a staircase and lift that you can use to get to the top of the tower for some wonderful views over the Old Town.
For information about the times and prices visit the following website: http://www.praguetowers.com/staromestska-radnice-a-vez.html
House at the Two Golden Bears

House at the Two Golden Bears
The House at the Two Golden Bears (Dům U Dvou Zlatých Medvědů) is a large Renaissance house built in 1567 and is one of the oldest houses in Prague. It is found at the corner of Melantrichova and Kozna Streets in the Old Town. The front portal which was added in 1590 is very ornate with its relief of the two bears which are found at the top on each side and the flower motifs. In the past the bears were gilded and this is what the house is named for. The house has had many owners during its history including a brewery in the 15th century and the writer Egon Erwin Kisch, a Jewish writer known for the force of his left-wing ideas, was born there in 1885.

Traveller's Tip

There is a rumour that secret corridors lead from the basement of this house to the Old Town City Hall and to the Church of Our Lady before Týn.
Church of St Gall

Church of St Gall
The Church of St Gall (Kostel sv Havla) was founded in the 13th century and was one of the four Old Town parish churches. It was built for the German community in the area of Gall’s Town (Havelské Měsot) but in the 14th century this area merged with Old Town. It became a Carmelite monastery in 1627 and was an important centre for the reform movement and Jan Hus and Jan of Nepomuk preached here. In the chapel there is a tomb of the well-known Bohemian Baroque artist Karel Skreta who painted some of the pictures found in the church. The facade of the church is beautiful with some wonderful statues of saints by Ferdinand Brokof.

Traveller's Tip

The Church of Gall is found in Halveská Street where a market has been held since the Middle Ages. It is a great place to visit and here you will find flowers, vegetables, toys and clothing. It is open every day from 7am to 7 pm in Summer and 7am to 6.30 pm in Winter.
Church of St Martin in the Wall

Church of St Martin in the Wall
The Church of St Martin in the Wall (Kostel sv Martina Ve Zdi) was built in the Romanesque style from 1178-1187. It is a wonderfully preserved church found in the back streets of the Old Town and is just a few minutes walk from the Old Town Square. The south wall of the church backed onto the Old Town wall and this is where the name came from. In the 14th and 15th centuries the church was rebuilt and enlarged in the Gothic style you see today. The church was the first church to serve blessed wine to the congregation instead of just for the sole use of the clergy. The church is open for Sunday services and classical concerts are performed here as well. The acoustics in this church are wonderful.

Náprstek Museum
The Náprstek Museum (Náprstkovo Muzeum) was founded by Vojta Náprstek who was an art patron and philanthropist. He created a museum in 1862 as a tribute to modern industry on his return to Prague after he was exiled in the USA after the 1848 revolution. The museum progressed into one of ethnography and today you will find collections of native culture from North and South America, Asia and Africa including coins, weapons and spiritual objects.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.nm.cz/?xSET=lang&xLANG=2

Church of St Giles
The Church of St Giles (Kostel sv Jiljí) was founded in 1371 and became a Hussite parish church in 1420. In 1620 the church was taken over by the Dominicans and you will find their monastery on the southern side of the church. The church has a beautiful Gothic portal on the southern side but the interior is in the Baroque style. This church is also a cultural and educational centre. The vaults of the church are decorated with some wonderful frescoes.

Traveller's Tip

This church was used in the film Amadeus. it is the place of Mozart’s wedding stage.

Bethlehem Chapel
Bethlehem Chapel (Betlémská Kaple) was founded in 1391 as a place where church services could be held in the Czech language. Jan Hus preached here between 1402 and 1412. In 1620 the building was given to the Jesuits and it was rebuilt. In 1786 it was almost destroyed and after WW2 it was rebuilt in the old style with some of the original walls.

Clam-Gallas Palace

Clam-Gallas Palace
The Clam-Gallas Palace (Clam-Gallasův Palác) is one of the most beautiful palaces in Prague. It was built in 1713 for the Supreme Marshal of Bohemia, Jan Gallas de Campo in the Baroque style. Magnificent balls and concerts were held there which were attended by Mozart and Beethoven played a concert there. When the Gallas family died out in 1757, the palace was left to Kristian Filip of Clam, a nephew of the Gallas family. In more recent times it has been used to store the city archives. The exterior of the palace is decorated with statues of Hercules by Matthias Braun and inside there is a beautiful staircase with some ceiling frescoes by the Italian artist Carlo Carlone.

