What a load of old cobblestones: the enduring appeal of Staré Město, Prague's historic heart
Located right in the heart of what is unequivocally the most beautiful city in the world, Prague's Old Town (Staré Město) is renowned for its plethora of historic buildings and cobbled streets. First mentioned in 1091, it is the oldest of Prague's "towns," gaining those privileges in the 13th century. Its name, however, dates back to the 14th century when the New Town (Nové Město) was founded.
Fortuitously, during both world wars the center was hardly touched and a wealth of architecture spanning 10 centuries still exists to this day. Prague 1 comprises the Old Town, the New Town, and Malá Strana, divided by the Vltava river that sweeps through the city. The Old Town is on the river's east bank.
Charles Bridge is a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and Malá Strana. Its construction was commissioned by Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and began in 1357. There are towers at each end of the bridge, which can be climbed for a view of Prague and of the bridge itself. Baroque statues began to be placed on either side of Charles Bridge in the 17th century, and there are now 30. The most popular statue is probably the one of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV by being thrown from the bridge into the Vltava. The plaque on the statue has been polished to a shine by countless people having touched it over the centuries. Touching the statue is supposed to bring you good luck and ensure your return to Prague.
The center of the Old Town has always been the Old Town Square dominated by the Church of Our Lady of Týn and the Old Town Hall.
The Old Town Square, with its complex Astronomical Clock, is famous all over the world. The square dates back to the late 12th century and started life as Prague's central marketplace. Over the next few centuries, many buildings, in Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles, were erected around the market, each bringing with them stories of wealthy merchants and intrigue.
The Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn was built in 1365 on the site of an earlier Romanesque church. Its magnificent multiple steeples are 80 meters high and dominate the square. Its most striking features are a beautiful entrance portal, decorated with scenes of Christ's passion, and a huge Rococo altar on the northern wall. To the right of the altar is the tomb of the Danish astronomer Tycho de Brahe who worked at the court of Emperor Rudolf II. Týn church has a grand-sounding pipe organ and is occasionally used as a concert venue.
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