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Old Town Square Panorama

Old Town Square, Prague
Jan Hus Memorial Circle
Jan Hus Memorial
Jan Hus Memorial and Tyn
Jan Hus Memorial Square

The Old Town of Prague (Czech: Staré Město pražské) is a medieval settlement of Prague, Czech Republic. It was separated from the outside by a semi-circular moat and wall, connected to the Vltava river at both of its ends. The moat is now covered up by the streets (from north to south-west) Revoluční, Na Příkopě, and Národní—which remain the official boundary of the cadastral community of Old Town. It is now part of Prague 1.

Notable places in the Old Town include the Old New Synagogue, Old Town Square and Astronomical Clock. The Old Town is surrounded by the New Town of Prague. Across the river Vltava connected by the Charles Bridge is the Lesser Town of Prague (Czech: Malá Strana). The former Jewish Town (Josefov) is located in the northwest corner of Old Town heading towards the Vltava.

From its early existence, around the 9th century, Staré Město was laid out of settlements which appeared from the spacious marketplace on the bank of Vltava. Records dating back to 1100 AD indicate that every Saturday a market was held on the marketplace, and large military gatherings also took place there. Thanks to trade the merchants of the area became rich, and when King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia gave them the privileges of township, the Town of Prague (Město pražské) was formed. According to ancient records, the city had around 13 gates, and a huge moat, providing strong defenses.

In 1338 the councilors of the Old Town of Prague were granted a permission by John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, to buy a magnificent patrician house from the family Volfin od Kamene (German: Wolfin von Stein) and rebuild it into their town hall – the still existing Old Town Hall. In the mid-14th century the importance of the Old Town of Prague increased rapidly. The city was prospering thanks to the development of trade and craftsmanship and became one of the most important Central European metropoles. Its brilliance and fame still further increased when the Bohemian king Charles IV became the Roman Emperor in 1355. Quite suddenly the attention of all medieval Europe was turned towards Prague, the residence of the head of the Holy Roman Empire. The original town hall was extended by a mighty square stone tower, a symbol of the power and pride of the town council of the first city in the Kingdom and Empire. In 1364 when it was completed the tower was the highest in the city.

After the city was expanded in the 14th century by Charles IV with the founding of the New Town of Prague, the moat and wall were dismantled.

In 1348 the University of Prague was founded by Charles IV. Since the late 14th century its main seat has been in Carolinum located in the Old Town of Prague. In 1357 Charles IV commenced building of a new bridge over the Vltava river connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town of Prague. In 1391 the Bethlehem Chapel was built in the Old Town for sermons in Czech language. The chapel played an important role in the Bohemian Reformation and Hussite movement. In 1402–1413 the church reformer Jan Hus preached there.

In 1689 a great fire (called French fire) damaged a big part of the Old Town, including the Jewish Town. In 1784 the four towns of Prague were united into the Royal Capital City of Prague with a common administration.


Old Town Hall (Astronomical Clock)

The Old Town Hall in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is one of the city's most noteworthy monuments. It is located in Old Town Square.

In 1338 the councilors of the Old Town bought a magnificent patrician house by the family of Volflin and adapted it for their purposes. During centuries the original building of the Town Hall practically disappeared under the addition reconstructions of later years and one of the external remnat of the original structure today is the Gothic stone portal with mouldings in the western part of the building.

The burghers of the Old Town extended their original Town Hall towards the west by buying the adjoining house and they started the construction of a stone tower on a square plan. The tower, which was the highest in the city in the Middle Ages, was completed in 1364 and the following centuries hardly left any traces on the structure.

The Town Hall is one very unusual historical object, because it is made out of many different smaller houses. The expansion continued in 1458 when so called "Mikes' house" was added to the west side. The Council Chamber in the east wing was vaulted with the net vault, which was supported with 2 pillars, at the end of the 15th century.

The Gothic "Cock" house was bought in 1835 and the "Minute" house was sold to the town council for the extension of the Town Hall in 1896. Mikes house was rebuilt in Neo-Renaissance style in 1879–1880. The author of the project was Antonín Baum. This wing was destroyed in last days of the World War II during Prague uprising. Many architectural competitions were declared during the 20th century. They were supposed to find the right architectonic design for expanding and rebuilding the Old Town Hall. All of the competitions either did not have a winner or the winning projects were not built.

The architectural development of the Old Town Hall in the Middle Ages was far from completed after finishing of the tower. There was an interruption due to Hussite movement (1419–1434). In 1458 another house was bought on the west side. It made possible extensive adaptations of the interior of the object. New halls were established in the south wing, but only the council room on the upper floor has preserved in its original appearance.

Internal adaptations reflected in the external reconstruction work can be seen on the south facade to this day. The reconstruction of the entrance hall on the groundfloor of Volflin house terminated in the construction of a beatutiful new portal in the Late Gothic style, which for more than 100 years marked urban architecture in the Czech lands. The Gothic arch of the portal has archivolts rich in stone ornaments. Decorated brackets support the outer arch which is a typical late-Gothic ogee arch crowned by an imposing finial. The brackets on either side of the portal terminate in slender pinnacles. The structure dates from the close of the 15th century, but the wooden double door itself dates as late as from the year 1652.

