Located in the New Town (“Nové Msto”) district of Prague, Wenceslas Square (in Czech: “Václavské náměstí”” or “Václavák”) is a 700-meter-long and 60-meter-wide promenade. Because of its original function, the area was referred to as “Horse Market” (“Koňský trh”) in the past. The current name alludes to the fact that Wenceslaus (“Svatý Václav”) is the most well-known Czech patron saint.
In 1348, King Wenceslas I of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV issued a decree establishing the Wenceslas Square as part of the New Town of Prague (“Nové město pražské”). It was supposed to be a major shopping district in Prague. Saint Wenceslas square was renamed “Horse Market” in 1848 from its Mediaeval namesake, “Horse Market,” due to the prevalence of horse markets in the area.
In modern times, Wenceslas Square has become a popular place for locals of Prague to gather. They frequently use the phrase “under the tail” or “let’s meet at the horse” to refer to the well-known statue of Saint Wenceslas atop a horse. The square is a major cultural, commercial, and culinary hub in Prague.
Wenceslas Square was the site of numerous Nazi rallies and propaganda events during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. During the Prague uprising at the war’s end, many battles took place in the Square. As the Czech people fought off the Nazis, they destroyed a number of nearby structures.
Unfortunately, the period of calm that followed the end of hostilities in Czech history was short-lived. The Communist regime came to power in 1948. Later, when the Czechs attempted to alter the dictatorship, a military engagement—the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact—suppressed their efforts. One of the darkest periods in Czech history began in 1968, when Soviet military vehicles drove onto Wenceslas Square. The tanks mistakenly fired at the National Museum building, thinking it was the Czech Radio building, seriously damaging the historical structure.
As a form of protest against the invasion, a Czech student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in January 1969. Czech students and other Czechs were very motivated in the late ’80s liberation movements in part because they remembered his brave conduct. A monument to Jan Palach stands in front of the National Museum; it was built in his honor in 1989.
Last but not least, in 1989, many anti-Communist public speeches were held in Wenceslas Square. Over 100,000 people participated in demonstrations in November, when opposition to the government’s lack of freedom reached its zenith. One of the places where people gathered to celebrate the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia as a result of the “Velvet revolution” was Wenceslas Square.