Old Town Square – Prague, Bohemia, Czech Republic

The Heart and Soul of the City of Spires

The glorious architectural confusion of the oldest segment of Prague city lies on the east bank of the meandering Vltava River just off the Charles Bridge. The city’s first settlements appeared here in the 10th century when a bustling marketplace grew from its strategic riverside location at the mercantile crossroads of Central Europe.

One thousand years later the Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí) is still the very heart of Prague. This was the haunted neighborhood of Franz Kafka, but don’t expect an air of melancholy and para­noia. Today the square is a veritable stage set with bright outdoor café umbrellas; store win­dows that are a paean to kapitalismus; young entrepreneurial types glued to their cell phones; musicians, mimes, and tarot readers; and a milling crowd of tourists who come to witness the hourly procession of apostles and allegorical figures on the famous 600-year-old astronomical clock (Staromestská radnice).

A climb to the top of the 200-foot tower of the former Town Hall above it gives a dazzling panorama of this “City of One Hundred Spires” – surely the spires and turrets number twice that. Like many of the capital’s archi­tectural gems, the 14th-century Church of Our Lady of Tyn (Tynky chrám) glows from a recent cleaning, its magnificent Gothic facade and elegant twin gables one of the city’s most recognizable silhouettes.

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