Charles IV Square (Karlovo Námesti)

Charles IV Square (Karlovo Námesti) (49)

If there is one thing you could say about King Charles IV, it is that the city of Prague would be very different if it had not been for his constructive determination and his ideas about urban planning. He not only ordered the bridge that carries his name, the Charles University, the cathedral of Saint Vitus or the Slavic Monastery of Emmaus to be built, but he also initiated the building of the Nové Mesto, translated as the New Town. This new urban complex, planned according to criteria that even today are considered as modern, would absorb the growth of the city during the following centuries and provides you with some very pleasant walks.

Charles IV Square, in the heart of the New Town, is the largest public square in Prague, measuring 530 metres in length and 150 in width. It was originally a cattle market where coal and wood could also be bought. Once a year, King Charles IV showed the people the crown jewels in a tower placed in the centre of the square.

Since 1863, the square has been a big public park where you can sit down and rest, take in some fresh air or stroll between the fountains and statues of writers and scientists. For example, you can stop before the sculpture of V. Strunc, who has the honour of being the man who discovered that each fingerprint is unique and unrepeatable, or before Eliska Krasnohorská, the 19th-century poetess who wrote the librettos for Smetana’s operas.

There are beautiful buildings around the square, the majority of them Baroque, which are also well worth investigating, such as the Slavic Monastery of Emmaus, founded in 1347 by Charles IV, or the church of Saint John Nepomucene, by the famous architect Dientzenhofer. In the north part of the square you will see the Town Council building of the New Town.

On the east side stands the church of Saint Ignatius. It is a Baroque temple built for the Jesuit order in 1665 by Carlos Lurago. Twenty years later the tower was added. In this church the colour gold and stuccos abound, such as on the façade. It is crowned by a statue with a golden halo of the founder of the order, Saint Ignatius Loyola.

The inside of the church is a festival of cherubs, sunbeams and gilded ornaments. This display, as well as the abundance of statues and stuccos by Tommaso Soldati, had the objective of impressing the parishioners and conquering their hearts with the church’s splendour.

Another building on the east side of the square is the college, also of Jesuit origin. It is an imposing building, although in this case the façade is much more austere than the church. Its promoters did not skimp on costs or effort, since to build the college 23 houses and 13 gardens were demolished. In 1770 Johann Joseph Wirch signed the contract to enlarge the building. But only 3 years later the Jesuit order was banned and the collage was transformed into a military hospital. Centuries later, during the Second World War, it was destroyed by bombing although the later reconstruction left the building identical to how it was. Today, the college houses the hospital of Charles University.

On the south side of the square one of those spots that has made Prague a city linked to black magic and the occult is awaiting you. Here stands no less than the building that was the house of Faust. It is a Baroque mansion that originally belonged to Prince Vaclav of Opava and passed on, centuries later, to the alchemist Edward Kelley. Kelley’s luck went from bad to worse: he began as an alchemist in the Court of Rudolf II with the promise of discovering the philosopher’s stone. The monarch, tired of waiting, ordered that he be imprisoned, although he was later released. The alchemist Kelley, who had already lost both his ears in English prisons ended his life mysteriously, and it is not known whether he was poisoned or murdered, without ever finding the magic formula of alchemy.

In the 18th century the house was inhabited by Count Ferdinand Mladota of Solopysky, who also had his flings with alchemy. For this reason, he began to associate with Doctor Faust, who is attributed with the famous pact with the Devil that would give him eternal life. This is why the building bears the name of the House of Faust.

Close to Chales IV Square is the Botanical Garden. It belongs to Charles University although it is open to the public. It dates from 1897 and the greenhouses were added in 1938. The Botanical Garden is home to exotic birds and uncommon plant species, such as a giant water lily, called “Victoria Cruziana”, the leaves of which can withstand the weight of a child.

Also around the square you will find the church of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, famous not so much for being a beautiful Baroque building but more for having been the centre of a story from the anti-Nazi resistance. This Catholic church was ceded in the 1930s to the Czech Orthodox Church.

In 1942, some parachutists that had just assassinated the Nazi governor of Czechoslovakia hid in the church along with other members of the resistance. The Nazis surrounded the church and executed all those who had been inside. On the wall there is a plaque that recalls the event. When you come across it, notice what there is right below it. In fact, what you see is exactly what it is: the bullet holes.

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