New Town, Prague

The New Town (Nové město) is a quarter in the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. New Town is the youngest and largest of the five independent (from the Middle Ages until 1784) towns that today comprise the historic center of modern Prague. New Town was founded in 1348 by Charles IV just outside the city walls to the east and south of the Old Town (Staré Město) and encompassed an area of 7.5 km²; about three times the size of the Old Town. The population of Prague in 1378 was well over 40,000, perhaps as much as twice that, making it the 4th most populated city north of the Alps and, by area, the 3rd largest city in Europe. Although New Town can trace its current layout to its construction in the 14th century, only few churches and administrative buildings from this time survive. There are many secular and educational buildings in New Town, but also especially magnificent gothic and baroque churches. These nevertheless are not the main drawing points for tourists. New Town's most famous landmark is Wenceslas Square, which was originally built as a horsemarket and now functions as a center of commerce and tourism. In the 15th century, the Novoměstská radnice, or New Town Hall, was the site of the first of the three defenestrations of Prague.


Shortly after he was crowned the Roman king and king of Bohemia in 1346 and 1347, Charles IV decided to found a new city in Prague. . Additionally, the housing problem within the city walls of Prague that had been an issue under Charles IV's father John of Luxembourg required a solution. Numerous people, mostly poorer Czechs, had settled in camps situated at the base of the city walls along the Vltava.

What was unique about Charles IV's plan was that instead of creating a dependent suburb or an extension of the old part of Prague as was the usual practice, the New Town was founded as an independent city. Charles IV planned a physical and legal union with the old part of town and arranged a common administration in 1367, however primarily because of the resistance of the two town councillors this failed and was abandoned ten years later. After many rights and liberties had been granted to the inhabitants of the new city, the inhabitants of the old part of town, which was now enclosed by the New Town on all sides, likewise had their rights and liberties confirmed in writing and free access through the two northern gates of the New Town was assured.

With the establishment of the New Town, the king focused on further increasing the importance of Prague. It should be not only the new residence of the king and a focal point for the sciences- on April 7, 1348, Charles University was founded as the first university in central Europe- and arts, but also become an important economic center of Central Europe. To that end a shift of Central European traffic routes and the creation of new routes was planned, as well as making the Vlatava navigable and had been partially executed. The structure of the New Town was probably essentially complete as early as 1367, and soon thereafter once again it was united with the Old Town.

The expansion of the New Town and the topographic-geological statisitics

The new city covered a surface area of approximately 250 hectars and was more than twice as large as the Old Town (106 hectars). It was approximately 5 km long from North to South, and 0.8 to 1.2 km wide from East to West. . Along the Vltava, between Vyšehrad and Old Town, several settlements of tanners and fishers with their own churches as well as a Jewish cemetery already existed. Built close by, to the West of the Old Town on the Vltava, was settlement of Poříčí containing two churches, St. Klement and St. Peter, as well as the bishop's residence.

To the east of the plain at the banks of the Vltava, a pronounced six to eight meters high terrace of land was clearly separated by fault line. This upper plateau was dominated by two far mountain ranges rising to the west, which were later occupied with town construction. Here likewise already existed some smaller settlements as at the shrine (Na Rybníčku oder Rybníček) with a Roman rotunda, which was probably the first shrine to Stephanus.

The Fortification of the New Town

The building of the New Town was legally established and officially commenced on March 26, 1348 by Charles IV with the solemn laying of the cornerstone for the New Town wall. The city wall provided not only security for the new planned city, but also definitively separated it from the surrounding lands. The importance which was attached to the fortification is evident in the fact that it took only two years to complete; an accomplishment aided by its relatively low height in comparison with the walls of older Bohemian cities.

The city wall of the New Town began in Vyšehrad (its fortification was renewed at the same time) and ran from there along the steep waste of the upper Vltava terrace by the Botič brook to the highest point of the area on which the Na Karlově church was later erected. The wall turned at this point and continued almost directly north. After an easy turn to the east between the city gate at Ječná Street and the horse market (now Wenceslas Square), the wall then ran along the Veitsberg brook; its deeply cut valley going almost all the way to the Old Town until it reached the Vltava where the wall turned again, this time to the west.

