THE ROYAL ROUTE – FROM PRAŠNÁ BRÁNA TO CHARLES BRIDGE
(Powder Tower) was built in 1475 by King Vladislav Jagiello on the site of a 13th
century fortified tower. It was supposed to be an official gateway of sorts to
the Old Town. The Royal Court where the kings of Bohemia used to stay from the
late 14th century on was situated where the Art Nouveau Obecní dům (Municipal
House) stands today. When the king moved back to Prague Castle, construction of
the tower stopped. It was later used to store gunpowder and has since been
referred to as the Powder Tower. Originally built in the Late Gothic style, it
was rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style in the 19th century.
is the artery of the Old Town of Prague and a textbook of architectural styles.
Examples of the earliest, Romanesque, style may be found in the basement of
virtually every house on this street (currently used as wine bars and
restaurants) because over the centuries the ground level sunk by several
(Mint House; Celetná 36/587) was built in the baroque style in the 18th century, and from the late 18th century housed Prague’s military headquarters.
Ovocný trh (Fruit Market) nearby is where Prague’s oldest theatre, namely Stavovské divadlo (Estates Theatre) of 1783, stands. It was the venue of the world premiere of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, conducted by the composer in person in 1787.
Not far from here stands the Carolinum, once a college of Charles University founded by Charles IV, comprising several buildings in the Gothic style.
Dům U Černé Matky Boží
(House at the Black Mother of God; Celetná 34/569) is one of the best-known examples of Cubist architecture in Prague, designed by the architect Josef Gočár and built in 1911-12. It houses a permanent exhibition of Czech Cubism.
(Menhart House; Celetná 17/595) consists of several medieval structures, rebuilt in the Renaissance style and turned into a single compound around the year 1700, with Gothic portals, Renaissance vaults, and baroque sculptures in the courtyard. (A
passageway lead from here to St. James’s Church. one of Prague’s most beautiful baroque churches, built in the 13th century but rebuilt in the early baroque style at the beginning of the 18th century.)
(Celetná 13/597) is a blend of several styles, from the Romanesque to the baroque. The remains of the original 12th-century house have been preserved in the basement, while the facade dates from the 18th century.
(Celetná 12/558) is the result of a radical rebuilding of an earlier structure in the baroque style by the architect Alliprandi after 1700 for Count Zikmund Hrzán of Harasov.
House signs, typical of Prague in the past, have been preserved on some houses on Celetná street to date. They are the houses U bílého páva (At the White Peacock; Celetná 10/557), U černého slunce (At the Black Sun; Celetná 8/556) and U bílého lva (At the White Lion; Celetná 6/555). The house At the Black Sun was where the wedding of Josefina Hampacherová and Josef Dušek took place. It was with the Dušeks that Mozart stayed when in Prague.
Probably the best preserved historic houses on the street are the parsonage (Celetná 5/601) and the house U tří králů (At the Three Kings; Celetná 3/602). In both, the original Gothic brickwork has been preserved including the 14th-century gables. The latter was once inhabited by the young Franz Kafka.
(Old Town Square) is the most important square of the oldest part of the royal town of Prague and the centre of its eventful history, which included royal weddings, the election of the King George of Poděbrady (1458), but also executions, with the most tragic one being the execution of 27 leaders of a failed anti-Hapsburg rebellion of the Estates in 1621. The event is
commemorated by the 27 crosses in the pavement next to the Old Town Hall. Coronation processions used to pass through the square which was also the venue of major rallies in the country’s more recent history. The Jan Hus Memorial was erected here as a symbol of those happy and sad events in 1915, designed by the architect Ladislav Šaloun.
The town hall as a symbol of the self-government of the Old Town of Prague was built in 1338 and in the course of the following centuries was gradually expanded. The astronomical clock (Orloj) dating from 1410 has figures of the twelve apostles appearing in the tiny windows on the hour during the day, and mechanical figures of Vanity, Greed, Death, and a Turk in the upper part.
