Old Town Square
Since the early Middle Ages Prague's oldest marketplace has been situated in the very centre of the city. We would be hard-pressed to find many events in the city's history that do not involve Old Town Square. It has been the site of several unfortunate and tragic occasions: on June 21, 1621, it was here that 27 representatives of the anti-Habsburg insurrection were executed; the Old Town Hall was nearly destroyed at the end of World War Two when the Nazis set fire to it; and in February 1948, from the balcony of the Golz-Kinsky Palace, Klement Gottwald announced the Communist Party's successful coup. However, the square's “dark side” has never robbed it of its rich vibrancy and festivities.
Old Town Hall (Staromestska radnice)
Today, Old Town Hall is a small part of an extensive array of buildings constructed on Romanesque foundations and reconstructed from the 13th to mid-20th centuries. The town hall was built in 1338 as a visible symbol of the town's autonomy after King John of Luxembourg accorded the citizens of Prague the privilege of having their own district council.
The people of the Old Town bought the Wolflin House on the corner of the square as the town hall's foundation. Other parts were annexed to the building as new buildings were purchased and modified. After the mid-14th century the construction of a 70 m-tall tower was completed. Later an astrological clock (orloj) was added to it, and a statue of the Madonna was placed on the corner in the 1380's, thereby consecrating the town hall's oriel chapel.
In the 15th century the town hall was expanded and reconstructed in the late Gothic style. During further expansions it was connected to the burgher's house of the Furrier Mikes (Dum kozesnika Mikse) and the Empire House at the Cock (Dum U kohouta).
Old Town Hall
The town hall's southern face ends at the Renaissance house At the Minute (Dum U minuty), which was built in 1610 and has a facade decorated with ornamental sgraffito. Franz Kafka's family lived on the second floor of this building from 1889 to 1896. In the 19th century a Neo-Gothic east wing was added to the town hall, only to be destroyed at the end of World War II.
The Old Town Hall is open to the public on Mondays from 11:00 to 18:00 and from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 18:00. Opening hours may sometimes be limited according to the Mayor's needs. A guided tour covers the Romanesque and Gothic cellars, historic halls and Gothic chapel. The tower is accessible by elevator (handicap-access right up to the viewing gallery) and affords a beautiful view of the city.
Prague's astronomical clock (Prazsky orloj)
Prague's astronomical clock
The astronomical clock of Prague's town hall was built in 1410 by royal clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan and the rector of Prague University Master Jan Sindel. This was the first time in Central Europe that such a large astronomical clock was placed on the facade of a secular building. Fitted with an astronomical dial, it was enhanced with a calendar dial at the end of the 15th century by Jan Ruze.
The clock consists of three parts built in vertical succession: the procession of the apostles (Vojta Sucharda's wood carvings from 1946-47 replacing the originals that were destroyed by gunfire and fire in 1945), the astronomical dial, and Josef Manes' calendar, created in 1866, in the form of a round disc with allegorical portrayals of the twelve months of the year.
Every hour the procession of the apostles takes place; it includes the skeleton, the symbol of death, with one hand ringing a bell and the second overturning an hourglass. This parade also features personages dating back to the 17th century for the skeleton is symbolic of other figures whose time has expired.
In addition to this, there are two allegories of Vice (Avarice and Vanity) that shake their heads in disapproval, as well as the personage of the Turk, which is a reminder of the Turkish invasion of Central Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the windows of the upper part of the astronomical clock, the twelve apostles gradually make an appearance. After the departure of the last one, the windows close once again. Then the cock at the peak flaps its wings and crows, and the bells resound as the clock strikes the hour.
Church of St. Nicholas (Kostel sv. Mikulase)
The Church of St. Nicholas
The Church of St. Nicholas, designed by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer and built in 1732, stands on the site of an ancient parish cathedral. It is a prime specimen of Czech dynamic Baroque. Today, the church's position in relation to the square differs from that of the original: the east wing of the town hall and a burgher's house detached it visually from the square, and in front of it there was a small church square in line with the main facade.
Church of Our Lady before Tyn (Tynsky chram) and neighbouring buildings
A Gothic arcade with a ribbed vault and original medieval cobblestones are part of the House at the White Unicorn and Tyn School. The two Gothic structures were reconstructed in the Renaissance style to make a parish school. The Church of Our Lady before Tyn (Kostel P. Marie pred Tynem) was the main parish church of Prague's Old Town.
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn
The three-aisled Gothic church was built after 1350. A gilded statue of the Madonna dating back to 1626 stands in the late Gothic gable between the two towers. The interior was reconstructed in the Baroque style after a fire in 1679. The tomb of Tycho de Brahe, Rudolph II's Danish astronomer, is inside the church. Entry to the church is through an arcade; the Gothic northern portal with its original preserved sculptural reliefs is accessible from Tyn Street (Tynska ulice).
The House at the Stone Bell is a remarkable example of a Gothic municipal residence from the mid-14th century. Reconstruction has cleared it of most of its later adornments. The interiors of the house are open to the public and they serve as exhibition spaces for the City Gallery of Prague (Galerie hlavniho mesta Prahy). Information about current exhibitions and opening hours is available at http://www.citygalleryprague.cz or on tel. + 420 224 827 526
Golz-Kinsky Palace (Palac Goltz-Kinskych)
The Baroque Golz-Kinsky Palace was built on the sites of Renaissance Palaces with early medieval foundations according to the designs of Anselmo Lurago in 1755-65. The palace serves as an exhibition space for the National Gallery and it features the permanent exhibition entitled The Landscape in Czech Art (17th – 20th century). It is open daily except Mondays from 10:00 to 18:00, tickets are sold only until 17:30. http://www.ngprague.cz