Mariánské Square
Mariánské Square (Mariánské Náměstí) is dominated by two statues. The first is of Rabbi L öw, a scholar and philosopher, finally being caught by the Angel of Death and the other is a statue of the Iron Man, a local ghost who had to wander around the Old Town after he murdered his mistress. Part of the garden wall of Clamm-Gallas Palace is found on the southern side of the square. Here you will find a statue of the River Vltava known as Terezka.

Charles Street

Charles Street
Charles Street (Karlova Ulice) dates back to the 12th century and is part of the Royal Route where the monarchs used to pass on their way to their coronation at the Prague castle. There are many Gothic and Renaissance houses that are found along this street even today although many have been converted into tourist shops, cafes and small hotels. Some of the more interesting ones to watch out for are no 18 which is the House at the Golden Snake and no 3 which is At the Golden Well. This house which is a hotel and restaurant has a magnificent Baroque facade with reliefs of the saints, Roch and Sebastian.

Palace of the Lords of Kunštát
In the basement of the Palace of the Lords of Kunštát (Dům Pánů Z Kunštátu) which dates from around 1200 you will find three of the best preserved Romanesque rooms in Prague. The palace was enlarged in the 15th century in the Gothic style. It houses a historical exhibition to the Hussite king, George of Poděbrady who lived in the house for a time.

Clementinum
Clementinum (Klementinum)is the second largest complex of buildings in Prague, after Prague Castle and covers an area of 20,000 square metres. In 1556 the Jesuits established their headquarters here which was formerly the Dominican monastery of St Clement. The building of the Clementinum took nearly two hundred years. The complex consisted of the new Church of St. Clement, the Church of the Holy Saviour, the Convent building, the Chapel of Mirrors, classrooms, halls, utility buildings, cells, an observatory, a printing house, a theatre and an observatory dome. Famous architects, such as Carlo Lurago, Francesco Lurago, Giovanni Domenico Orsi, Paul Ignaz Bayer, Franciscus Maxmilian Kaňka and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer all had a part in the construction. Today it is the site of the National Library.
For information about the Clementinum visit the website at: http://www.klementinum.com/index.php?linkID=lnk6&lang=2

Traveller's Tip

Be sure to see one of the concerts that are held in the beautiful Chapel of Mirrors if you can although these will not begin again until the end of 2010 because of building reconstruction work.
  • There are guided tours of the Clementinum showing you some of its treasures such as the Baroque Library Hall and the Astronomical Tower but these are not available until the end of 2010 due to the reconstruction work.

    Smetana Museum
    The Smetana Museum (Muzeum Bedřicha Smetany) is found on a small narrow bit of land next to the river Vltava. The former Neo-Renaissance waterworks has been turned into a museum dedicated to Bedřich Smetana who was considered the father of Czech music as he was the first composer to write music that was specifically Czech in character and was an influence on other composers such as Dvořák. The museum houses documents, letters, musical scores and instruments detailing Smetana’s life.
    For information about this museum visit the website at: http://www.nm.cz/sluzby-detail.php?f_id=40

    Knights of the Cross Square

    Knights of the Cross Square
    The Knights of the Cross Square (Křižovnicke Náměstí) is one of the smallest squares in Prague and is found near the Old Town Tower Bridge. It is a popular place with tourists and standing in it you will have great views over the river. In the middle of the square is a Neo-Gothic statue from 1848 of Charles IV leaning against a sword and holding the deed of foundation of Charles University in Prague. The statue was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Charles University. On the north side of the square is the Baroque Church of St Francis built by the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star in the 17th century. Also on the square is the Gothic Church of the Holy Saviour or St Salvator which belongs to the Clementinum complex and was once a mint. On the western side is the Gallery Křižovníků which contains works of arts of the Order of the Knights of the Cross with a Red Star and holds temporary exhibitions.