Along the Vltava, opposite the Old Town, no wall was erected, since free access to the river had to be ensured. In total, the wall was about 3.5 km long, 6-10 meters tall, 3-5 meters thick and topped with battlements. While towers were placed along the eastern side every 100 m, just one sufficed in the south; a tower which was situated in the valley with the steep rising plain before it. Stronger towers were situated at the ends of the wall in the south-east and in the north-east at the Veitsberg brook, as well as at the north end by the Vltava. The entire wall was breached by only by four gates and one small fort. The wall was fronted by a moat, into which the water flowed from the various brook beds, but it was dry in some places because of the differences in altitude. A moat containing animals did not exist.

The Layout of the New Town

Soon after the founding of the New Town in 1348, the enclosed area for the most part surveyed, divided into parcels and the plan for the roads as well as the position and supply structure for the markets determined. While the structure of the older settlements on the Vltava was maintained to a large extent, on the remaining, so far undeveloped terrain, unusually broad roads and squares were created; however the routes of already existing roadways were respected. The area of the New Town was however so large that it could not immediately be settled completely and large sections in the north around the settlement of Poříčí and in the southeast was still undeveloped into the 19th century. The planning of the New Town was probably the responsibility of the master cathedral builder Matthias von Arras, who had been brought to Prague from Avignon by Charles IV in 1342/44.

Charles IV expressly forbid property speculation and granted to all, who wanted to settle, twelve years exemption from taxes. However for the tax exepmtion to be earned, construction of a stone building had to be begun on the specified plot within a month and completed within one and a half years. This privilege was made available not only to Christians, but also to Jews; however few made use of it.

City records show that by 1372 the roads of the New Town were already surrounded by houses to a large extent. One substantial outcome of the speedy colonization of the New Town encouraged by Charles IV was that the noise and dirt-causing trade from the Old Town was to be shifted into the New Town. Within the New Town centers of specific craftsmen developed around the appropriate markets. For example, fishermen, capenters, raftsmen, tanners, dyers brick- and chalkmakers were to be found along the Vltava, and around the horse market were located ferriers, wagonmakers, coppersmiths and cabinetmakers. Thus the New Town was particularly inhabited by poorer craftsman of Czech nationality, who still dominated in the older riverside villages, while in the Old Town mostly German and Jewish craftsmen were found. These large economic and national differences caused the clear separation of the two cities and were in the end also decisive for the conflicts during the Hussite revolution at the end of reign of Wenceslas IV.

The Lower New Town

The Church of St Henry, with four transepts and three steeples of each height, which was in an existing settlement was established as the main parish church of the New Town ("ecclesia parochialis primaria") starting from 1350, immediately after the completion of the wall. Before the present free standing bell tower was built, the tower at the southwest corner of the church probably fulfilled this function. Likewise, the parrish school at the church was established by Charles IV and even in the 16. and 17. Century it was still among the best schools in Bohemia and along with the University was one of the most outstanding institutes in Prague. Nearby the church, on the location of the main post office (Budova Hlavní pošty) erected between 1871 and 1874, stood the botanical gardens of Charles University, laid out by the apothecary and personal physician of Charles IV, Angelus von Florenz, which was called the "Angel's Garden" and was famous throughout Europe for its uniqueness.

The economic center of the northern quarter was the Hay and Straw market, which aligns roughly with the modern Senovážné náměstí. Wilfried Brosche was most likely responsible for planning the hay market in similar vein to the horse market. Present day Hibernia Street (Hybernská ulice) forms the southern delimination of the former market. It was paved as the first road of the New Town already around 1379 ("strata lapidae") and thus received its older name Plaster Lane (Dlážděná ulice). The market was also bordered by the old road to Kutná Hora which was the main route toward the east. At the entrance to the Old Town stood the "Ragamuffin or Ragged gate" (Odraná brána) or as it was later called St. Ambrosius Gate at the end of Celetná. A renewal of the gate was apparently already intended under Charles IV. The existing Powder Gate (Prašná brána) was built beginning in 1475. The Mountain Gate (Horská braná) formed the upper end of the New Town wall. Also at the lower end of the hay market Charles IV let a Benedictine monastery be established. In 1355 it was settled by Dalmatian monks. . In addition, near the monastery, probably opposite the St. Benedict gate into the Old Town, there existed the Jan Jakob Hospital, which served the poor.

