Wenceslas Square lies at the heart of the New Town just as the Old Town Square is the heart of the Old Town, but the description “new” is a little misleading as the area was fist laid out under the instructions of Charles IV in 1348. In fact Wenceslas Square was first designed to be the city’s horse market.
As its name would suggest the square is named after the 10th century Czech King Wenceslas who it is thought was murdered in 929 by mercenaries under the control of his brother Boleslay. He was later granted sainthood. Today he represents Czech nationhood and is celebrated each year on September 27th. A statue to him, designed by Josef Vaclav Myslbek showing him in full armour astride a horse stands in the square, around the pedestal stands four further statues of other Bohemian saints, St Ludmilla, who was Wenceslas’s grandmother, St Agnes, St Procopius, and St Adalbert.
The majority of the buildings in Wenceslas Square were built during the redevelopment of the square during early part of the 20th century resulting in some fine examples of the Art Nouveau style of architecture, known locally as Secese. Good examples are the Grand Hotel Evrops, and the Palac Lucerna. Unfortunately, later buildings on the square fail to match their grandeur.
Wenceslas Square has been described as the beating heart of the city. Being the main Commercial District, it is lined with hotels, retail stores, and souvenir shops. Wenceslas Square is more of a boulevard than a square as it measures 750 meters long but onlt 60 meters wide, but it has become the one place the people come to celebrate or protest. It has been estimated that the square could hold about 400,000 people.
Prague’s metro runs beneath the square, with two of the busiest stations having access in the square. Tram rails once ran through but were removed, Now the trams only bisect the square. Wenceslas Square is open to traffic, apart from the northwest end which has been pedestrianized.
On 16th January 1969 a philosophy student, Jan Palach, protested against the Soviet invasion, by setting fire to himself. His funeral attracted an estimated 750,000 people and turned into a major protest against the occupation. After the end of communist control a bronze cross was set close to the statue where he died. Also nearby is a small flowerbed that contains a rather low key memorial to the victims of Communism.