At first sight, Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) looks like a typical metropolitan boulevard from the 19th century. In reality, it is much older: its generous ground plan was staked out by Emperor Charles IV in the year 1348, when today’s Wenceslas Square became one of the main axes of the newly founded New Town of Prague. Originally, the square was delineated by two gates. In the lower part, the gate opened on to Můstek, leading to the Old Town. In the upper part, the Square ended at Koňská (Horse) Gate, which led out of the city. The lower gate disappeared and today, there is a street in its place. The upper gate was replaced by the Neo-Renaissance building of the National Museum, whose main pavilion – clearly inspired by the pavilion de l’Horloge in the Louvre – accentuates the square beautifully.
Most of the buildings on the square are from the 19th and 20th centuries. Nevertheless, we can still find, especially in the lower part, several Baroque buildings which show the square’s historical origins. The contrast between the tall modern buildings and the burgher houses is one of the characteristics of the square.
The golden era of Wenceslas Square was at the turn of the 20th century to the twilight of Czechoslovak democracy at the end of the 1930s. That was precisely when the historic square changed into a pulsating centre of a modern metropolis. In those days, cinemas, cafés, shops and especially arcades, whose labyrinths would awaken with the day and night life of the metropolis, formed an integral part of the square.
During the 20th century, Wenceslas Square was the scene of many celebratory and tragic historical events, most of which symbolically took place by the statue of the Czech patron saint, Wenceslas. In 1918, the Czechoslovak Republic was declared on Wenceslas Square. It was here too, that the country bid farewell to President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and only a few years later, in humiliation, swore loyalty to the German Reich. It was here that the country celebrated the end of the war and the dawn of a new freedom, which morphed into a Communist dictatorship. It was here that the nation held other demonstrations, declaring its allegiance, only this time, to the Soviet Union. It was here, that in 1968, the fight against Russian occupation took place, when the facade of the National Museum was riddled with bullets, it was here too, in front of the Museum, that in 1969, Jan Palach immolated himself in protest at the apathy with which the country had received the occupation. It was indeed Wenceslas Square that bore witness to the violent suppression of the demonstrations at the end of the 1980s that shook the Communist regime, and it was here, that the mass rallies of November 1989 that finally ousted the regime took place. Thanks to all this, the Square was and probably remains, the most symbolic place in Prague, and the country as a whole.