New Town

The New Town of Prague was established in 1348, making it the largest Gothic new city in Europe. Emperor Charles IV decided to give the settlement the feel of a generously-proportioned capital. The New Town was to be a district of large squares and straight streets that, with some exaggeration, can be described as the first boulevards in Europe.

The lower New Town, spread around Wenceslas Square, was the centre of business and naturally connected to the wealthy Old Town. The upper New Town, centred around today’s Charles Square. In contrast, it was established as the spiritual centre of the new settlement and deliberately drew on the perfect Heavenly Jerusalem as inspiration.

The network of Gothic churches Charles IV built there was fundamental to the character of the New Town. The majority survive, and today we can appreciate their careful positioning in the townscape. In many ways, such placement anticipates the dramatic Baroque blend of architecture and landscape. Over the following centuries, many Renaissance and Baroque buildings were constructed in the New Town, which enhanced and often added further sophistication to its unique Gothic structure.

As late as the first half of the 19th century, the New Town could have been regarded as a quiet residential area of historic buildings, palaces and the extensive gardens that occupied much of it. From the 1850s, this picture began to change rapidly, and the New Town again stands at the centre of urban activities. The thoughtfully planned, generous layout of the Gothic town enabled construction of public edifices typical of major cities, as well as tenements, and shopping arcades. Such structures were constructed mostly around Wenceslas Square from around 1900, and thanks to them, in the first half of the 20th century it became the pulsating centre of a modern city. Wenceslas Square had all the attributes necessary for such a role. Cinemas typical of large cities, shops and cafés created a unique atmosphere in the New Town, echoes of which can still be experienced by strolling through the unique network of passages or arcades. This specific historical role leads us to regard Wenceslas Square as a fascinating textbook of modern architecture. The story starts at Art Nouveau and ranges from Cubism and Art Deco through to the sublime functionalism of the 1920s and 1930s.

However, the upper New Town retained its ancient form, bringing us back to its establishment in the days of Charles IV. In the upper New Town, we can best appreciate the scale of this Gothic city as well as its distinctive and impressive spiritual dimension, which is still evident in these locations, even seven centuries after the New Town was established.

Most important monuments:

Among the most noteworthy Gothic monuments is the New Town Hall, whose tower offers an excellent panorama of the ordered streets and squares below, and the Emmaus Monastery, containing unique Gothic paintings, which have been preserved. The New Town churches are also significant, especially the Church of Our Lady and Charles the Great, whose floor plan was inspired by the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany.

The Baroque period enriched the New Town with impressive churches St John of Nepomuk on the Rock), palaces (Silva-Taroucca Palace), town houses (Faust House) and suburban villas, a nostalgic reminder of the now vanished character of the New Town (vila Amerika).

Public buildings chart the boom Prague enjoyed in the 19th century; undoubtedly the most notable examples are the National Theatre and the National Museum. The numerous noteworthy structures from the first half of the 20th century include the above shopping arcades near Wenceslas Square. At the top of the list is the Art Nouveau Lucerna Palace, a stage for Prague’s social events throughout the 20th century. Of contemporary buildings, the Dancing House on the embankment deserves mention. In the 1990s, it became a symbol of newly acquired freedom.

New Town


Nové Město