Seeing the history of the city backwards
Learning the history of a place is not an easy thing, and it is even more complicated if the history was very long and colourful. Which is just the case of Prague, the heart of Europe, marked by all significant European events within the last millenium. We have therefore decided to make it easier for the purpose of this article, and reverse the chronology of Prague’s history and begin in the present and go back through the ages to the distant past.
New Town of Prague – around Wenceslas Square now and then
At the heart of the modern city lies Wenceslas Square in the New Town of Prague. And if we use the term ‚New Town‘ don’t be mislead into thinking it’s a recent development, as we mean the 14th century. In fact to be precise, 1348. When the New Town was founded. The area soon became popular with many craftsmen (in particular crafts which produced unpleasent odours) who settled here, creating a hub of activity. This prompted the opening of the largest markets in Prague. Wenceslas square was initially a horse market, with the other larger market of Charles Square a cattle market.
Architecture – a mirror of the 19th and 20th century evolution of the country
Most of the buildings you can see in the new town of Prague date back to the 19th and 20th centuries, and today they illustrate the development of the country within the last two centuries: from styles that tended to look back – neo classicism, neo-rennaissance, to modern and proud styles of the new Czechoslovak Republic: cubism, rondocubism, functionalism, and then to the styles of the communist era: social realistic style or so called brutalism. Wenceslas Square itself is a great example of the mixture of these styles. The National Museum with its neoclassical dominates the top of the square, and as you walk around the square you will see beautiful Art Deco architecture in the buildings of the Evropa hotel or Koruna palace, the functionalistic building of Bata department store or the brutalist 1970´s Federal Assembly building.
Where the nation meets – in the good and in the bad
Mirroring the last evolution of the country, besides its indeniable nation´s main meeting point (it was here where Václav Havel first oficially talked to the public in November 1989), it is also a centre of the darker elements of the city of Prague: night clubs, bars, casinos and drug dealers, etc, etc… Spending your first day in Prague in the square and around it. Walking along Národní třída with the small monument to the events of the fall of the communist era, The National theatre, or walking through the Příkopy street to Art Nouveau Municipal House in the opposite direction, you will get a basic notion of the history of the country within the last 150 years.
Day 2 -The Old Town Of Prague – getting further to the past of the area
You even might not notice the border as the fortification walls of the Old town of Prague were pulled down in the 19th century to make place for the growing city. But if you are attentive enough, you will easily notice the difference: instead of modern buildings, you get into tiny streets full of smaller and older housing that date back to the middle ages. There are numerous churches and chapels, both small and large. The Old town of Prague developed natuarally around the old 11th century market on the east side of the Vltava river, today known as The Old Town Square. At the very beginning individual stone merchant houses, little tower fortresses like the famous House at the Stone Bell and lines of gothic inspired houses developed little by little into streets. These Gothic foundations can be seen on a few places nowadays. For example; the House of Lords of Kunštát, a history museum, or inan easier way by exploring the underground spaces of Nuance restaurant on the Little Square, a place where you can combine your historical excursion with an excellent example of modern Czech Cuisine.
The various images of the Old Town
The sreets of the Old Town are often curvy and picturesque and if you are new to this part of the town, you can easily get lost in its small labyrinth. Some houses retained its Gothic image, others regained it within the 20th century, and some were rebuilt to convene with their new purpose: baroque or classicism facades are hiding older remnants of the houses. And there are certainly exceptions to this rule – even Neo-rennaissance houses, just as the famous Rott house, one of the unique place you can really experience yourself, as the building was converted into a hotel. A great occasion to live the history of the city in a live version… In any case, the Old Town of Prague is an ideal place to stay in, just in the middle of the essential historical points of the city. Spending a day around here and the Jewish Town will absorb you into the times where the city was young and full of creativity related to adherence to god and thankfulness for the success and life in relative sufficiency.
Day 3 – Prague Castle and the Lesser Town
The third journey will lead us through the oldest parts of Prague, the places, where the documented Slavonic knight family settled, accepted Christianity and began to rule, step by step over the country. Back in the 9th century, the oldest Prague´s church of Virgin Mary was built on the top of a slope over the river, probably between the years 882-884, by the Přemyslid knight Bořivoj. The remnants of this small (7,5m x 6m size) church are visible in the passage between the first and second courtyards and should not be missed…Also the first Christian convent in the country was built here – the ladies Benedictines foundation was settled next to the second oldest church on the spot – the Basilica of st. George. This uphill area is the oldest Přemyslid settlement on the river. Since then, it was the seat of the Czech kings, some of Luxembourg and Habsbourg emperors and the Czech president today. The spot is also ideal for reviewing the city from above, as it offers several different vista places to see all you went through on the preceding days. Here our journey against the stream of the time ends…
The author of the article and the manager of the hotel in one has many years experience with writing texts, she has been working as a free-lance journalist contributing to different Czech daily newspapers and other periodics of all kinds. She has spent a part of her career working as a city guide, and her articles are therefore providing a highly informed insight of a person, who was not only born in Prague, but who has crisscrossed the city streets countless times, has read hundreds pages of literature about Prague, and who constantly strives to contribute to the good reputation of the city from her todays workplace. Hopefully with a success…