In a continent which contains without doubt some of the best of the world's squares and plazas - Staromanske Namesti - Old Town Square - may be one of the best. Your first view of it as you spill out of the tangled streets of Stare Mestro will make you gasp your breath with its colours and stunning architecture. And wherever you go in Prague you will find yourself returning to this square day after day. Nowadays thronged with tourists of all nationalities, it wasn't so long ago, during the communist era, that it was deserted and simply desribed as "a nice place to walk the dog..."
If you are already staying in Stare Mestro then it will be an easy walk away, and if you are coming from the Charles Bridge then it will be a walk down twisting Karlova which now is a gauntlet of tourist shops and crowds. But you will spill out onto Staromanske Namesti at its western end and this is the best end to start an exploration of the square. Before the great cobbled football pitch expanse is the Old Town Hall, a black medieval building topped by an astrological clock. Tourists gather underneath the clock to watch figures move and chime every hour, and the houses on either side have baroque facades often decorated with frescoes or statues.
The southern side of the Nam is made up of buildings equally as beautiful painted pink, sky blue, white and light green containing shops and pavement cafes but your eyes will be drawn to the eastern side of the square to the spires of "Our Lady of Tyn" church (see photo). Built behind shops and townhouses this is the most striking church in Prague. It's building is straight and sharp, but its spires are set at angles and are like great spikes reaching for the sky. My travel companion came up with a great description for the church..."witchy..."
Separating the church from the Nam are the white and pastel facades of the townhouses and the great rose-coloured roccoco front of the Goltz-Kinsky palace. The arcades underneath house a number of shops including a bookshop which used to belong to the Kafka family. The bookshop holds a small exhibt on the author's life and the complexity and frustration of Prague life which used to find its way into his works. The northern part of the square contains the monument to the Protestant Martyr Jan Hus. This grey statue is surrounded by a sea of pine hedgerows, probably meant to represent flames as he was burned at the stake for his beliefs. Nearby a number of stalls have been set up so you can peruse a brassblower with a real forge, a candlemaker and a number of yiddish marionettes. But the most beautiful building on the Nam has to be Sv Nicholas Church (see photo). You may be all baroqued out by now but this church is rather lovely. It is an enormous white/cream confection with domes and stain-glass windows with each ledge and niche decorated by jet black statues of the saints. Very photogenic and very beautiful.
If you have had enough of tourist Prague head down Zeletna and you will find yourself at Musek metro. Stretching south from there is Wenceslas Square (yes, him of good king fame, you may find yourself whistling the tune...)This very long square is flanked by turn-of-century buildings and is filled with car-showrooms, airline offices, department stores and jewellry shops. It sweeps up to the domed National museum whose vast wings enfold an equestrian statue of King Wenceslas (see photo). This square has seen everything before - medieval markets, Habsburg troops, Soviet tanks, Nazi occupiers - all the way to the velvet revolution of 1989. Stand here, and if you can, imagine the tremendous crowds cheering Dubcek and Vaclev Havel on the balcony and the end of forty years of communist rule.