This street, meaning in Czech On the Moat, arose on the site of the moat which, together with the parallel fortification, extended between the Powder Tower and the former Gate of St Gall (Havel in Czech, currently the environment of the street Na Můstku), and divided the mediaeval Old Town from the New Town founded in 1348. Following the construction of the New Town ramparts, the Old Town fortification lost its raison d’etre, and the deserted area around the wall turned into a dumping place. At the same time the New Town area parallel with the moat had been gradually covered by mediaeval houses. From approximately the mid-17th century the Old Town ramparts began to be demolished and the moat covered up. Finally, around 1760, the development on the levelled area around the former moat reached the stage when a continuous street obtained on both the Old Town and New Town sides, and the new street with a lime-tree alley began to be called V Alejích (In the Alley). Later, as new alleys arose in the area between today’s National Theatre and Jungmannovo Square (later the street called Ferdinandova), the name V Alejích was changed into Ve Starých alejích (In the Old Alley).
From the end of the 18th century the street began to serve as a promenade, turning the place into one of the most fashionable areas of Prague’s social scene. Nevertheless, even at the beginning of the 19th century, one could still see on the Old Town side of the street residual garden walls, and the city line was somewhat different from the current one. But in the course of the century the empty lots were gradually covered by new Neo-Classical structures housing, among other things, cafés and hotels and, from the second half of the 19th century, also banks. The street was further enlivened by gas lighting introduced in 1847, and in 1875 by horse-drawn trams which in 1899 were replaced by electric trams. In the period 1839-1870 the street was officially called Kolovratská, to honour the memory of Count F. A. Libštejnský of Kolovrat, one of the founders of the National Museum, which had its home here in the period 1845-1890.
The local cafés had mostly a German, or German-Jewish atmosphere, although quite a few Czech patriots did not mind frequenting the cafés for the sake of reading some of the many high-quality German-language newspapers available to the patrons. In a sense the street was something of a German minority centre within Prague (parallelled by the patriotic Czech centre in neighbouring Ferdinandova). The headquarters of Prague’s German speakers in this street, called by them graben (the moat), was in the building of the German Club (nowadays The Slavonic House - Slovanský dům), while the nearby former Piarist monastery housed the German Gymnasium (grammar school). Many dignitaries from all over the world, including royalty, have stayed in the street’s hotels, some of the most luxurious in Prague. It was also in this street that Prague saw the creation of the first passages, which are a typical feature of the city, as well as the rise of some of the first Czech department stores.
It should also be said that Na Příkopě Street was and remains the financial heart of Prague, with its imposing bank buildings trying to express their reliability by their very appearance.
Following the clearance of the Jewish ghetto, Na Příkopě Street became the home of a number of Jewish merchants who opened their shops here. It was this first generation of Jewish businessmen which established the reputation of this street as Prague’s No. 1 street of commerce, with some of the most luxurious shops offering mostly goods from abroad. This was the image the street had especially after 1900 when it was already inhabited by the wealthy second generation of the founders of the street’s reputation.
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