Finding the Lost Fortifications of Prague’s Old Town

Tourists from the New World chuckle when they read that Prague’s New Town dates back to the 14th century. The New World barely existed in those days. Prague’s Old Town Fortifications have been lost but if you know where to look, you can rediscover the medieval limits of the Old Town of Prague.

Originally, Prague was surrounded by a moat, walls, and the Vltava river. [1] The Bohemian King Charles IV founded the New Town in the late 14th century, mainly because the city had outgrown its small area. The walls and the moat were eliminated at this point. [1]

Today, there are few signs of these walls or the moat but you can trace their locations if you know where to look. This article shows you how to walk along the site of the old town fortifications and understand how Prague grew rapidly when King Charles needed more.

The Powder Tower

A photo of the Powder Tower by night - Prague, Czechia

The Powder Tower – Prague, Czechia

I’ve written about Prague’s Powder Tower before. This tower was part of one of the gates into the city of Prague. It has been reconstructed and modified since those days and is the sole remnant of the old city walls. (There is a lovely exhibition inside the tower about its history if you want to learn more about it.)

If you step back from the tower there are two clear straight streets you can proceed upon. To your left, the pedestrianised shopping route called Na Příkopě (pronounced Nah P-shee-cop-yeah); to your right, the pedestrianised square called Náměstí Republiky (pronounced nam-yest-tea Republic-y) leads to the road called Revoluční (pronounced Revol-uch-nee).

Let’s start on the right.

Náměstí Republiky – Republic Square

Náměstí Republiky, or Republic Square, wasn’t always the open air pedestrianised space you see today. It was only in the 1860s that the city removed the last remnants of the Old Town walls, creating the piazza you see today. [2] At this time, it was a busy tram intersection. The city removed the trams once they installed the underground metro network in the 1980s. The city pedestrianised the square, but left one set of tram tracks for connections running north towards Prague 7. [2]

These tram tracks run along the street called Revolution (“Revolutionary”). Looking at the map, you can see it is a perfectly straight road that connects to Stefanikuv bridge. (I’ve written about the bridges of Prague before if you want more information about this 19th century bridge.)

This is where the Old Town walls were – from the Powder Tower, through Republic Square and along Revolutionary road till the river. Today, the area contains numerous offices and plenty of shops.

Na Příkopě – On the Moat

Back at the Powder Tower, let’s head left instead.

A photo of Na Příkopě, with the Powder Tower in the background - Prague, Czechia

Na Příkopě, with the Powder Tower in the background – Prague, Czechia

The pedestrianised shopping route in front of you is Na Příkopě. This translates, literally, as “On the ditch”, or “On the moat”. It was 10 metres wide and 8 metres deep and separated the city of Prague from the outside world. [3]

Interestingly, the moat was not filled in when King Charles IV decided to expand Prague. The moat continued to be used for drainage in the sixteenth century and was only covered in 1760. [3]

The city put this wide avenue to good use. Traffic became so bad that in the 1960s, the road became a symbol of poor transport management. In the late seventies, the construction of the underground metro allowed the city to remove the trams and pedestrianise the street. [3]

Today it is one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, ranking 22nd out of 68 worldwide. [3]

If you walk along the street to its end, you will find the last road built on the remnants of the old city walls – Narodni.

Tip: As you walk along this avenue, you will approach the Můstek metro stop which is at the intersection of Na Příkopě and Wenceslas Square. They named the station for the short street on your right; “Můstek” means “On the Bridge” because this was a bridge across the moat.

“On the Bridge” – Prague, Czechia

The National

At the end of Na Příkopě, another smaller open square leads to a busy street called Narodni, which translates as “The National”. This street continues along to the river and connects with the Bridge of Legions (Read my separate article about the bridges of Prague to read more about this 20th century bridge and its connections to Vienna.)

This road marks the last part of the old fortifications around the Old Town of Prague. Today, this road is full of commercial and cultural activity, especially with the National Theatre at the end of it. [4]

The Fortifications

As you can see from this short 2 kilometre (1.2 miles) walk, the Old Town wasn’t as large as you’d think it would be. In the 14th century, this must have been impressive enough considering the size of similar cities around Europe. It is interesting to note that King Charles IV recognised the need to expand but weighed this need against the defensive needs such a city would need. In fact he created a new line of walls to enclose the New Town.

But that is another article.

 

Did you know how to find Prague’s lost fortifications? Tell us about it in the comments below!

References

[1] The Old Town of Prague; Wikipedia; Retrieved 2018-01-08
[2] Náměstí Republiky (Praha); Wikipedia; Retrieved 2017-09-09
[3] Na Příkopě; Wikipedia; Retrieved 2011-02-13
[4] Narodni;Wikipedia; Retrieved 2017-09-09

About Antoine

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2 Comments

  1. Antoine,
    Why do not you write something about the Templars and their “Temple “ church in Prague?

    • I plan to Marco! There’s so many fascinating things to write about Prague with its rich history. Stay tuned – I’ll write about them!

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