The most celebrated square in the city, Old Town Square (Staromestské nám.), is surrounded by baroque buildings and packed with colorful craftspeople, cafes, and entertainers. In ancient days, the site was a major crossroads on central European merchant routes. In its center stands a memorial to Jan Hus, the 15th-century martyr who crusaded against Prague's German-dominated religious and political establishment. It was unveiled in 1915, on the 500th anniversary of Hus's execution. The monument's most compelling features are the dark asymmetry and fluidity of the figures. It has been in reconstruction since early 2007. Take metro line A to Staromestská.
Officially dedicated in 1990, Jan Palach Square (námestí Jana Palacha), formerly known as Red Army Square, is named for a 21-year-old philosophy student who set himself on fire on the National Museum steps to protest the 1968 Communist invasion. An estimated 800,000 Praguers attended his funeral march from Staromestské námestí to Olsanské Cemeteries. To get to the square, take metro line A to Staromestská at the Old Town foot of Mánesuv Bridge. There is now a pleasant riverside park with benches. Charles University's philosophy department building is on this square; on the lower-left corner of the facade is a memorial to the martyred student: a replica of Palach's death mask.
One of the city's most historic squares, Wenceslas Square (Václavské nám.) was formerly the horse market (Konský trh). The once muddy swath between the buildings played host to the country's equine auctioneers. The top of the square, where the National Museum now stands, was the outer wall of the New Town fortifications, bordering the Royal Vineyards. Unfortunately, the city's busiest highway now cuts the museum off from the rest of the square it dominates. Trolleys streamed up and down the square until the early 1980s. Today the 1km-long (1/2-mile) boulevard is lined with cinemas, shops, hotels, restaurants, and casinos.
The square was given its present name in 1848. The giant equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas on horseback surrounded by four other saints, including his grandmother, St. Ludmila, and St. Adalbert, the 10th-century bishop of Prague, was completed in 1912 by prominent city planner J. V. Myslbek, for whom the Myslbek shopping center on Na Príkope was named. The statues' pedestal has become a popular platform for speakers. Actually, the square has thrice been the site of riots and revolutions -- in 1848, 1968, and 1989. At the height of the Velvet Revolution, 250,000 to 300,000 Czechs filled the square during one demonstration. Take metro line A or B to Mustek.
Built by Charles IV in 1348, Charles Square (Karlovo nám.) once functioned as Prague's primary cattle market. New Town's Town Hall (Novomestská radnice), which stands on the eastern side, was the site of Prague's First Defenestration -- a violent protest sparking the Hussite Wars in the 15th century. Today, Charles Square is a peaceful park in the center of the city, crisscrossed by tram lines and surrounded by buildings and shops. It is the largest square in town. To reach it, take metro line B to Karlovo námestí.
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