The second important trade route of the lower New Town was the road to Poříčí. It goes back to an old route, which began at the St. Benedict gate of the Old Town and passed by the existing settlement to the Vltava. In the east the Peter gate or Poříčí gate (Pořičská brána) was established as part of the city defenses of the New Town (it was removed in 1873). The two original Roman Catholic churches, the Church of St. Peter at Poříčí (Kostel sv. Petra na Poříčí) and the Church of St. Clemens at Poříčí (Kostel sv. Klimenta na Poříčí), both experienced extensive extensions and changes in the second half of the 14th Century.

Between the old settlement and the new construction north the horse market, there remained much undeveloped open space, starting approximately from the level of the St. Henry's Church which was only meagerly cultivated and was mainly filled with gardens and green areas.

The upper New Town

The upper New Town became the focus of even greater importance. An older road to Vyšehrad and southern Bohemia became the longest traffic route in Prague and the backbone of the upper New Town -today's Spálená, Vyšehradská and Na Slupi roads. It began at the St. Martins or Zderaz gate at Perštýn and formed an extension of an important Old Town thoroughfare. Traffic at the southern end of the new city was now directed across the Vyšehrad, and continued up to the only tower in the south, located on the steepest part of the city wall; a fort with no through passage and protected the watergates on the Botič stream and the millstream. The section of the road along the Vltava had to accommodate the existing settlements of Opatovice, Zderaz and Podskalí so in this area, the old narrow and bent road courses were maintained here (only with the building of the Vltava quay and the transformation of almost all the bankside areas at the end 19th and at the beginning of the 20th Century were most buildings including some churches and the old structures eliminated).

By contrast, in the largely unsettled area to the east a well-planned system of broad parallel roads leading to the Vyšehrad were set up in a grid pattern, which is still clearly visible today. Two of these roads, each nearly 27 meters wide, formed a crossroads at the cattle market and carried the grain trade; they came to be known as Grain Lane (Žitná ulice) and Barley Lane (Ječná ulice). At the end of Barley Lane (also known as Pig Lane (Svinský trh, Svinská ul.), since it likewise served the small animal trade) near the old St John of the Battlefield Church (Kostel sv. Jan Na bojišti) stood the fourth gate, the Pig Gate (Svinská brána) or St. John's Gate. While the other gates consisted of a passage and two flanking towers, St John's Gate was built as a fortress. It consisted of a central courtyard with barrel-curved arched rooms on both sides, over it was an overhanging lintel with eight corner towers and a further higher tower standing over the gate entrance. The gate also protected the entrance of a brook into the New Town, whose water also fed the fish pond of the former settlement, Rybníček. (The gate was torn down between 1891-97 with the adjaceny city wall, but during construction work on the Metrostation I. P. Pavlova, remainders of the gate were found as well as some tiles with old provincial coats-of arms as well as fragments of a relief with the Bohemian lion which were saved and today stand in the entry of the Metrostation.) Apart from the two water gates, the St. John's Gate formed the last access until the east gate of the Vyšehrad, so all the other routes south of Barley Lane also converged on this gate. These were probably roads of older origin and were developed without a strict plan to adapt to the complicated elevations within this area; apart from church plots this area remained to a large extent vacant.

In the center of the road Charles IV created today's Charles Square by widening the cattle market (Dobytčí trh), to the east. With an area of approximately 550 by 150 meters, this was for a long time the largest square in Europe and in became the administrative and economic center of the New Town. It served mainly the cattle -, fish -, wood and coal trade and its central status was only in recent times ceded to Wencenslas Square.

