Republic Square (náměstí Republiky) was founded in the 14th century along the ramparts between the Old Town and the New Town. From the very beginning, it was more of a busy crossroads, from which major streets led in all directions.
The centre-piece is the historic Gothic Prašná Gate (Powder Gate), which is at the same time the symbolic monumental entrance to the Old Town. Originally, the gate stood next to Králův dvůr (King’s Court) – the Gothic royal residence which in its time was the counterweight to the Prague Castle. Historical buildings worth mentioning include the Baroque Church of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, which was built opposite the gate in the mid 17th century: an outstanding Neo-Classicist façade was added to it after 1800 when it was converted into a customs house. Today, it houses the Musical Theater Hybernia.
The square underwent its biggest transformation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was during this time that the King’s Court was demolished to create space for the ostentatious Art Nouveau building of Prague’s Obecní dům – Municipal House. It was built in the years 1902–1913 according to drawings by Antonín Balšánek and Osvald Polívka. The entrance to the building is untraditionally situated in a corner, and with its unusual character, it reminds one of the broad entry niche to the slightly older Grand Palais in Paris. A reflection of the era’s notion of a big city palace can be seen not only on the exterior, but the interior as well, with its concert hall, exhibition halls, French restaurant or the American bar, all of which represent one of the best preserved Art Nouveau interiors in Europe.
The name of the Square relates to the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. In the minds of the architects of the time, this square was supposed to be the centre of the new democratic state. The new centre-piece of the square was supposed to be a new opera house, which was to replace the Joseph Barracks (today’s Palladium Department Store) and the neighbouring Baroque Church of Saint Joseph. In the end, the grand plans were abandoned and the period between the wars is only represented by the monumental building housing the Czech National Bank, whose dignified architecture combines Avant Garde tendencies with a timeless Classicist expression.
The square was intended to play a key role in the war-time Nazi plans to rebuild Prague. There was to be a monumental avenue which would have joined the square to the space just under the Vítkov hill. The Nazi plans were smoothly replaced with those of the Communists, who once again made the square the axis of a Communist Prague. Fortunately, neither of the megalomaniac plans was realized, and the square is a remarkable testimony to a long history, enticing dreams about the big city in a period of a fin de siècle, and today’s modern city life.