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Charles Square in Prague

Charles Square (Karlovo náměstí)
Karlovo náměstí, Praha 2 - Nové Město, 120 00

Metro B (Yellow) to Karlovo namesti (exit Karlovo namesti)
Trams #: 3, 4, 6, 14, 16, 18, 22, 23, 24

Charles Square (Czech: Karlovo Náměstí) is a city square in the New Town of Prague, Czech Republic. At roughly 70,000 m² Charles Square is one of the largest town squares in the world and was the largest town square of medieval Europe. Founded in 1348 as the main square of the New Town by King Charles IV, Charles Square was known as Dobytčí trh (Cattle Market) from the 15th century and finally named after its founder in 1848. The central portion of the square was turned into a park in the 1860s. Charles Square is now one of the main transport hubs of Prague city center with Karlovo náměstí metro station and numerous tram lines and busy roads crossing it in all directions. The park is divided into 3 parts by 2 frequented streets (Jecna & Zitna).

Charles Square originated as a part of the New Town of Prague founded in 1348 by emperor Charles IV. Along with Wenceslas Square (Horse Market) and Senovážné náměstí (Hay Market) it became one of 3 main squares of the newly founded town. These squares were connected with one street (today streets Vodičkova and Jindřišská). Charles Square was supposed to be the most important square of the New Town of Prague and probably of the whole of Prague, therefore the Town Hall of the New Town was built there. Despite these plans the most important square later became Wenceslas Square.

The square got its present name at the 19th century, before that it was called the Cattle Market for large markets selling not only cattle, but also firewood, coal or pickled herrings.

In the middle of the square used to stand a wooden tower in which coronation jewels were displayed once a year. In 1393 the tower was replaced by a chapel with a small cemetery.

In the late 14th century the Corpus Christi Chapel was built in the middle of the square. It was closed in 1784 and demolished a few years later. This chapel was a very important place of pilgrimage in the late 14th and early 15th century, because the holy relics and crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire were shown there to thousands of pilgrims.

On July 30, 1419 the Hussite Wars broke out in Charles Square, when Hussites led by priest Jan Želivský threw some Catholic councilors from windows of the New Town Hall. This event is called the "First Defenestration of Prague".

The oldest buildings on the square are the New Town Hall building (dating back to the time of Charles IV), and the Mladota Palace (Faust House); other significant buildings include the Early Baroque Church of St. Ignatius and the neo-Renaissance Czech Technical University building. The majority of the square consists of a park with 7 sculptures and a Baroque fountain. The park built in 1876 contains many statues of famous Czechs: Vitezslav Halek, Eliska Krasnohorksa, Karolina Svetla, and Jan Evangelista Purkyne.

In the 17th century the Jesuits started to build their New Town residence and Jesuit College on Charles Square. They also founded a new church dedicated to their patron saint and founder of the Jesuit Order, St. Ignatius of Loyola. This church was designed by Carlo Lurago and built in 1655-1677 in the early Baroque style.

On the south side of the square there is a gate to the Church of St. John of Nepomuk "on the Rock" which was built in the high Baroque style in 1730s by Kilian Ignac Dientzenhofer.

 

New Town Hall (First Defenestration)

Karlovo namesti 23, Prague 2

The first mention of New Town Hall in Charles Square dates back to 1377, but not much is left from the old building of that time. Several parts were added at the beginning of the 15th century, including the bell tower with a chapel inside. The wing facing Charles Square used to contain conference rooms, and the wing to the Vodickova street was offices and a prison.

The New Town Hall became very famous for a defenestration in the 15th century. On July 30th 1419, a crowd of demonstrators lead by Jan Zelivsky demanded that several of Jan Hus’ followers should be released from prison. When the councillors refused to release the prisoners, the outraged crowd burst into the building and threw the politicians out of the windows. The councillors who survived the fall were beaten to death. This event called the First Defenestration of Prague started the Hussite movement asking for reforms in the Catholic Church.

The New Town Hall was the seat of municipal administration until 1784 when Emperor Josef II decided to connect the 4 Prague towns (Old Town, the Lesser Town, Hradcany and the New Town) into one town with one town council. After that the New Town Hall was converted into a criminal courthouse and a prison with a torture chamber. Many people, especially revolutionaries, were kept here.

The appearance of the building changed rapidly in the 16th century. The south wing was rebuilt in Renaissance style and it was decorated with high gables. There is a piece of chain fixed to the building, left from the days when Prague streets were closed with chains.

The New Town Hall is now a national culture heritage building, used for many cultural and social events, as well as wedding ceremonies.

 

The Faust House

The building belongs to the Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University in Prague.

Many places in Prague are connected with various legends and mysteries. However, there is hardly a house more mysterious and storied than the Faust House at the Charles Square. A legend says, that the famous Doctor Faustus lived there and that the Devil took him to hell through a hole in the ceiling. Another legend tells about a poor student living in the house, learning Black Magic and then disappearing without traces. What we know for sure, is that several alchemists used to live in the Faust House. Due to their secret experiments they were believed to be connected with the Devil and the house was believed to be cursed.

