The Wenceslas Square, Prague is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Czech Republic. It is also Prague’s shopping and commercial hub, and a great place to begin your itinerary when visiting the city. The square covers seven hundred meters long and sixty meters wide, and it is actually more of a boulevard than a conventional city square.
Many important events in the history of the Czechoslovak Republic took place here-from the revolutionary upheavals in 1848 to the creation of the Czech republic in 1918 and the demonstrations of 1989 which heralded the velvet revolution and which led to the fall of the communist era.
The history of the square can be traced to 1348, when Prague’s New Town was founded by Emperor Charles IV. It was meant to be used for horse trading and was therefore named ‘Horse Market’ .The authorities placed gibbets in the upper and lower sections of the square where executions were held. There was also a lake with a mill located on the lower section of the square. A horse gate that used to be situated near where the National Museum stands today and which was part of the original fortification was pulled down in 1875.
The square got its name from Saint Wenceslas, a well-liked Czech king who propagated Christianity in the 10th century. According to legend, the king’s brother, called Boleslav, arranged with mercenaries to murder him as he was going for the morning service. The square got its current name in 1848. St. Wenceslas symbolizes the nationhood and continuity among the Czechs, and 27th September is a national holiday in his honor.Wenceslas and Boleslav are considered to be the Czech equivalent of Cain and Abel in the Holy Bible, corresponding to good and evil. There is a majestic equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas, designed by Josef Myslbek, a noted Czech sculptor, at the southern section of the square. It is a popular meeting place among the locals.
Another historical figure associated with the square is Jan Palach, a young student who set himself on fire in 1969 to protest against the invasion of Prague by the soviets. After his funeral, there was a massive anti-communist protest. The protests would continue to be held in the square until the fall of the regime in 1989. A cross was engraved near the place where Jan fell, and there is a small memorial near the statue of Saint Wenceslas to commemorate the victims of communist rule. The monument holds photographs and epitaphs that are handwritten in honor of Jan Palach.
Today, the square is essentially Prague’s commercial heart. It is surrounded by classy hotels, nightclubs,fast food joints, international clothing shops, bars and restaurants.The square continues uphill and leads to the national museum, a stunning structure that showcases 19th century neo-renaissance architecture and overlooks the entire square. It is the largest and most important museum in the Czech Republic. The Prague State Opera is just a few minutes’ walk from the museum. Here, visitors can sample a wide repertoire of ballet and opera. On the western side, there is a fashionable district called SoNa, where you can find writers, designers, artists and other creative types who are attracted to the area by the many restaurant and bars. The eastern side is quieter and it has small shops that serve a local clientele. The central location of Wenceslas Square means that you can easily reach the main attractions of Prague on foot. There are many tour buses that depart from the square and the Mustek and Museum metro stations flank the square.
In conclusion, the vibrant and historic Wenceslas square should be an essential part of your itinerary if you are visiting Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.