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OLD TOWN SQUARE

As the heart and soul of the city, no visitor should, or is likely to miss the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). There was a marketplace here in the 11th century, but it was in 1338, when John of Luxembourg gave Prague’s burghers permission to form a town council, that the Old Town Hall was built and the square came into its own. Today, it has a lively atmosphere, with café tables set out in front of painted façades, hawkers selling their wares and horse-drawn carriages waiting to ferry tourists around.

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Prague’s beautiful Old Town Square

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Old Town

prac_info Old Town Hall: Staromĕstské námĕsti 1; 236 002629; Halls & Cellars: open 9am–7pm daily (from 11am Mon); Tower: open 9am–10pm daily (from 11am Mon); Adm (combined, family and reduced tickets available); www.staromestskaradnicepraha.cz

Google Map

  • Climbing on the Jan Hus Memorial or trampling the flowers could earn you a fine as well as embarrassment.

1. Dům u Minuty

The “House at the Minute” probably takes its name from the not-so-minute sgraffito images on its walls. The alchemical symbols adorning Staroměstské náměstí 2 date from 1610. Writer Franz Kafka lived in the black-and-white house as a boy, from 1889 to 1896.

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The House at the Minute

2. House at the Stone Bell

Formerly done up in Baroque style, workers discovered the Gothic façade of this house as late as 1980. On the southwestern corner is the bell which gives the house its name. The Municipal Gallery often hosts temporary exhibitions here.

3. Church of Our Lady before Týn

This Gothic edifice began as a humble church serving residents in the mercantile town (týn) in the 14th century. Following architectural customs of the time, the south tower is stouter than the north one; they are said to depict Adam and Eve.

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Gothic edifice, Church of Our Lady before Týn

4. St Nicholas Cathedral

Prague has two Baroque churches of St Nicholas, both built by Kilian Ignac Dientzenhofer. The architect completed the one, called the cathedral now, in Old Town two years before starting Malá Strana’s (see Malostranské náměstí). Regular concerts (see St Nicholas Cathedral, Old Town) here are worth a visit.

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Interior of St Nicholas Cathedral

5. Jan Hus Memorial

Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 for proposing radical church reform. The inscription below the figure of Hus at the 1915 memorial reads “Truth Will Prevail”.

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Statue of Jan Hus

6. Marian Column

On Czechoslovakia’s declaration of independence in 1918, this former column reminded jubilant mobs of Habsburg rule and they tore it down. A plan is afoot to rebuild it.

7. Ungelt

The courtyard behind Týn church was home to foreign merchants in the 14th century, but today it houses smart boutiques and cafés.

8. Štorch House

At Staroměstské náměstí 16, the focal points are Art Nouveau paintings of St Wenceslas (the patron saint of Bohemia) and the three Magi (see Drahomíra).

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Painted exterior of Štorch House

9. Kinský Palace

This ornate Rococo palace now houses the National Gallery’s temporary exhibitions. It was once home to the haberdashery owned by Franz Kafka’s father, Hermann.

10. Malé náměstí

The ornate wrought-iron well in the centre of the “Small Square” doubles as a plague memorial. The elaborate murals of craftsmen on the façade of Rott House were designed by Mikoláš Aleš. From the 19th century to the early 1990s, the building was an ironmongery.

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Mural of a craftsman

JAN HUS

The rector of Prague (later Charles) University, Jan Hus was dedicated to fighting against corruption in the church. He was declared a heretic by the church, and was summoned to Germany where he was burned at the stake. Czech resentment turned into civil war, with Hussite rebels facing the power of Rome. But the Hussites split into moderate and radical factions, the former defeating the latter in 1434. Hus is still a national figure – 6 July, the day he was killed, is a public holiday.

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