A Brief History of Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square  | © Catarina Belova / Shutterstock
Wenceslas Square | © Catarina Belova / Shutterstock
Photo of Diana Bocco
24 May 2017

Wenceslas Square is arguably one of Prague’s most famous meeting points. Conveniently located opposite the National Museum, the square is easily identifiable by the giant horse sculpture depicting Saint Wenceslas accompanied by four Czech patron saints. Culture Trip reveals how the square commemorates a dramatic history of violence and deception, often overlooked by visitors to Prague.

Until the 18th century the area now known as Wenceslas Square was one of many horse markets in Prague. Back then, the area was less a street and more an open area, with no significant monuments or buildings around it. Soon after, new buildings began to enclose the boulevard, giving birth to a shopping area that to this day hasn’t changed much.

Wenceslas Statue | © Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock

The square was officially named Wenceslas Square in the 19th century. The renaming was part of the Czech national revival movement, which sought to establish a national identity by reviving significant aspects of Czech culture. During this time, King Wenceslas’ sainthood was enshrined by the sculpture which still stands prominently opposite the National Museum. Sculptor Josef Václav Myslbek worked on the statue of Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia, for several decades before it was completed.

Wenceslas Square at the end of 19th century / {{PD-US}}

History tells us that Wenceslas was murdered at the command of his younger brother, Boleslaus, who wanted to ensure his own succession to becoming the Duke of Bohemia. According to one rendition, a group of Boleslaus’ supporters attacked and stabbed Wenceslas, but the king refused to retaliate against his younger brother and chose to bravely accept his fate. In the years after, several miracles were reported at the site of Wenceslas’ murder and he was posthumously designated sainthood.

Folklore has it that King Wenceslas’ murder took place at the same time as the feast celebrating the birth of Boleslaus’ first born child, who was subsequently named Strachvas, or a “dreadful feast”. The name was a reminder to Boleslaus of what he had done. Several years after the event, Boleslaus ordered his brother’s remains to be buried at the Church of St Vitus.

Czechoslovak independence in 1928 / {{PD-US}}

Eventually, Wenceslas became known as “the King of Czechs” and is now a major figure in everything from children’s books to Christmas carols to legends. The namesake square has been the focus point for many historical events, including a rally conducted on October 28, 1918 to mark Czechoslovak independence. Separately, when a boy was shot in front of the statue during a rebellion against Soviet soldiers, a black flag was placed in St Wenceslas’ hand.

Today, the name Wenceslas Square refers to the entire boulevard that flows from the majestic horse all the way down to the metro station Mustek, 750 meters away. Despite the many modern storefronts that flank the boulevard, many historical sites, including the statue of King Wenceslas, remain.

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