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Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square Main Streets

The Prague Metro's line A runs underneath Wenceslas Square, and the Metro's two busiest stations, Muzeum (lines A and C) and Můstek (lines A and B), have entrances on the street. Tram tracks running the length of the street were removed from the street in 1980; a proposal to reintroduce trams is under consideration. Currently trams bisect the square only. Most of the street is open to automobile traffic; the northwestern end is pedestrianized.

 

Other significant buildings on Wenceslas Square include:

  • Antonin Pfeiffer and Matěj Blecha's Palác Koruna office building and shopping center, #1–2, 1912–1914, with architectural sculpture by Vojtěch Sucharda
  • Ludvík Kysela's Lindt Building, No. 4, an early work of architectural constructivism
  • the BAŤA shoe store, No. 6, 1929
  • Matěj Blecha and Emil Králíček's Adam Pharmacy, No. 8, 1911–1913
  • Jan Kotěra's Peterka Building, No. 12, 1899–1900
  • Pavel Janák's Hotel Juliš, No. 22, 1926
  • Alois Dryák's Hotel Evropa, #25–27, 1905 redesign, with architectural sculptor Ladislav Šaloun
  • Antonin Wiehl's Wiehl House, No. 34, 1896
  • the Melantrich Building, No. 36, 1914, where Alexander Dubček and Václav Havel appeared together on its balcony in November 1989, a major event of the Velvet Revolution
  • Hotel Adria, No 26, reconstruction in 1912, in 1918 sold to František Tichý, Burian’s Theater (1925–1928)

 

Wenceslas Square (Czech: Václavské náměstí [ˈvaːt͡slafskɛː ˈnaːmjɛsciː], colloquially Václavák [ˈvaːt͡slavaːk]) is one of the main city squares and the center of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, Czech Republic. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings.

Wenceslas Square is lined by hotels, offices, retail stores, currency exchange booths and fast-food joints. To the dismay of locals and city officials, the street is also a popular location for prostitutes to ply their trade late at night. Many strip clubs exist on and around Wenceslas Square, making Prague a popular location for stag parties.

The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. It is part of the historic center of Prague, a World Heritage Site. Formerly known as Koňský trh (Horse Market), for its periodic accommodation of horse markets during the Middle Ages, it was renamed Svatováclavské náměstí (English: Saint Wenceslas square) in 1848 on the proposal of Karel Havlíček Borovský.

Less a square than a boulevard, Wenceslas Square has the shape of a very long (750 m, total area 45,000 m2) rectangle, in a northwest–southeast direction. The street slopes upward to the southeast side. At that end, the street is dominated by the grand neoclassical Czech National Museum. The northwest end runs up against the border between the New Town and the Old Town.

In 1348, Bohemian King Charles IV founded the New Town of Prague. The plan included several open areas for markets, of which the second largest was the Koňský trh, or Horse Market (the largest was the Charles Square). At the southeastern end of the market was the Horse Gate, one of the gates in the walls of the New Town.

During the Czech national revival movement in the 19th century, a more noble name for the street was requested. At this time the statue was built, and the square was renamed.

On 28 October 1918, Alois Jirásek read the proclamation of independence of Czechoslovakia in front of the Saint Wenceslas statue.

The Nazis used the street for mass demonstrations. During the Prague Uprising in 1945, a few buildings near the National Museum were destroyed. They were later replaced by department stores.

On 16 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968.

On 28 March 1969, the Czechoslovakian national ice hockey team defeated the USSR team for the second time in that year's Ice Hockey World Championships. As the country was still under Soviet occupation, the victory induced great celebrations. Perhaps 150,000 people gathered on Wenceslas Square, and skirmishes with police developed. A group of agents provocateurs provoked an attack on the Prague office of the Soviet airline Aeroflot, located on the street. The vandalism served as a pretext for reprisals and the period of so-called normalization.

In 1989, during the Velvet Revolution, large demonstrations (with hundreds of thousands of people or more) were held here.

Hotel Uvropa Statue
Jan Palach Memorial

 

Statue of Saint Wenceslas

The statue of Saint Wenceslas in Prague, Czech Republic depicts Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, is installed at Wenceslas Square.

The mounted saint was sculpted by Josef Václav Myslbek in 1887–1924, and the image of Wenceslas is accompanied by other Czech patron saints carved into the ornate statue base: Saint Ludmila, Saint Agnes of Bohemia, Saint Prokop, and Saint Adalbert of Prague. The statue base, designed by architect Alois Dryák, includes the inscription: "Svatý Václave, vévodo české země, kníže náš, nedej zahynouti nám ni budoucím" (English: "Saint Wenceslas, duke of the Czech land, prince of ours, do not let perish us nor our descendants").

A parody of this statue, created by David Černý, hangs in a Lucerna Palace gallery near the square.

 

New Town, Prague

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 five 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.

Sights

  • Dvořák Museum
  • Fred and Ginger
  • National Museum
  • National Theater
  • U Fleků Beer Hall
  • Žofín Palace

Squares

  • The Horse Market, today Wenceslas Square
  • The Cattle Market, today Charles Square
  • The Hay Market (Senovážné náměstí),
    south of today's Náměstí Republiky
  • Na Karlově

There are many secular and educational buildings in New Town, but also especially magnificent gothic and baroque churches. These nevertheless are not the main drawing points for tourists. New Town's most famous landmark is Wenceslas Square, which was originally built as a horsemarket and now functions as a center of commerce and tourism. In the 15th century, the Novoměstská radnice, or New Town Hall, was the site of the first of the three defenestrations of Prague.

No doubt in connection with his coronation as king under the Holy Roman Empire in 1346, Charles IV decided to found a new city in Prague. After he had achieved the city's independence within the church with the creation of the Archbishopric of Prague in 1344, the foundation of the New Town was intended further to enhance the status of the city which was the new residence of the king. In addition, the housing problem within the city walls of Prague that had already been apparent under Charles IV's father John of Luxembourg was crying out for a solution. Many people, mostly poorer Czechs, had settled in suburbs situated at the base of the city walls, and the banks of the Vltava were almost continuously built over.

What was original about Charles IV's action was that he chose, instead of creating an administratively dependent suburb, or an extension of the old town, as was the usual practice, to create in the New Town an independent royal city with its own legal framework. Nevertheless, Charles planned a physical and legal union with the old part of town and decreed a common administration in 1367; however, primarily due to the opposition of the two town councils, this failed and had to be abandoned as little as ten years later. After many rights and liberties had been granted to the inhabitants of the new city, the inhabitants of the old part of town, which was now enclosed by the New Town on all sides, likewise had their existing rights and liberties confirmed in writing, and they were given the assurance of free access through both the northern gates of the New Town.

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 7 April 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 fourth largest city north of the Alps after Paris, Ghent and Bruges. Based on physical area, Prague was the third-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 fourteenth Century in Europe there was no other city, in which an enclosed building project was organized and executed on such a scale, over two 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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