Na Morani Area

The Faust House stands in the area, where people used to bring sacrifices to the dark goddess Morana in the pagan times. The place is still called “Na Morani”. There used to be a homestead long before the Prague New Town was founded. The first alchemist, living in the homestead in the 15th century, was Vaclav the Duke of Opava, who had an alchemist laboratory there. The place was rebuilt as a typical Renaissance house in the 16th century.

Alchemist Experiments

Eduard Kelley, the famous alchemist and charlatan, bought the house at the time and conducted various experiments there. He was the court alchemist of Rudolph II, and he allegedly knew how to transform ordinary metal into gold, using a “philosophical stone”. The Emperor Rudolph II. was very keen to know this secret. Kelley was imprisoned at Krivoklat Castle for killing a man in a fight and the emperor sent his delegates to find out the secret. When the negotiations failed, Eduard Kelley was tortured cruelly, but he didn't betray anything.

Eccentric Dwellers of the Faust House

Another alchemist living in the Faust House was Mladota of Solopysk in the second half of the 18th century. He was reportedly a strange person, trying experiments in physics and chemistry, and he had various unique instruments at home to entertain his guests. His mechanical automates and moving figurines were very extraordinary at the time and made people believe, that he is a magician. Finally, the eccentric parson Karl Jaenig lived in the Faust House at the turn of the 20th century. He was obsessed with everything related to death. He had a collection of funeral objects, a skull and remains of a gibbet at home. There were rumors, that he used to sleep in a coffin.

Scary Legends

The romanticists of the 19th century connected the house with the legend of Doctor Faustus. The Devil allegedly brought Faust to hell through a hole in a ceiling, which was then impossible to wall up. Another version says, that the Devil took him from the second floor of the corner tower and there are inexplicable smears on the wall since then. The legend about the poor student says, that he found a shelter in the deserted Faust House, when he had nowhere to live. The story of Doctor Faustus was well known at the time, so everybody was afraid to even spend a night there. The student found some books about Black Magic there and some other strange things. Every day, he found a coin on a table, so he could buy some food. One day he got the idea to gain more money using the magic he learnt. Nobody saw him ever since.

Strange Incidents in the Faust House

Even in the 20th century, some strange things happen in connection to the Faust House. For example, there were skeletons of seven cats found walled up in the bottom of the building. The Faust House flamed up and burned several times, but no reason of the fire was found. There are paintings from the 16 th century on the walls and ceilings of the Faust House, depicting alchemist symbols. Next to the house, there is a Baroque gateway to the garden by K. I. Dienzenhofer with a sculpture of St. John of Nepomuk.

 

 

New Town, Prague1

The New Town (Czech: Nové Město) is a quarter in the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. New Town is the youngest and largest of the 5 independent (from the Middle Ages until 1784) towns that today comprise the historic center of modern Prague. New Town was founded in 1348 by Charles IV just outside the city walls to the east and south of the Old Town and encompassed an area of 7.5 km²; about three times the size of the Old Town. The population of Prague in 1378 was well over 40,000, perhaps as much as twice that, making it the 4th most populated city north of the Alps and, by area, the 3rd largest city in Europe. Although New Town can trace its current layout to its construction in the 14th century, only few churches and administrative buildings from this time survive.

Together with the establishment of the New Town, the king made further efforts to increase the significance of the town. It was not only to be the new residence of the king and a center for scholarship - on April 7th 1348, Charles University was founded as the first university in central Europe - and for the arts, but it was intended to become an important economic center in Central Europe. To that end a shift of Central European traffic routes and the creation of new routes was planned, as well as making the Vltava navigable; and the plans had been carried out to some extent. The construction of the New Town was probably essentially complete as early as 1367, at the time of the short-lived union with the Old Town.

In 1378 a census commissioned by Charles IV found that Prague had 40,000 inhabitants making it the 4th largest city north of the Alps after Paris, Ghent, and Bruges. Based on physical area, Prague was the 3rd largest city in Europe after Rome and Constantinople. When one compares Prague with the other cities in medieval Europe and in particular with the established cities of the 12th to 14th Centuries, the privileged position of the Prague New Town becomes clear. Charles IV "... conceived here the largest urban planning project of the Middle Ages, and at the time, its equal could not be found in Europe. In the mid 14th Century in Europe there was no other city, in which an enclosed building project was organized and executed on such a scale, over 2 square kilometers. There is no other city, in which 18 to 27 meter-wide roads were created; where an arterial road was wide three-quarters of a kilometer long and over 60 meters wide and in the New Town alone was the central marketplace larger than most entire cities of this time including its walls. Here was planned and established the real administrative, cultural and economic center of Central Europe." (Vilém Lorenc, p13)

 

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