Old Town Square - History and Sights

Brief History

Old Town Square is the heart of the city of Prague and one of the oldest square in the Czech capital. This square has been the main center of Prague's life since the early 12th century. Old Town Square was first known as Big Market Square, but it was also used as the place where the kings' army gathered and executions -the main source of Medieval entertainment-were carried out. In the 1230s, Wenceslas II built a defense wall around a small settlement of the Old Town to protect people from sieges.

In the 14th century Bohemian king John of Luxemburg helped to establish Old Town Hall, Prague Old Town gained the status of a city. John's son Charles IV started the construction of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, the biggest Gothic shrine on the right side of the Vltava river. The two towers of the Tyn church is what makes the view of the Old Town Square so recognizable! At the beginning of the 15th century, this church became the center of early Protestant thought when John of Rokycany, a future archbishop and a supporter of Jan Hus, was appointed as a vicar there.

The Counter-Reformation whipped out all the Protestants from the map of Prague, and on June 21st, 1621, members of the Czech uprising against Habsburg rule were publicly executed on the Old Town Square. You can still find the 27 crosses on the ground in front of the Old Town Hall that commemorate this sad moment in Czech history. After that, the Bohemian kingdom became a mere province in the Habsburg Empire and people were deprived of their national identity and religion. This period of oppression lasted until 1918 when the sovereign state of the Czechoslovakian Republic was founded. People were then getting rid of everything that reminded them of the Habsburg rule including some historical monuments, like the Marian Column on the Old Town Square. Having been torn down by the Prague people, this column already managed to make a comeback and not without controversy.  

Although Czechoslovakian independence was established at the end of WW1, the battle for freedom wasn't over. In May 1945, a few days before the end of WW2, Czechs bravely fought in the Prague Uprising against Nazi rule, when the Old Town Hall and other buildings on the Old Town Square partially burned down. The northern wing of the Prague City Hall was never rebuilt afterward.

Old Town Square Sights

  • Astronomical Clock - the oldest one in Europe! You can find this famous Prague clock on the Old Town Hall Tower. Don't miss the Astronomical Clock show!
  • Old Town Hall - you can visit its interiors, climb the tower for the stunning view of Prague, and explore the underground passages. 
  • Church of Our Lady Before Tyn - one of the most beautiful churches in Prague and it is free to visit!
  • Jan Hus Monument - dedicated to a religious reformer Jan Huss, this monument was erected to celebrate 500 of his martyrdom.
  • Marian Column - originally installed to celebrate Habsburgs' victory in the 30 Years War, this monument has been destroyed in 1918 and reerected in 2020. 
  • Kinsky Palace - a beautiful Baroque palace that houses the Prague National Gallery nowadays. 
  • House of the Stone Bell - a legendary building and a possible birthplace of the most famous Czech ruler, Charles IV.
  • St. Nicholas Church - not to be confused with the one in Mala Strana, this church of St. Nicholas will surprise you with its beautiful frescoes and crystal chandeliers.

Fun Facts about Prague Old Town Square

  • You can find houses of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicist, and Neogothic styles of architecture on the Old Town Square. Each building has more than one style since most of them had been reconstructed multiple times, each time in a different style! 
  • Prague Meridian - a golden line that you can find on the ground of the Old Town Square - is the large sundial in Prague! People would determine that it's noon when the shadow of the Marian Column would match with the Meridian. This has not been accurate ever since they introduced light savings and time zones, but it's good to have it as a part of history!
  • Many Prague travelers miss out on visiting the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn because of its hidden entrance. All you need to do to enter is to go through the arch of the building in front of the church, right between the outside seats of the two restaurants! 

Our Local Guide Tip

  • Bear in mind, that the prices of the restaurants located on the Old Town Square can be much higher than in other parts of the Old Town. You will be paying for the view, not for the quality of food! 

See more of our Prague Travel Tips.

 


Author: Valeriia Zahradnikova and Vaclav Zahradnik, Prague guides certified by Prague City Tourism agency. Valeriia and Vaclav have worked in tourism for over 6 years and have guided thousands of Prague visitors.