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Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republics - Famous City Squares
155    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/03/2022

Located between the Wenceslas Square, one of the main city squares and Charles Bridge, a medieval stone arch bridge across River Vltava, the Old Town Square is the oldest andhistoric square in the Old Town quarter of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.The square has a long and chequeredhistory behind it, beginning in the 10th century, when it served as a marketplace at the crossroads of European trade routes, until the beginning of the 20th century. Lots of buildings belonging to various architectural styles thronged the square, which include the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the Baroque St Nicholas Church, the Old Town Hall, the Jan Hus Memorial, the Štorch House, The House at the Minute and many more, apart from the famous Krocín´s Public Fountain, Marian column, the Prague Meridian and others.

old town square

The Old Town began to grow with the influx of people living around the old castle expanding their area of living towards the other bank of the Vltava River. The process of expansion eventually led to rapid economic growth, resulting in the marathon process of construction around the expanded area, which includes several mansions, palaces and churches, as well as more than 100 towers that have been used as fire lookout towers, as well as the vertical warehouses to avoid the spread of different types of pests. The Old Town Square began to form against the change of this socio-economic background, where the Church of the Virgin Mary, inns and stables were founded for the benefit of the foreign merchants in the 10th century.

old town square

The former customs house, where the goods imported by foreign merchants were cleared, acted as the epicentre of the growth of the Old Town Square. As it was near to the square, inns and stables, even a hospital for the foreign merchants, along with the Church of the Virgin Mary, waseventually founded for them in the square. .  Gradually, portable stalls occupied a portion of the square, run by the bakers, potters, manufacturers of wood products, herbalists, gingerbread producers and other craftsmen selling their goods. While the northwest part of the square, near the Town Hall, became a fish market, the south was occupied by the vendors of mushrooms, strawberries, vegetables, butter, cheesecakes and others. Even the Town Hall building was surrounded by shops of marketers, where the most expensive imported cloth was sold. Thus, the square became the main marketplace of the city that continued until the beginning of the 20th century.

old town square

From its oldest known name, the Great Square, the name of the Old Town Square had been changed several times over the centuries. In the 13th century, it was called the Old Marketplace, but from the 14th century, it came to be known as the Market Square or Old Town Market Square. However, during the 18th century, it was called the Old Town Place, Big Old Town Square or the Big Square at different times. The current name came into existence probably in 1895 and is still in use.

old town square

Several buildings were constructed around the square, during the 12th and 13th century. Established in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration, the Old Town Hall, located in the square, is not a single structure but rather a complex, connected to several medieval buildings. The beautiful Gothic tower with a bay chapel in its southern wing, known as the Tower of the Old Town Hall, is the oldest part of the complex, completed in 1364. The tower, equipped with an observation deck, offers amazing views of Old Town Square and is open to the public. Unfortunately, during the Prague Uprising on 8 May 1945, the Gothic Revival eastern wing and the addition of a further north wing of the Town Hall was destroyed and was never rebuilt.

old town square
Old Town Hall with the Astronomical Clock
old town square
The Dial of the Astronomical Clock

A unique astronomical clock, known as the Orloj, was mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall dating back to 1410. The mechanical clock and the astronomical dial of the Orloj, dating back to 1410, are the oldest parts of the Orloj,  while the calendar dial was added much later, possibly around 1490 when the clock facade was decorated with gothic sculptures. The background of the hugeastronomical dial represents the Earth and sky, surrounded by four main moving components, namely the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring and two icons representing the Sun and the Moon. Apart from indicating time, the clock provides the date, shows astronomical and zodiacal information and at the same time, provides some theatre for its viewers every hour.

old town square

Although not located in the square itself, but very near to it, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn with its 262 feet (80 m) tall twin towers, along with eight spires in each, dominates the cityscape of Old Town Square, visible from all over the square. Considered the most important church in the east of the Vltava River, the Church claims history of a thousand years, beginning as a medieval Romanesque church, built for foreign merchants coming to the nearby Týn Courtyard. However, another church, the St. Nicholas Church, built between 1704 and 1755 and described as the most impressive example of Prague Baroque, stands in the northwest corner of the Old Town Square. Built on the site of a former Gothic church from the 13th century, the church has also been described as the greatest Baroque church in Prague.

old town square
The House at the Minute

The House at the Minute, with its extensively decorated exterior, depicting mythological scenes, as well as contemporary Renaissance legends, is located next to the Old Town Hall complex, where the famous writer Franz Kafka lived with his parents from 1889 to 1896. Built in 1897, the Štorch House, also known as At the Stone Virgin Mary, stands out different from the adjacent buildings for its Gothic bay window and the unique façade, adorned with the beautiful murals of Saint Wenceslas and the three Magi, designed by Mikolas Ales in the 19th century. The Kinský Palace, which was built in the Rococo style in the mid-18th century and once belonged to the aristocratic Kinský family, is one of the largest and most impressive buildings on Old Town Square. From the balcony of the Kinský palace Klement Gottwald, a Czech communist politician, announced the beginning of communism in Czechoslovakia and 42 years later, Václav Havel, who later served as the last president of Czechoslovakia, announced the end of communism in the country from the same place. Today, the palace served as one of several buildings of the National Gallery in Prague. Apart from the above, the Old Town Square in Prague houses many more beautiful buildings.

old town square
The Jan Hus memorial

The Jan Hus Memorial, a monument of stone and bronze, dominated by the figure of Jan Hus above a burning stake, is located near the northeast corner of the square. It was unveiled in 1915, exactly 500 years after Jan Hus, a Czech church reformer, was burnt on 6 July 1415, at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church.The brass strip on the cobblestone surface to the south of the Jan Hus statue is the so-called Prague Meridian, corresponding to the meridian 14°25’17“E, which once indicated noon, when the shadow cast by a nearby Marian column fell directly upon the brass line on sunny days. The column, erected in 1650, was demolished in independent Czechoslovakia in November 1918, as it was viewed as a symbol of Habsburg rule in the country, although a replica of the column was installed on the original site on 4 June 2020.

old town square
The Marian column

In the past, much to the delight and celebration of the mass, the Royal coronation processions travelled through the square on their way to the Castle. However, apart from celebrating various other festivals and gatherings of the people, the square also witnessed several tragic executions. It witnessed severe riots, after Jan Želivský, a prominent leader of the Prague poor was beheaded at the well in the town hall courtyard in 1422. In 1437, Jan Roháč z Dubé, a leader of the Hussites, who followed the teachings of reformer Jan Hus, was hung on the square, along with his men. However, perhaps one of the most tragic events took place in front of the Town Hall, on 21 June 1621, when 27 Bohemian leaders, along with seven knights of the Bohemian Revolt against the Austrian House of Habsburg were indiscriminately executed as an exemplary punishment.

old town square

Today, the Old Town Square is one of the greatest tourist attractions of the Czech capital, as well as a meeting place for lovers and others, busking jazz bands and open-air concerts, political meetings and fashion shows, food and fun, plus Christmas and Easter markets.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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