The window on the left of the portal was completed a few years later and kept the architectural style. The builder gave up the traditional Gothic arch in favor of a rectangular window, adoring the thickness of the walls with panelled pilasters. A moulded stone cross divides the window into four lights, the upper two of which are decorated with the amorial bearing of the Old Town of Prague and the Czech lion. Between and slightly above them may be seen the symbol "W" representing the royal initial of the Bohemian king Vladislaus II of Hungary (1456–1516) from Jagiellon dynasty. The rich vegetable decoration made from stone adorn the top of the window.

The window in the south facade is only of a slightly more recent date—the twenties of the 16th century—and already bears traces of the Renaissance style. The central window itself is the only original part, the two smaller wings were added in 1731. It has a high moulded cornice with plastic ornamentation. Brackets support panelled pilasters terminating in capitals on which rests the architrave with the inscription "Praga caput regni" (Prague, the capital of the kingdom). The window is surmounted by a semicircular tympanum with the armorial bearings of the Old Town of Prague. Generally speaking the lateral windows are kept in the same style as the original Renaissance main window, but the canopies, in the Gothic style, above the pilaster are a disturbing element. Renaissance style may also be seen in another window placed closely above the Gothic portal of Volflin house from the half of the 16th century.

The far-reaching reconstruction of the Old Town Hall at the turn of the 15th and 16th century included the erection of the east wing adjoining to the north wall of the tower. A monumental building was constructed during the Late Gothic period. There was a council chamber with a magnificent net vault that gave the room a very impressing atmosphere of spaciousness.


Clementinum (National Library)

The Clementinum (Klementinum in Czech) is a historic complex of buildings in Prague. Until recently the complex hosted the National, University and Technical libraries, the City Library also being located nearby on Mariánské Náměstí. The Technical library and the Municipal library have moved to the Prague National Technical Library at Technická 6 since 2009. It is currently in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic. In 2005, the Czech National Library received the UNESCO Jikji prize (Memory of the World).

Its history dates from the existence of a chapel dedicated to Saint Clement in the 11th century. A Dominican monastery was founded in the medieval period, which was transformed in 1556 to a Jesuit college. In 1622 the Jesuits transferred the library of Charles University to the Klementinum, and the college was merged with the University in 1654. The Jesuits remained until 1773, when the Klementinum was established as an observatory, library, and university by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

The National Library was founded in 1781 and from 1782 the Clementinum was a legal deposit library. In 1918 the newly established Czecho-Slovak state took over the library. Since 1990, it has been the National Library. It contains a collection of Mozartiana, material pertaining to Tycho Brahe and Comenius, as well as historic examples of Czech literature. The architecture is a notable example of Baroque architecture and Clementinum, covering 20,000 square meters, is the second largest complex of buildings in Prague after the Prague Castle. For several years before 2006, there was an ongoing debate on the possibilities of expanding the space for future library collections, as space in the current Clementinum buildings was expected to reach its limit by 2010. On Jan 10, 2006, the Prague authorities decided to sell the city-owned property located in the area of Letná near the Prague center, to the National Library. In Spring 2006, an international architectural design competition for the new building was put up. An architect who won the competition is Jan Kaplický, but his winning was infirmed, so the Czech National Library is still waiting for its final project.

  • At one time the Clementinum was known as the third largest Jesuit college in the world.
  • The oldest weather recording in the area of the Czech lands started at the Clementinum in 1775. The weather recording continues through the present day.
  • The Clementinum is mentioned in "The Secret Miracle" by Jorge Luis Borges. The main character has a dream of the library of Clementinum where the librarians look for God in the books of the library. One of the librarians says: God is in one of the letters, of one of the pages, of one of the 400,000 books of the Clementinum. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have looked for this letter; I myself have gone blind looking for it. So, a reader enters and delivers an atlas for the main character, saying that this atlas is useless. The main character opens the book at random, and find a map of India, touching one of its minimum letters and, then, finds God.
  • The Baroque library hall inside Clementinum is known for its beautiful interior, including ceiling artwork by Jan Hiebl.


Josefov (Jewish Quarter)

Josefov (also Jewish quarter; German: Josefstadt) is a town quarter and the smallest cadastral area of Prague, Czech Republic, formerly the Jewish ghetto of the town. It is completely surrounded by Old Town. The quarter is often represented by the flag of Prague's Jewish community, a yellow Magen David (Star of David) on a red field.

Jews are believed to have settled in Prague as early as the 10th century. The first pogrom was in 1096 (the first crusade) and eventually they were concentrated within a walled Ghetto. In 1262 Přemysl Otakar II issued a Statuta Judaeorum which granted the community a degree of self-administration. In 1389 one of the worst pogroms saw some 1,500 massacred at Easter Sunday. The ghetto was most prosperous towards the end of the 16th century when the Jewish Mayor, Mordecai Maisel, became the Minister of Finance and a very wealthy man. His money helped develop the ghetto.

In 1850 the quarter was renamed "Josefstadt" (Joseph's City) after Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor who emancipated Jews with the Toleration Edict in 1781. Two years before Jews were allowed to settle outside of the city, so the share of the Jewish population in Josefov decreased, while only orthodox and poor Jews remained living there.

Most of the quarter was demolished between 1893 and 1913 as part of an initiative to model the city on Paris. What was left were only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall (now all part of the Jewish Museum in Prague).

Currently Josefov is overbuilt with buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, so it is difficult to appreciate exactly what the old quarter was like when it was reputed to have over 18,000 inhabitants. Medieval Josefov is depicted in the 1920 film The Golem, composed of cramped, angular, squinted buildings, but this impression is used purely to convey the expressionist nature of the film.


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