History lies under Malostranské náměstí

An archaeological dig is helping to fill in gaps about Prague's earliest days

An archaeological survey is taking place in the upper part of Malostranské náměstí in connection with the planned renovation.

The city is also planning an outdoor exhibition in August to show some of the history of the square, which has been in constant use for over 1,000 years.

Despite the square being in the center of the city, a lot of historical objects are still close to the surface, just under the paving stones. They are preserved in layers of clay, sand and sediment deposits.

The latest archaeological finds confirm that the square is one of the most interesting locations in the city. Excavating a few cubic meters has shown unique information about the city's past. The area deserves increased attention and protection, according to Jaroslav Podliska. head of the department of archeology for the Prague division of the National Heritage Institute (NPÚ).

City Hall released photos of horseshoes and decorated pottery fragments that have been found so far.

Malá Strana has been settled since the ninth century, and Prague gradually grew from there. “It is not excluded that the local tradition of roasting (pražení) iron ore and the subsequent production of iron, archeologically proven in prehistoric times, could have been reflected in the name 'Praha,'” archeologist Jarmila Čiháková said on the City Hall website. The origin of the Czech name of Prague, which is Praha, is not known and there are several theories. Another is that it is related to the word for doorway or threshold.

The extent of the earliest early medieval fortifications of Malostranské náměstí is not entirely known. Some remnants have already been found during the research.

“The details of the prehistoric settlement of Malostranské náměstí have not yet been sufficiently illuminated. Archaeological research has shown that the area of the square was used for various purposes during the Middle Ages. In addition to the finds of the early medieval fortifications, there were, for example, wooden paths, houses and remnants of craftsmanship,” archaeologist Jan Havrda said.

More information on landmarks hidden under the square's pavement will come to light after further research scheduled for autumn.

Prague Deputy Petra Kolínská (Greens) said the finds were fascinating. “I did not even know that under half of the square there is practically a historical marsh, or that in the middle of the square, in the building of the former Jesuit college, there are the foundations of the Rotunda of St. Wenceslas and buildings from the time of the first Přemyslids,” she said.

The Přemyslids were a royal family between the ninth and 12th centuries. Tales of the earliest rulers are a mix of myth and history.

“That is why we have prepared an outdoor exhibition for the inhabitants of Prague and its visitors, drawing the past and the future of the square. The exhibition will be here in August,” Kolínská said.

The square is currently undergoing a renovation to make it more friendly to pedestrians. A fountain, for example, will be added. A parking lot that had been there was closed down in July 2016.

The name of the square has changed over the years. The square has long been divided into two parts and was called Horní rynk and Dolní rynk (Upper and Lower Marketplace), and Malostranský rynek. The upper part was also called Vlašský plac, as many Italian merchants were there.

In the first half of the 19th century it became Štepanské námestí (Stephan Square), and after 1869 it was officially Malostranské náměstí, but people called it náměstí Maršála Radeckého, or Radecký Square, after a large statue located there at that time.

The statue honoring Field Marshall Radecký is associated with the Habsburg occupation of Bohemia. It was taken down after Czechoslovakia got its independence.

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