Charles Square: green park in the middle of Prague

Charles Square, Karlovo náměstí, is located in the Nove Mesto district in Prague and is one of the largest squares in Europe. Many tourists do not realize that this spot is a town square because it looks rather like a park. During your holiday in Prague, you will undoubtedly pass Charles Square as it is a tram hub. Pause and take a walk in the park before you catch your next tram.

Charles Square

Charles Square: what to see

1. New Town Hall
2. St Ignatius Church
3. Faust House
4. Statues in the Park
5. The Prague cubit
6. Mosaic depicting Charles IV
7. Cyril and Methodius Church

Charles Square: green park in the middle of Prague

Charles Square is a pleasant green spot with many benches where Czechs eat their lunch, children play in a playground, visitors can take a stroll, and where statues of illustrious Czechs from science and literature watch over you.

1. The New Town Hall
On the northern side of the square is the New Town Hall, not very new as it was built between 1348 and 1418. The tower was added in the eighteenth century. The first defenestration (throwing someone out of a window) took place here in 1419, which marked the start of the Hussite War that raged for fifteen years.

2. St Ignatius Church on Charles Square
The Baroque St. Ignatius Church, built by the Jesuits between 1685 and 1687, sits on the eastern side of the square. In the thirteenth century during the reign of Charles IV, the square had only small chapel, where on the first Friday after Easter, relics were exhibited: a nail and a wooden splinter of the Holy Cross, part of the crown of thorns and the Holy Lance along with other religious objects collected by Charles IV. Pilgrims came from far and wide to see and venerate the relics. Devotees who died in Prague were buried in the small cemetery next to the chapel. At the end of the eighteenth century, all cemeteries in Prague had their graves removed to prevent the spread of disease. Remnants of the cemetery have been found during recent works on the square.

Charles Square

3. The Mysterious Faust House
Many stories are told about the Faust House, the pink building at number 40 Charles Square. At the time of Rudolf II (1552-1612), the astrologer Jakub Krucinek lived at this address with his two sons. The younger killed the elder because the younger believed there was a treasure hidden in the house, but it was never found. Alchemists including Edward Kelley and Ferdinand Mladota also lived here. Their chemistry experiments often led to explosions scaring the local residents. Not unjustly, because the explosions were so violent they made holes in the roof.

Mladota’s son was not only good not only at chemistry but also at mechanics. He terrified visitors with a self-opening door, a flying staircase and an electric shock when touching a door handle. In the nineteenth, century Karel Jaenig lived in the Faust House. He wrote funerary texts on the walls, had functioning gallows and slept in a coffin. Now the Faust House is part of the Charles University, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital.

Charles Square

4. Statues in the Park
The park in the middle of Charles Square is home to many sculptures. The fountain with two stone sphinxes and a water-spitting lion’s head is in memory of the poet Vitezslav Halek (1835-1874), who, together with Jan Neruda, is considered the founder of Czech poetry.

In the section between Zitna and Jecna Streets is a 170-year-old plane tree, easy to spot by the surrounding fence and the statue of Eliska Krasnohorska (1847-1926), a feminist writer of children’s literature. She also wrote the texts for operas composed by Bedrich Smetana and founded a school exclusively for girls.

In the middle of the park is a sculpture of Jan Evangelista Purkyne (1787-1869), the Czech biologist who coined the word ‘protoplasm’. He also wrote and translated poetry.

Charles Square

5. The Prague Cubit
Next to the main entrance to the tower of the New Town Hall on Vodickova Street is the cubit, a metal bar embedded in the wall. This was Nove Mesto’s official unit of length for the Prague cubit, 59.3 centimetres. The cubit was used to settle disputes about measurable items.
In 1288, King Premysl Otokar II introduced the Prague cubit which was used until 1765 when Empress Maria Theresa imposed the use of the Viennese standard of 77.3 centimetres. When Napoleon introduced the metric system in 1799, the confusing units of measurement that varied from city to city came to an end.

Charles Square

6. Mosaic
Not in the park but under the park inside metro station Karlovo namesti is a large mosaic depicting Emperor Charles IV and life in the 14th century. It was put there in 1985 at the time of Communism.

7. Cyril and Methodius Church and Reinhard Heydrich
Near Charles Square in Resslova Street is the Cyrillius and Methodius Church known as a site of resistance in the Second World War. The crypt is home to a small exhibit of documents and photographs that tell the story of the seven men who sought refuge here after the attempted assassination Reinhard Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague and the Blonde Beast.

Trivia: Josef Ressel (1993-1857), the inventor of the screw press and ship propeller, lived at 13 Charles Square.

Charles Square

Brief History: Charles Square part of urban development

The New Town (Nove Mesto) in Prague was an early attempt at a planned city during the reign of Charles IV in the fourteenth century. As Charles Square was on the trading route between Vysehrad and Prague Castle, it was only natural that the urban development of Nove Mesto was planned in this location.
Charles IV took Jerusalem as an example and the new city became loosely based on the map of Jerusalem. Present-day Karlovo namesti was to resemble the Temple Mount and named New Jerusalem. Charles IV believed that now that Jerusalem had been lost during the Crusades, a new Jerusalem was needed. On the Day of Judgment, God would return to earth and give Prague eternal protection. The name for the square, New Jerusalem, was never put in use.

Karlovo náměstí as a marketplace

Karlovo náměstí, Charles Square, is vast – 80.500 square meters. When the square was built in the fourteenth century, it was meant to hold large crowds. Every year, on the second Friday after Easter, thousands and thousands flocked to Karlovo náměstí as the crown jewels were displayed from a wooden tower. Not only patriotism reigned supreme on this day but trade also flourished. Tens of thousands of traders and consumers from home and abroad flocked to the square. There was no cheating over measurements because the cubit settled all disputes.

Tip: Visit the Charles IV exhibition about urban development of Prague in the Middle Ages. More about the Praha Karla IV exhibition.

Getting there

Charles Square, an important transportation hub, situated in the middle of Prague’s New Town district and is crossed by Ječná and Žitná Streets yet the square forms a unity.

Take metro line B or tram 3, 4, 6, 10, 14, 16, 18, 22 or 24 to Karlovo náměstí.

photos: Marianne Crone and Jeroen Schornagel

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