Discover the mysterious magic of the New Town of Prague. Do you know the six churches whose configuration forms a cross? Modern buildings have hidden some of the medieval monuments, but they are certainly worth exploring, just as the pulsing large squares and original houses of merchants.
Where is the New Town situated?
The New Town of Prague was built on the right bank of Vltava. Its border goes under Vyšehrad, from Jiráskovo Square, along the Masaryk Embankment and the Old Town to Holešovice. This city quarter includes large parts of Prague 1 and Prague 2, and a small part of Prague 8.
The New Town offers architectural gems, such as the National Theatre or the National Museum, and includes the areas around Wenceslas Square, Charles Square, Náměstí Republiky Square, Jindřišská Street, Karlova, Albertova and Výtoň Streets, the Prague main train station and the Masaryk station.
The first quarter with a plan
Officially, the New Town of Prague was established on March 8, 1348. Prague was growing fast at that time. It was the seat of the Czech and Roman king Charles IV, higher education and valuable church relics, and the number of inhabitants, students and pilgrims from abroad kept growing. Charles IV announced his aim to increase the capacity of the capital soon after he succeeded to the throne.
He also paid attention to detailed planning of the project. Unlike the Old Town, where the narrow, crooked streets were built spontaneously, the construction of the New Town was planned to include exactly surveyed wide boulevards, right-angled crossroads and vast squares. The foundation stone was ceremonially laid down to the walls of the New Town by Charles IV on March 28, 1348.
A promise which has encouraged development
The powerful monarch had grandiose visions. The plans of the New Town of Prague included 5,000 houses for 50,000 new inhabitants, important secular buildings and many impressive churches. Charles IV also did not hesitate to promise a twelve-year tax exemption to all estate owners who would build a house on their property. Such an incentive worked great! Under Charles IV, Prague became the third largest and most populated European city, right after Rome and Constantinople.
A quick start of the New Town
In four years, about 600 new buildings were built in the set area, which also included older settlements. Palatial houses of rich merchants, with arcades and sometimes even private chapels, stood at the edges of squares; dwellings of poorer craftsmen were built in the surrounding streets. The area of 2.4km2 was enclosed by 3.5km long and 10m high city walls and their construction took only two years. By the end of the 14th century, the construction works slowed down. The New Town was not completed until the 19th century when its fortifications were pulled down.
The biggest markets and the squares today
The quarter built by Charles IV more than 600 years ago still has the biggest square – the former Cattle Market, now Karlovo (Charles) Square which takes up the area of eight hectares. In the Middle Ages, streets up to 27m wide led to the square; today, the traffic from the busy Žitná a Resslova Streets are tailing back here. Two more big markets – the Horse Market and Hay Market – have become Wenceslas and Senovážné Square and they are still the busiest places of the metropolis.
Churches on an imaginary cross
The concept of the New Town as planned by Charles IV also included the foundation of six churches whose configuration forms the Christian cross from the bird’s eye view. In its centre, there is the Church of St. Apollinaire; at the ends of the cross arms, you can find the Emmaus Monastery (Na Slovanech) and the Church of Virgin Mary and St. Charles the Great at Karlov. The base of the cross is formed by the line between the Church of St. Catherine (today the premises of a mental hospital), the Church of Our Lady on the Lawn and the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Vyšehrad.