What are the best Historic Sites in the Czech Republic?
Wenceslas Square (Vaclavske Namesti) is a shopping boulevard in the centre of Prague which has witnessed centuries of historical events.
Established as a horse market and in fact named “Horse Market” or “Koňský trh” in the fourteenth century during the reign of King Charles IV, it was officially renamed as “Wenceslas Square” in the nineteenth century after the patron saint of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslas. It was at this time that the majestic statue of Saint Wenceslas on horseback was erected in the square.
Wenceslas Square has since been the scene of many political and social events and gatherings, including the reading of the Proclamation of Independence of Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1918.
Wenceslas Square was also the site where Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire on 16 January 1969 to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Today, Wenceslas Square is mostly a shopping and tourist hub, filled with retail outlets and restaurants. However, the statue of Saint Wenceslas and plaques to Jan Palach and other people killed during the communist era stand as a reminder of this site’s importance in Czech history. It is also where you will find the National Museum.
Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) is the Czech Republic’s most iconic landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage site and apparently the largest castle complex in the world.
Sprawled over an area of 70,000 m², the complex is made up of the large, Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, Lobkowicz Palace and St. George’s Basilica as well as several other palaces, a monastery, viewing towers, museums and art galleries.
Prague Castle itself was originally built in approximately 880 AD by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty and has since been the seat of Czech monarchs, religious leaders, Holy Roman emperors and heads of state, the latter function of which it still fulfils today.
Today, Prague Castle contains a wealth of information, archeological findings, artifacts and exhibits showcasing Czech history and heritage. Attractions include the beautiful gothic architecture, tower views and crown jewels at Saint Vitus Cathedral, the changing of the Castle Guard, which occurs once every hour, and the many galleries in and around the Castle.
With such an array of attractions, visitors can start their day at Prague Castle’s information centres located in the second and the third courtyards. This is where you can find information, maps and even professional tours through Prague Castle.
The Astronomical Clock at Prague Old Town Hall was made by Mikuláš of Kadaň and Professor Jan Šindel in 1410, with the calendar dial and gothic decorations presumed to have been added near the end of the century.
Today, visitors come on the hour, every hour to see its ornate display of a procession of the Twelve Apostles which is accompanied by the opening of a trap door through which a figure of Christ marches out and a representation of death tolls a bell. The twelve signs of the zodiac under the clock were added by Josef Manes in 1865.
Prague Old Town Hall itself is made up of two buildings joined together in 1364 and its tower, which visitors can climb for views of Prague, which was built in 1338. You can also find Prague’s tourist information centre here.
There are many legends surrounding the Astronomical Clock and throughout history the name of its maker has been misquoted as a man named Hanuš. The clock has also been repaired and reconstructed on several occasions, including after the Prague Uprising in May 1945, when fighting severely damaged it.
Austerlitz Battlefield was the site of the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, which took place on 2 December 1805 and saw Napoleon Bonaparte’s army decisively defeat the combined forces of the Russian and Austrian empires.
As a resut of the Battle of Austerlitz, the Third Coalition against the French Empire, an alliance between, amongst others, Great Britain, Austria and Russia was disbanded. Austria was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg and Russia to retreat to its own territory.
Austerlitz Battlefield itself is today dominated by the Cairn of Peace (located on the map), a monument commemorating the war. Visitors to Austerlitz Battlefield can view the area and gain an understanding of the landscape occupied by the opposing armies on the day of the battle.
The best views can be seen from the numerous surrounding hills which defined the Austerlitz Battlefield including Zuran, from where Napoleon commanded his tactical success, the Pratzen Heights and Santon. Numerous plaques and information boards showing the military campaign are located in the surrounding area.
The Cairn of Peace has an adjoining chapel and a museum, allowing visitors to the Austerlitz Battlefield to view multimedia displays and exhibits about the battle, including the background and the aftermath. Exhibits are available in English, Czech, German, French and Russian.
Once a year, thousands of history enthusiasts descend on Austerlitz Battlefield to re-enact the conflict.
Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkowiczky palac) is one of the museums of Prague Castle and almost certainly one of its most popular sites. It is named after the affluent and influential Lobkowicz family, to whom Lobkowicz Palace passed not long after it was built in the mid-sixteenth century.
Inside Lobkowicz Palace are a range of interesting exhibits which portray the interests and work of this aristocratic family. Pieces in the main collection, known as the Princely Collection, range from ceramics and sixteenth century Spanish art to musical manuscripts by Beethoven, (of whom a member of the Lobkowicz family was a patron).
