The historic centre of Prague will be the first site to tick off the UNESCO World Heritage list. I visited Prague in January 2011 for research fieldwork.
”Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe in terms of its setting on both banks of the Vltava River, its townscape of burger houses and palaces punctuated by towers, and its individual buildings.” (UNESCO)
There is evidence of human settlement on the banks of the Vltava River right from back in prehistory, it was seen as an ideal place to settle in. To find out more about the earliest developments of Prague, visit this website.
Development over thousands of years has led to the historic city of Prague as it stands today. The historic centre referred to here is made up of three parts comprises the Old Town (Staré Mesto), the Lesser Town (Mala Strana). and the New Town (Nové Mĕsto).
The old historic centre of the city was built between the 11th and 18th centuries. The city is made up of winding streets and fantastic architectural ensembles. A walk around Prague introduces the traveller to the process of urban change and growth from the Middles ages seen in buildings like the Old Town Hall to the cubist buildings of a more recent era.
Prague architectural works are considered to be one of the most important influences for European architecture right from the Middle Ages. There are fantastic examples of buildings from the Gothic Period in 14th and 15th Centuries, High Baroque period in the 18th century and those from the era of modernism after the turn of the 20th century.
Buildings from periods throughout history have been remarkably preserved in this city. Prague has become a rapidly growing city now home to around 1.3 million people (2.3 million people in the wider metropolitan area) with significant levels of urban renewal it has managed to ensure developments of this city have ensured the preservation of it’s architectural heritage.
Important monuments in this area include:
Hradćany (Castle District)
In the late 9th century a fortified settlement was built on a hill on the left bank of the river, the site now occupied by Prague Castle. This extended down towards the river, whilst a second fortress was constructed on the opposite bank (Vyšehrad). The district of PRague castle is the largest medieval castle complex in the world (seen below) with an area of almost 70000 m².
Prague Castle district seen from the river bank:
The castle district like the city itself has undergone many changes throughout history. The first known building on this district dates back to the 9th century, this was then replaced by a Romanesque palace in the 12th century. In the 14th century many parts were rebuilt in the Gothic style, and a further reconstruction took place at the end of the 15th century. The castle continued to be altered over time and after World War I underwent extensive renovation under the instruction of the architect Plečnik.
Today Prague Castle is the workplace of the President of the Czech Republic and represents both the historical and political centre of Prague. The Changing of the Guard takes place at the front gates to the palace every hour (seen below).
Changing of the guard ceremony:
St. Vitus Cathedral
The castle district consists of a multitude of buildings, one of the most famous being the Saint Vitus Cathedral (shown below) which is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city of Prague. The cathedral is a splendid example of Gothic architecture, contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors.
St. Vitus Cathedral:
Detail of Saint Vitus Cathedral:
The famous bridge that crosses the river Vltava was constructed in the 1350’s under the instruction of King Charles IV. The bridgee was completed in the 15th centry. Up until 1841, Charles Bridge was the only way to cross the river from the Old Town to the castle district. The bridge is 516 m in length and nearly 10 m wide and is protected by three bridge towers. The bridge is decorated by an alley of 30 predominantly baroque statues, most of which are replicas as originals have been damaged and taken away for preservation.
Charles bridge in the morning fog:
During the night the Charles Bridge is a quiet place but it quickly becomes one of the busiest places in the city during the day.
Charles bridge during a January day:
Old Town Square
The old town square is located in between Wenceslas Square and Charles bridge. The square is surrounded by a multitide of architectural styles including the Church of Our Lady before Týn and St. Nicholas church The famous astronomical clock is also found here at the Old town hall.
The Old town square viewed from the Old town hall tower:
Further more Prague is home to Charles University which gained a prestigious reputation and is considered the ‘intellectual and cultural centre of it’s region’. This university produced a great many talents including Wolfgang Amaedus Mozart and Franz Kafka.
There are a number of endangered sites in Prague including, St Anne’s Church in the Old Town district of Prague is listed as an endangered site and while it has been used as a warehouse the church is in remarkable condition displaying its original structure and some of its genuine fabric.
As mentioned before Prague experienced significant levels of urban development and in some cases witness demolition of many buildings. While this considered a great loss by some, it paved the way for more contemporary buildings to be created.
The description and images shown here only represent a fraction of the value of this site. For more information on the Historic centre of Prague visit the UNESCO World Heritage website here.