In the center of the cattle market, in the extension of the Barley Lane, Charles IV had a wooden tower built, where since 1354 the crown jewels and reliquaries were put on display once a year. The sanctuary celebration was proclaimed by Charles as a general holiday in the realm, whereby Prague became one the most important centers of pilgrimage in Europe. Next to the wooden tower the Chapel of Holy Blood or Corpus Christi was built between 1382 and 1393 and was torn down in 1791. From the octagonal central church with attached chapels rose a stone tower, from whose gallery were shown the reliquaries and crown jewels were displayed.

In a dominant position at the northeast corner of the cattle market the New Town city hall (Novoměstská radnice) was built as symbol of the independent royal city after 1367, but not later than 1377 during the renewed separation from the Old Town. The remaining sides of the cattle market were filled quite briskly after the plan of the square, whereby members of the aristocracy and the royal houses established themselves here. For example on the south side was the Gothic Palace of the Princes of Opava whose property extended far to the south.

Possible models for the city plan of Prague

It seems possible, that when Charles IV was planning the New Town, he used Rome as a model; in particular the broad even roads and the powerful city gates are reminiscent. Similarly, other emperors have sought to create a "Roma Nova"; for example, Charlemagne with Aachen, Otto I with Magdeburg and Heinrich II with Bamberg. Grid-based city plans or extensions, if not on this large a scale, were already in existence in Central Europe and even in Bohemia, so that these other towns also probably served as models to Charles IV in the planning the New Town.

The often stated reference to Jerusalem is in contrast to its rather religious nature and reflects the concept of the creation of a new "Valhalla". W. Brosche counts at the time "... around 1400 existing within the New Town area... three hospitals with churches or chapels, nine monasteries with all together ten consecrated spaces, fourteen parish churches with three additional chapels, also the city hall chapel in addition to the consecration places secured with Patrozinien on Vyšehrad, so that the New Town with 40 churches surpassed the Old Town with its 35 places of worship already by the end of the century."

To the monasteries in Prague, came friars and monks from almost every order and from remote countries of Europe. Specifically mentioned are the Benedictines at St. Ambrosius of Milan, the Augustinians from France at Na Karlově, the Servants of the Holy Virgin of the Meadow from Florence and the Slavic Benedictines from Croatia in the Emmaus Church. The monastery of Mary of the Snows was probably manned by Saxon Carmelites.

The importance of New Town, Prague

In 1378 a census commissioned by Charles IV found that Prague had 40,000 inhabitants making it the fourth largest city north of the Alps after Paris, Ghent and Bruges. Based on physical area, Prague was the third-largest city in Europe after Rome and Constantinople. When one compares Prague with the other cities in medieval Europe and in particular with the established cities of the 12th to 14th Centuries, the privileged position of the Prague New Town becomes clear. Charles IV "... conceived here the largest urban planning project of the Middle Ages, and at the time, its equal could not be found in Europe. In the mid fourteenth Century in Europe there was no other city, in which an enclosed building project was organized and executed on such a scale, over two square kilometers. There is no other city, in which 18 to 27 meter-wide roads were created; where an arterial road was wide three-quarters of a kilometer long and over 60 meters wide and in the New Town alone was the central marketplace larger than most entire cities of this time including its walls. Here was planned and established the real administrative, cultural and economic center of Central Europe." (Vilém Lorenc, p13)



The Cloisters and Monasteries

The Sts. Peter and Paul Church of the Canons and Holy Grave in the settlement Zderaz was converted and rebuilt to serve as the parish church. Numerous further cloisters and monasteries allowed Charles IV to establish a special area of dominance. He had already founded the monastery of St. Mary of the Snows on a spur of the upper plateau along the old road to the Vyšehrad before the creation of an important monastery in the New Town. In direct proximity to the old parish church of the riverside community Podskalí, St. Cosmas and Damian, in the territory of the Vyšehrad cathedral he settled with the agreement of the Pope Clemens VI on 22 November 1347, an order of Benedictine monks who adhered to the old Slavic liturgy. Nach ihnen erhielt die 1372 geweihte Klosterkirche den Namen Marienkirche bei den Slawen (klášter P. Marie na Slovanech). An der selben Straße wurde weiter südlich 1360 ein Servitenkloster mit der Kirche St. Maria auf dem Rasen (kostel P. Marie na Trávníčku) beziehungsweise auf der Säule (Na Slupi) erbaut. 1355 wurde unweit das Augustiner-Eremitinnenkloster St. Katharina (kostel sv. Kateřiny) gegründet, das Karl aus Dankbarkeit für seinen ersten, am 25. November 1332 bei der Burg San Felice in Italien errungenen Sieg stiftete. Der Bau konnte am 29. November 1367 geweiht werden.

