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The Old Town Square

PROBABLE facts: the most popular spot in Prague, the most photographed and the first entry of every visitor’s must see list. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, or at least the square of Stare Mesto aka the Old Town quarter is one of those attractions topping the list of visitors.

The Astronomical Clock & the tower of the Old Town Hall.

Located between the Charles Bridge and the Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square in the Czech capital has remained virtually untouched since the 10th century. It can easily become a favorite spot of any visitor to hang out in—stroll and shop in the pop up shops, bask in the area’s rich history and mélange of architectural styles, sit and enjoy a drink or dine al fresco, people watch or enjoy the shows of the street performers. Life at the square is vibrant from the break of dawn to the late hours of night.

Bagpipe musician, one of the many acts at the old square

If you find yourself in the old square, stand in the center, take a slow 360-degree turn and let history embrace you, then start to tour the place.

The Jan Hus memorial statue & on the background are the Rococo palace of Kinsky, now a museum, & Gothic Church of Our Lady in front of Týn.

The Church of Mother of God in front of Týn or the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn. With 80-meter high towers topped by four small spires, this church built in the Gothic architectural style is a dominant feature of the square and has been the main church of the Old Town since the 14th century.

The Church of Our Lady in front of Týn with 80-meter high towers is a dominant feature of the square.

The present church replaced the original Romanesque 1256 church near the Tyn courtyard. Construction of the Gothic church began in the 14th century and finished in 1511 with the completion of the southern tower.

The sculpture of the Virgin Mary with a giant halo was installed in 1626 during the Catholic Revival period. It replaced the sculptures of the “heretic king” George of Podebrady and the golden chalice, a symbol of the Hussites who controlled the church for two centuries.

Though the church towers over the square, getting in may be tricky. Find the main entrance on the church’s western face, through a narrow passage between the houses fronting the edifice.

Check out the northern portal with a relief depicting the Crucifixion, it’s a good example of Gothic sculpture; the early baroque altar piece; the oldest pipe organ in Prague, which was built in 1673.

The Prague Astronomical Clock. The Prague Orloj is one of, if not THE, most iconic structures in Old Square and Prague. Installed in 1410 on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall, it is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. The 600th anniversary celebrated on October 9, 2010 with a light and video show on the clock tower’s face that featured the Orloj’s internal mechanism and events in its history.

The Prague Orloj is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world & the oldest one still working

The clock is made of these main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the heavens with the other astronomical details; a calendar dial with medallions representing the months; and, the clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles, "The Walk of the Apostles", and other moving sculptures—Vanity (mirror-toting figure), Greed (a miser with the bag of gold), pleasure and entertainment (represented by the Turk), and Death (striking the bell on the hour, which makes the other figures shake their heads signifying their “unreadiness to go”).

The Prague Orloj clock face with the statue of the Turks representing pleasure & entertainment.

Local legend has it that the city will suffer should the clock be neglected. Signaling this unfortunate time will be the skeleton (mounted on the clock) nodding in confirmation. The city’s hope lies on the birth of a boy born on the New Year´s night.

Several times the clock stopped working and underwent repairs. The heaviest damage was caused during the Prague Uprising in May 1945, but was back to working condition by 1948.

Rising above the Prague Orloj is the tower of the Old Town Hall. The top level is accessible via a stairway. It may be a long climb to the top but the reward is a panoramic view of the Old Town landscape.

Get a panoramic view of the Old Town landscape from the top of the tower of the Old Town Hall.

The Kinský Palace. It’s an 18th century Rococo palace built for the Golz family. Today, it’s an art museum by the Czech National Gallery.

Former palace turned museum, the Kinsky Palace. (source)

The pink and white exterior of the edifice are adorned with decorative finish in stucco and statues in the classical elements.

The Jan Hus Memorial, found at one end of the Old Town Square, symbolizes national rebirth. The monument was unveiled in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Jan Hus’ martyrdom.

The Jan Hus Memorial (source)

Born in 1369, Hus became an influential religious thinker, philosopher, and reformer in Prague. To the Bohemians, Hus was a symbol of dissidence and of strength against oppressive regimes, which included the church control of the Vatican. Hus believed that the mass should be heard in the vernacular, the “language of the people”, rather than in Latin, and stood in the center of the square before the cathedral. For his beliefs, Hus was condemned and burned at the stake in Constance in 1415.

During the communist rule in the republic, sitting at the feet of the memorial was a quiet expression of opposition.

Check out the 27 tributary crosses marking a pavement in the square as well. This memorial is installed in honor of the 27 Protestant leaders who were beheaded during the Old Town Square execution after the Battle of White Mountain.

St. Nicholas Church. Built in Baroque style, the present church was built upon the completion of a Benedictine monastery in 1732. Finished in 1735, it is said to be one of the crowning works of the local Baroque architect, KilianIgnacDienzenhofer. At present, the church hosts classical concerts throughout most of the year.

The Baroque St. Nicholas Church hosts classical concerts throughout most of the year.

Detail of door ornament.

Detail of column at the church entrance.

Interesting features of this church are the frescos in the cupola choir celebrating St. Nicholas and St. Benedict; the 1737 main altar made out of imitation marble and pillars with gilded capitals; and the main chandelier weighing 1,400 kilograms is designed in the shape of the crown of Czars.

The 1737 main altar made out of imitation marble and pillars with gilded capitals

Frescos in the cupola choir celebrating St. Nicholas and St. Benedict

Point of interest inside St. Nicholas Church- 1,400kgs chandelier designed in the shape of the crown of Czars.

Done? Grab something to eat from the food carts or the coffee shops at the square, buy a trinket from any of the pop-up shops or a home accessory from the boutiques selling crystals, or perhaps catch the street performers in action before moving to the next attraction.

Another tip—make sure you head back to the square at night.

The Old Town Square exudes a different vibe at night.