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The New Town

Charles IV founded Nové Město (the New Town) in 1348, although people were already living here as early as the 10th century. Unlike the cosmopolitan Old Town, the New Town was mainly inhabited by Czech burghers who regarded themselves as craftsmen. The rivalry of both Prague towns influenced history until their official joining in 1784. The medieval outline of the New Town was incredibly far ahead of its time by several centuries, containing 360 hectares of land within the rampart boundaries demarcated by Charles IV. Its streets, up to twenty seven metres wide in places, imposed order on the chaotic scattering of settlements, and were suitable for traffic until the second half of the 20th century.

German merchants settled around the Romanesque Church of St. Peter from the 12th century. The Church was rebuilt in Gothic style between the 14th and 15th centuries. From time immemorial, it was called Poříčí (river basin) and the main local street – Na Poříčí – was named after it.

Na Poříčí is dominated by the celebrated Cubist Legiobank building built by Josef Gočár in 1923, a good example of unique Czech Cubist architecture.

After the demolition of the Old Town ramparts in the 1780s, a circular grand avenue (in three parts: now called Revoluční, Na Příkopech and Národní) was built in their place above the filledin castle moat. This avenue connects with Na Poříčí Street at náměstí Republiky (Republic Square) A dominant feature of Náměstí Republiky is not only the Municipal House and Powder Gate, but also the House at the Hibernians, an Empire building customs house named after the local monastery of Irish Franciscans.

National Theatre (J. Zítek, 1868 - 81), photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

The dominant feature of Národní třída and the embankment is the National Theatre, built by Josef Zítek with monies donated from generous patrons and the common people. After the conflagration in 1881, Josef Schulz repaired it. Important artists of the day participated in its decoration. The Neo- Renaissance style gradually changed into Art Nouveau.

Dating from the end of the 15th century, the Water Tower stands within sight of the National Theatre opposite the banks of Slav Island, and incorporated Late Gothic and Functionalist styles in 1930 to create the modern building of the Mánes Artists’ Association.

The noteworthy Dancing House built by Croatian architect Vlado Milunić and American architect Frank O. Gehry in 1996, breathes new life onto the Vltava riverbank.

Václavské Náměstí (Wenceslas Square) was until 1848 a horse market, but became the main centre of modern Prague from the second half of the 19th century. Its magnificent medieval dimensions, occupying an area of 41 400 square metres, fully suit the needs of modern times. The imposing houses and palaces of Wenceslas Square illustrate the development of Czech modern architecture with The National Museum as its dominant feature.

The National Museum, a Neo- Renaissance building built in 1890 by Josef Schulz, was not intended to be a mere museum, but a centre of Czech sciences and cultural and political ambitions. The allegorical sculptures depicting the Czech lands and Czech rivers and its lavish interiors conceal rich collections, and Pantheon hall dedicated to the memory of exceptional personalities from the Czech lands.

In front of the National Museum in the upper part of Wenceslas Square stands the St. Wenceslas Equestrian Memorial , built in 1924 by the founder of modern Czech sculpture J. V. Myslbek. Its Baroque predecessor dates from 1680 and is located in the Lapidarium. This memorial depicts the main protector of the Czech lands accompanied by his grandmother St. Ludmila, St. Prokop, St. Agnes of Bohemia and Bishop St. Vojtěch. The citizens of Prague gather under this monument for amorous meetings or political demonstrations, as exemplified by the demonstrations against communism that convened here in 1989.

New Town City Hall on Karlovo Náměstí (Charles Square), photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

The Romanesque Rotunda of St. Longin from the 11th century stands a short way from the Parish Church of St. Stephen here. The Church of St. Stephen used to be the parish church of the settlement called Rybníček, hence, Na Rybníčku Street. Žitná Street runs from St. Stephen’s to what was once a livestock market, now known as Karlovo Náměstí (Charles Square). Covering 80,500 square metres, Charles IV founded it as the main centre of new Prague. The New Town City Hall is also located here, serving its purpose until 1784. The building of the town hall, built from 1377 to 1418, bore witness to the first Czech Defenestration in 1419, during which aldermen involuntarily left their functions and offices, and this world. Their deaths were the cause of Wenceslas IV’s heart attack; the king’s demise then set off the avalanche of the Hussite Wars.

The monumental Baroque Church of St. Ignatius, completed in 1670 stands centred on the eastern side of Charles Square, and is a part of the extensive Jesuit College now the Teaching Hospital of Charles University. The church interiors are mainly Rococo.

Resslova Street runs from the façade of St. Ignatius down to the river. Its dominant feature is the Baroque Cathedral of St. Cyril and Methodius, built in 1736. In 1942, Czechoslovakian parachutists carried out the assassination of a Reichsprotektor, hid in its crypt, and died.

Church of St. John Nepomuk on the Cliff and the Emause Monastery, photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

Emause Monastery is located south of Karlovo Náměstí (Charles Square). Built between 1347 and 1372, it is the only new building to have been completed in Charles IV’s lifetime, and exceptional care was taken in its decoration. A unique cycle of frescoes complements this beautiful, treblenave monastery church. These frescoes represent the largest preserved group of medieval wall paintings outside Italy. The monastery, destroyed by bombing at the end of the Second World War was given a new roof in 1967, and this bold construction became the new dominant feature of the embankment.

The beautiful Gothic Church of St. Apollinaris from the second half of the 14th century looks down from above to the centre of the New Town towards Karlovo náměstí (Charles Square). Gothic wall paintings from the end of the 14th century and a rich Baroque interior, including a painting of the Virgin Mary of Karlovská, the patroness of pregnant women, have been preserved here. There is, in fact, a maternity hospital nearby.

The admirable, eight-sided Cathedral of the Augustinian Capitulary, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Charlemagne, is located in Na Karlově. Charles IV intended this building to recall Charlemagne’s Chapel at Aachen as he regarded himself as the great Emperor’s successor. The present-day cupola is Renaissance styled, dating from 1575. Its gigantic star vault deliberately evokes the distant past, joining Renaissance and Gothic historicism together.

Designed as a French type suburban villa, the baroque-styled Villa America dates from 1712 and was decorated with statues made around 1730. Since 1932, it has housed the Antonín Dvořák Museum.