Prague, the old town

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by captain oddsocks on March 16, 2006

Highlights of Prague’s old town/staré mìsto district are the old town square, the Jewish quarter and the boulevard-like Wenceslas square.

The old town square was originally a marketplace. Its dominant buildings include the old town hall, Týn church and the church of sv Mikuláš/St Nicholas. On the town hall is an astronomical clock that must be among the most recognisable monuments in Europe. Every day thousands upon thousands of photographs are taken by the hordes of tourists that gather to watch the hourly mechanical show. The double-towered facade of the Gothic Týn church peers over the square towards the baroque church of sv Mikuláš, and the art nouveau monument to reformist religious leader Jan Hus in the middle of the square.

Prague’s Jewish quarter lies between the old town square and the Vltava River. Several synagogues and a cemetery survived Nazi occupation because they were intended for Hitler’s’ "Exotic museum of an extinct race". Little else remains of the ghetto after the late19th/early20th century "sanitization" (demolition of the original buildings and the construction of five storey Art Nouveau palaces and leafy boulevards). The old-new synagogue from 1270 is one of Prague’s oldest surviving buildings and the 12000-headstone Jewish cemetery is the oldest in Europe. The Jewish quarter’s most famous son, Franz Kafka, is commemorated with monuments and plaques but lays in rest across town in the Žižkov cemetery. The monuments of the Jewish quarter are closed on Saturdays.

An enormous shopping precinct, lined with brand-name stores, hotels and casinos. Václavské námìstí/Wenceslas square is also central to most of the important events in modern Czech history. There were great gatherings on the square in the revolutionary year of 1848 and again to celebrate independence from Austria-Hungary at the end of WWI. In early 1969, shortly after the military suppression of the Prague spring, a student named Jan Palach set himself alight in protest and died of his injuries a few days later. His funeral became the focus for a nationwide demonstration and a monument to his memory lays at the museum end of the square, near the horseback statue of St Wenceslas that keeps watch along the length of the square. Václav Havel and Alexander Dubèek announced the end of the communist era to an enormous crowd here in 1989.

Karlùv most/Charles bridge was built across the Vltava river before 1400 to replace the Judith bridge, which was destroyed by floods. According to legend, Charles Bridge owes its longevity to eggs mixed into the mortar at the instruction of Europe’s greatest Gothic builder, Peter Parler. The stone bridge has a steep-roofed Gothic tower at each end and is lined on both sides by a series of 30 statues depicting the saints most important to the Czech nation. The pedestrian-only bridge is often extremely crowded and you’ll have to get up very early if you’d like to photograph it without the throngs.

Old Town Historic Center of Prague
Staromestske Namesti
Prague, Czech Republic, 110 00

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