The Description of Prague
Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and the country's industrial, commercial, and cultural center. A city of hills, it lies on both banks of the Vltava (Moldau) River. Prague (Praha) is widely admired for the harmonious aspect of the city -an effect created by the juxtaposition of its castle, churches, palaces, parks, and gardens.
Of the four historic districts in central Prague, Staré Město and Nové Město are on the east bank of the Vltava, and Hradčany and Malá Strana are on the west bank.
Staré Město (Old Town)
At the center of Staré Město is the Gothic-style Old Town Hall in Old Town Square. In front of the hall is a 20th-century statue of Jan Hus, which has been the focus of many public demonstrations. Facing the square is Týn Church, a 14th-century Gothic church with large baroque altars. Next to the church is the rococo Kinský Palace, which houses the National Gallery's collection of graphic art.
Prague's strong Jewish tradition is evident in Josefov (Joseph's Town, or Jews' Town), which lies between the square and the river. This section lost its autonomy in 1848, when the segregationist laws were abolished. Its most impressive structure is the Old-New Synagogue, which combines early Gothic and 13th-century Cistercian Gothic styles. The 16th-century Jewish Town Hall was remodeled in the baroque style in the 18th century. The story of the virtual extinction of the Czech Jews under the Nazis can be studied in the exhibits of the State Jewish Museum in the Klaus Synagogue.
South of the Old Town Square is the Bethlehem Chapel, where Jan Hus preached. Though the original chapel was demolished in 1796, it was painstakingly reconstructed after World War II. To the southeast of the square is the restored Carolinum, Charles University's oldest building.
Crusaders' Square commands the approach to the Charles Bridge. It is bounded by the entrance to the Clementinum, a complex that once belonged to the Jesuits; by two churches; and by the Bridge Tower, built in the 14th century by the same architect who built the bridge. The bridge gained in beauty when 26 statues in the baroque style were added in the late 17th century and the 18th century. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the addition of at least 4 more statues. The Bridge Tower frames Prague Castle on the Hradčany heights above the river. Two towers rise from the western end of the bridge.
The castle -in medieval times the home of the kings of Bohemia and in modern times the presidential palace- is a vast complex of buildings and courtyards. The presidential reception halls are reached from the first courtyard, which dates from the time of Maria Theresa (1717–1780). The second courtyard, to the east, was constructed in the 16th century and remodeled in the 18th century. The third courtyard contains St. Vitus Cathedral, part of which dates from the time of Charles IV, part from later periods. Wenceslas IV (ruled as king of Bohemia 1378–1419) was the first Bohemian king to be crowned there. Nearby is the great Gothic-style Vladislav Hall and the Czech Chancellery. It was from one of the chancellery windows that a group of Protestant nobles threw two imperial councillors in 1618, an act that began the Bohemian revolt that led to the Thirty Years' War. Farther east in the castle is one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Prague, the Basilica of St. George.
The castle fronts on Castle Square, as does the entrance to the baroque Sternberk Palace. The latter contains the art collection of the National Gallery, which is outstanding for its Gothic art. Nearby is Loretto Square. The Černín Palace, Prague's largest, stretches along one side, and the Counter-Reformation church of Loretto along another. Farther on is the Strahov Monastery, which contains the Museum of National Literature. South of the monastery is the large Strahov Stadium, one of the biggest stadiums in the world.
Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter)
This old district of twisting streets and baroque palaces centers on Lesser Quarter Square and its beautiful Church of St. Nicholas, probably the finest example of Prague's baroque ecclesiastical architecture. On the river side of the Malá Strana is Kampa Island, the southern part of which is a park. To the west of Malá Strana rises Petřín Hill, a large park with gardens. Petřín Tower (1891) rises on its crest. At the base of the hill is the Church of Our Lady of Victory, which contains the miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague statue. Maltese Square and Grand Priory Square are also noteworthy for their historic buildings, including the Gothic-style Church of Our Lady "Below the Chain." Below the castle and overlooking the river is the baroque Valdštejn (Wallenstein) palace, built for the famous general who fought in the Thirty Years' War.
Nové Město (New Town)
Prague's commercial center, Nové Město developed beyond the fortified walls of Staré Město on the east bank of the river. The broad avenue called Wenceslas Square, which is bordered with fashionable shops, leads from Staré Město to the St. Wenceslas Memorial and the neo-Renaissance–style National Museum. The latter has a library as well as history and natural history exhibits. Like Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square has often been a center for celebrations and demonstrations. Southwest of the square is the 18th-century Antonín Dvořák Museum. A tavern in Nové Město called U Kalicha (At the Sign of the Chalice) is built on the site of an inn where Jaroslav Hašek and other writers of his day met. The 17th-century Church of St. Ignatius and the much reconstructed Gothic-style New Town Hall dominate Charles Square, the city's largest square. In the northwest part of the district, the National Theater overlooks the river and Slovanský Island, which, like Kampa Island, is largely a park.