Insgesamt lässt sich beobachten, dass Pfarr- und Klosterkirchen oft entweder an Vorgängerkirchen anknüpften oder in der Nähe bestehender Siedlungen oder Straßen errichtet worden sind. Im Gegensatz dazu gründete Karl IV. an besonders exponierten, aber dafür noch lange unbesiedelten Stellen zwei Stiftskirchen. Um 1362 wurde auf dem Windberg (Větrná hora or Na Větrníku) das Kollegiatstift St. Apollinaris (kostel sv. Apolináře) eingerichtet.

Am höchsten Punkt der neuen Befestigung im Südosten knickte die Stadtbefestigung im Malerturm, an dem eine kleine Pforte existierte, nach Norden. Diese Situation erzwang geradezu die Errichtung einer dritten burgähnlichen Anlage neben Hradschin und Vyšehrad, dem sogenannten Karlshof. 1350 siedelte Karl IV. hier Augustiner-Chorherren aus Frankreich an.

Die neu gegründeten Stifts- und Klosterkirchen in der oberen Neustadt unterschieden sich von den Gemeindekirchen auch dadurch, dass sie am Rand der städtischen Besiedlung gegründet worden waren oder ihre gesamte Umgebung fast gänzlich frei blieb. Die Hänge und Hochflächen östlich der Straße Na slupi und südlich des Klosters St. Katharina waren nur von Weingärten und ausgedehnten Grünflächen bedeckt. Nicht zuletzt dadurch war eine weitere städtebauliche Konzeption vom vor allem vom Vyšehrad deutlich sichtbar. Die fünf genannten Kirchenbauten bilden ein Kreuz mit fast gleich langen Armen, in deren Mitte das Stift St. Apollinaris liegt. Der imaginäre Querbalken endet mit dem Karlshof und dem Emmauskloster in turmlosen Kirchenbauten, während die Kirchen mit den im Obergeschoss oktogonalen Türmen den Längsbalken bilden. In der Verlängerung zielt dieser genau auf den Vyšehrad, der somit auch in das Konzept mit eingezogen wurde.

Weitere Kloster- und Stiftskirchen der Prager Neustadt:

Die Pfarr- und Friedhofskirchen

Pfarrkirche der neu zu besiedelnden Gebiete in der oberen Neustadt war die St.-Stephans-Kirche (Kostel sv. Štěpána), die zwischen 1351 und 1394 erbaut wurde. Die Kirche entstand in unmittelbarer Nachbarschaft zu einer älteren Kirche, einer romanischen Rotunde aus dem 12. Jahrhundert, die als Pfarrkirche der Siedlung Rybníček gedient hatte. Deren Patrozinium ging nun auf die neue Kirche über; die Rotunde wurde dem heiligen Longinus (Rotunda sv. Longina) geweiht.

Auch in der oberen Neustadt wurden die Kirchen der schon bestehenden Siedlungen an der Moldau unter Karl IV. und Wenzel IV. erweitert und gotisch umgebaut. An die St.-Adalbert-Kirche (Kostel sv. Vojtěcha v Jirchářich) nahe dem Flussufer in der Siedlung der Gerber und Weißgerber wurde um 1370 südlich ein zweites Schiff mit eigenem Presbyterium angefügt. Die ursprünglich romanische Pfarrkirche der Siedlung Opatovice St. Michael (Kostel sv. Michala) erhielt einen neuen Chor und gegen Ende des 14. oder Anfang des 15. Jahrhunderts die beiden Seitenschiffe. Gebaut wurde wohl auch an der nicht erhaltenen Kirche St. Peter na struze.