The monumental spires of Chrám Panny Marie před Týnem (Church of Our Lady before Týn) is separated from the square by Týnská škola (Týn School) whose Gothic arcade is one of Prague’s oldest. The church itself was built on the site of an earlier church in the 14th and 15th centuries, and later rebuilt in the baroque style. Inside the church are Late Gothic and baroque altars and the grave of Tycho de Brahe, a famous astronomer of the time of Emperor Rudolph II. The tympanum on the northern portal is a copy of the original 14th-century piece by the Peter Parler workshop. If you have time, pass through the Renaissance gate to the Ungelt, also known as Týn, once an inn for merchants in transit through Prague. Some of the houses built next to the perimeter wall are fine examples of the Renaissance style.
Return to the Old Town Square and stop at the monumental medieval structure of the house U kamenného zvonu (At the Stone Bell; Staroměstské náměstí 13/605) which in the 14th century was one of Prague’s most decorative buildings and was probably owned by Queen Eliška Přemyslovna.
The adjacent Goltz-Kinsky Palace (Staroměstské náměstí 11/606) was built in the second half of the 18th century and is the birthplace of the first Nobel Peace Prize winner Bertha von Suttner-Kinsky. It later housed the German Gymnasium (secondary school) attended by Franz Kafka.
The memorial plaque on the house U kamenného beránka (At the Stone Lamb) with a fine Renaissance portal (Staroměstské náměstí 17/551) recalls Albert Einstein’s stay in Prague in 1911.
The corner house U bílého koníčka (At the White Horse; nebo U zlatého jednorožce (At the Golden Unicorn; Staroměstské náměstí 20/548) with a Late Gothic vault in the passageway and a Romanesque basement bears a memorial plaque recalling the piano school where the great Czech composer Bedřich Smetana once taught.
Passingby the Old Town Hall and by the Renaissance house U minuty (At the Minute; Staroměstské náměstí 2/3) you arrive at the Malé náměstí square in the centre of which stands a fountain with a Renaissance grille. Then take Karlova street with many medieval houses among which house No. 156 (Husova 19) with Venetian Renaissance gables is probably the most interesting. It houses an art gallery with exhibits also on display in the well-preserved Romanesque basement.
Opposite it stands the huge Clam-Gallas Palace (Husova 20/158), a fine example of high baroque architecture, built on the site of a medieval palace after a design by J. B. Fischer von Erlach in the early 18th century. The expressive sculpted decorations are the work of Matthias Bernard Braun.
Other interesting houses on Karlova include the house U zlaté studny (At the Golden Well; Karlova 3/175) with rich stucco decorations on the facade.
In the opposite corner stands the house U zlatého hada (At the Golden Snake); Karlova 18/181) with a beautiful house sign. This is where Prague’s first café Deodata Damajana was opened in the early 18th century.
On the right side of the street stands one of the city’s largest compounds, namely the Clementinum, construction of which started in the mid-16th century and took almost two centuries to complete. It was originally a Jesuit college which was gradually expanded into a large university compound, including many religious buildings. The Mirror Chapel (Zrcadlová kaple) is the venue of concerts, the Church of St. Clement is used by the Greek Catholic Church, and the Vlašská kaple (Italian chapel of the Assumption of Our Lady) by the recently restored Italian Congregation. The facade of the Church of St. Saviour (sv. Salvátor) decorated with sculptures by J.J. Bendl overlooks the Křižovnické náměstí square.
The square is named after the only Bohemian religious order, namely the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, founded in the mid-13th century by St. Agnes of Bohemia. Shortly after its foundation the order moved near the then Romanesque bridge and has resided there ever since. The Church of St. Francis replaced an earlier one only in the late 17th century and was designed by J.B. Mathey. The memorial in the centre of the square represents Charles IV as founder of Prague’s Charles University. It was erected here on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of its foundation in 1848, and the four female figures surrounding the ruler represent the university’s four faculties.