Beyond the museum element, the architecture and history of Lobkowicz Palace and the history of the Lobkowicz family are fascinating in themselves. One way of enjoying a visit to Lobkowicz Palace is via their free hour-long audio guide.
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is the final resting place of many leading figures of the city’s Jewish community.
Over 12,000 headstones jostle for space in this quiet but pretty graveyard, the oldest of which belongs to the scholar Avigdor Karo and dates back to 1439.
In use until 1787, it is believed that there have been many more burials at the Old Jewish Cemetery than denoted by the headstones, probably layered one on top of the other. Amongst the crowded graves lie those of the creator of the golem, Rabbi Loew (d. 1609) and the former mayor of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, Mordechai Maisel (d. 1601).
St George’s Basilica is a tenth century church rich with Baroque, Romanesque and Bohemian architectural elements located in the Prague Castle complex. The church has undergone a series of reconstructions so, whilst originally built in 920 AD by Prince Vratislav I, St George’s Basilica only retains the foundations from this period.
St George’s Basilica was rebuilt in 973 when a convent for Benedictine nuns was built beside it. It then suffered a fire in 1142, which devastated the building and led to its reconstruction in a Romanesque style.
The St. Ludmila chapel with the tomb of the saint was added to St George’s Basilica in the thirteenth Century followed by the Baroque chapel of St. John Nepomuk designed by architect F.M. Kanka in the eighteenth century.
However, St George’s Basilica was once again subject to destruction in the late eighteenth century when it was occupied by troops. As a result, much of what can be seen today is the work of F. Mach, who reconstructed the building between 1887 and 1908 and attempted to recreate the Basilica’s Romanesque features. St George’s Basilica now serves as a concert hall.
Prague’s Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti) was established in the twelfth century and originally served as the city’s main marketplace.
Over the centuries, the Old Town Square has been populated with buildings from each era, including Baroque sites such as St Nicholas’s Church, the Gothic Týn Cathedral and Romanesque architecture.
One of the main sites at the Old Town Square is the statue of Jan Hus, the fifteenth century Czech Catholic priest and religious reformer who was burnt at the stake on charges of heresy. The statue was erected on 6 July 1915 on the five hundredth anniversary of his death and is known as the Jan Hus Memorial.
The Old Town Square is also where one can find the Old Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock.
St Nicholas Church in Prague was a Jesuit church built between 1673 and 1752 to replace the thirteenth century Parish of St Nicholas.
Constructed in a time of significant social upheaval, including the re-establishment of Catholicism, the architecture of St Nicholas Church reflected and contributed to these changes, having been designed in the dramatic Baroque style.
The church’s striking white stucco façade is crowned by a large dome and the interior is resplendent with ornate frescos and detailed carvings, some depicting the life of St Nicholas. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the church was once even more elaborate, In fact, many ornaments were removed in 1781, when emperor Josef II ordered the closure of many monasteries.
Today, St Nicholas Church is open to visitors, many of whom flock to see its beautiful architecture and interior. Tours are available and visitors can climb the eighty metres up the St Nicholas Tower for expansive views of Prague. St Nicholas Church also operates as a concert hall.
10. Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is an iconic bridge in Prague that crosses the river Vltava.
Construction of Charles Bridge began during the reign of Charles IV in 1357 to replace the Judita Bridge which had been damaged by a flood in 1342. When it was completed at the beginning of the fifteenth century, Charles Bridge, then known as “Stone Bridge” was the only means the of crossing the river, a vital connection between Prague Castle and the Old Town and a trade route. It was renamed as “Charles Bridge” in 1870.
This impressive 516 meter-long gothic bridge is made of Bohemian sandstone, with sixteen arches and three towers. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Charles Bridge was adorned with around thirty Baroque statues depicting saints and patron saints, and although there are now over seventy statues on the bridge they are all copies, the originals having been damaged, destroyed or moved for safekeeping. Many of them are now housed in Prague’s National Museum.
Charles Bridge has been the site of many important historical events in Czech history. In the 17th century, it was where the heads of those executed following the anti-Habsburg revolt were displayed, and it was the scene of ferocious fighting during the Thirty Years’ War.
The Bridge has also been subjected to many natural disasters, including several floods dating back as far as the 15th century.
Today, Charles Bridge is a vibrant tourist attraction, with painters, traders and kiosks sprawled across it. One thing to keep an eye out for is pickpockets.