Westlich der Pfarrkirche St. Wenzel am Zderaz (Kostel sv. Václava na Zderaze) ließ König Wenzel IV. ab 1380 auf einem Bergvorsprung über dem Moldauufer eine kleine gotische Burg erbauen, die wohl zweigeschossig mit gewölbten Räumen war, einen fünfgeschossigen Turm besaß und von mindestens zwei zinnenbekrönten Mauern umgeben war. Im Zusammenhang mit der Erhebung zur Burgkirche erfolgte vor 1399 auch ein gotischer Umbau der St.-Wenzels-Kirche.

Ähnliche Vergrößerungen erfuhren mit großer Wahrscheinlichkeit auch die unterhalb des Vyšehrads gelegenen Kirchen St. Johannes d. T. und St. Nikolaus. Bis um 1380 entstanden auch weitere kleine Kirchen wie die Dreifaltigkeitskirche südlich des Emmaus-Klosters, die um 1420 eine gotische Kirche des hl. Antonius ersetzte, die St.-Andreas-Kirche, St. Michael am Slup (Na slupi) sowie die Kirche zur Jungfrau Maria unter dem Vyšehrad und das zugehörige St.-Elisabeth-Spital.

Der Judengarten

In der Nähe des Spitals mit der St.-Lazarus-Kirche – beide wurden am Anfang des Jahrhunderts ohne vorhergehende Untersuchung abgebrochen – existierte weiterhin ein älterer jüdischer Friedhof, der Judengarten (Židovská zahrada). Er war bereits unter Ottokar II. 1254 privilegiert worden. Die Ansiedlung von Juden in der unmittelbaren Umgebung wurde durch Karl IV. und Wenzel IV. weiter forciert. Sie entwickelte sich aber nicht im gewünschten Maße, so dass es 1478 zur Auflösung des jüdischen Friedhofes kam und das Gebiet parzelliert und bebaut wurde. Statt der Juden, die die Ansiedlung im Getto der Altstadt bevorzugten, hatten bereits zuvor die Fleischer hier ihre Wohnhäuser errichtet, deren Markthalle mit 100 Fleischbänken schon vor 1349 nördlich des Neustädter Rathauses errichtet wurde.


  • V. Huml/Z. Dragoun/R. Novy: Der archäologische Beitrag zur Problematik der Entwicklung Prags in der Zeit vom 9. bis zur Mitte des 13. Jahrhunderts und die Erfassung der Ergebnisse der historisch-archäologischen Erforschung Prags. Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters 18/19 (1990/91), S. 33-69.
  • František Graus:Prag als Mitte Böhmens 1346-1421. In: Emil Meynen (Hrsg.), Zentralität als Problem der mittelalterlichen Stadtgeschichtsforschung. Städteforschungen. Reihe A: Darstellungen Bd. 8 (Köln, Wien 1979). ISBN 3412032794.
  • Vilém Lorenc: Das Prag Karls IV. Die Prager Neustadt. Stuttgart 1982. ISBN 3421025762.
  • Nové Město pražské. 1348 - 1784. Praha 1998. ISBN 8085394197.
  • Ferdinand Seibt (Hrsg.): Kaiser Karl IV. Staatsmann und Mäzen [Begleitband Ausstellungen Nürnberg und Köln 1978/79]. München 1978. ISBN 3791304356 (Mehrere Beiträge, besonders zu nennen ist W. Brosche: Zu einem Modell der Prager Neustadt. S. 242-249).
  • Jaroslava Staňková /Jiři Štursa/Svatopluk Voděra: Prag. Elf Jahrhunderte Architektur. Historischer Reiseführer. Praha 1991. ISBN 80-9000033-9.
  • Umělecké památky Prahy 1. Nové Město, Vyšehrad, Vinohrady (Praha 1). Praha 1998. ISBN 8020006273.

See also

Prague History of Prague

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