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Old postcards of Prague   Charles Square

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This square still represents a certain idyll in the midst of the metropolitan bustle... the liveliest day of the year is Easter Monday when the carnival at Emauzy at tracts throngs of merchants who pitch their stalls here. Next to these you find shooting-galleries, photographic parlours, phonographs, stalls selling postcards and other things unknown to our ancestors. This is how F. Ruth described Karlovo Square in 1904. One of the largest squares in Europe, called the Cattle Market till 1848, it was earmarked by the founder of the New Town, Charles IV, to be Prague’s central market. The trading concerned not only cattle, but also e.g. pickled herrings, which were stored in front of the New Town hall until as late as 1863. The name of the building u Kamenného stolu (=the stone table) recalls the real table on which the merchants counted the money they earned. Commercial activities of Karlovo Square are also symbolized by the Prague ellembedded in a wall of the New Town Hall tower where customers could make sure whether they received their goods in the appropriate measure.

However, Charles IV also wanted this forum magnum to become a centre of spiritual life. He ordered the building of a wooden edifice in the middle of the square which served each year for the display of the imperial coronation jewels and of the relics of saints. This was a strong attraction for pilgrims and merchants from all over Europe. The function of this display edifice was later assumed by the Gothic Chapel of Corpus Christi erected nearby with bricked-in tablets (from 1437) containing the Basle compacts. The chapel, with its octagonal star ground plan, was dissolved under Josef II and later removed. Most of the original Gothic buildings in the square were demolished, and the only of them still extant, if after many adaptations, is the New Town Hall, which became famous especially in the Hussite period. It was here that on July 30th, 1419 the first Prague defenestration took place. The victims of the defenestration were the aldermen appointed by Wenceslas IV who opposed the Hussite views. The town hall housed a renowned jail and torture chambers, while the safety of the New Town population was supervised from the town hall tower by two watchmen in the night and by one during the day. Upon the unification of Prague towns in 1784 the autonomous function of the New Town Hall was abolished, and the building first housed a court, later a prison. The last executions in the prison courtyard took place as late as the early 20th century.

Other important structures changed the face of the square in the 17th and 18th centuries. Following the Thirty Years’ War the Jesuits purchased a row of buildings in the eastern section of the cattle market and built here their college (later converted into a military hospital) and the Church of St Ignatius. An important example of Baroque art was the 1725 reconstruction of the Faust House, originally the palace of the dukes of Opava, by F. M. Kaňka.

In the 19th century the square underwent significant changes. The year 1863 saw the demolition of the ungainly buildings in the centre of this square and instead of the miserable, bumpy, unpaved village green, described by one eye-witness, there arose an imposing park based on a design of František Thomayer. Gradually it was beautified by monuments devoted to important national personalities: Vítězslav Hálek (1881), Benedikt Roezl (1898) and Karolina Světlá (1910). The 1874 Neo-Renaissance building of the Czech Technical University by Ignác Ullmann also significantly contributed to the appearance of the square. The time-honoured face of the cattle market, which had been characterized by numerous breweries and roadside inns, vanished for good in the 1930s. The beer-brewing tradition is evoked today only by the name Český Pivovar (The Czech Brewery) on the building adjacent to the Technical University.

postcards Charles Square

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