This steep street used to be the last leg of the "Royal Way," the king's procession before his coronation. As king, he made the ascent on horseback, not huffing and puffing on foot like today's visitors. It was named for the 19th-century Czech journalist and poet Jan Neruda, after whom Chilean poet Pablo Neruda renamed himself. Until Joseph II's administrative reforms in the late 18th century, house numbering was unknown in Prague. Each house bore a name, depicted on the façade, and these are particularly prominent on Nerudova ulice. No. 6, U červeného orla (At the Red Eagle), proudly displays a faded painting of a crimson eagle. No. 12 is known as U tří housliček (At the Three Fiddles); in the early 18th century three generations of the Edlinger violin-making family lived here. Joseph II's scheme numbered each house according to its position in the "town" (here the Lesser Quarter) to which it belonged, rather than its sequence on the street. The red plates record
the original house numbers, but the blue ones are the numbers used in addresses today. Many architectural guides refer to the old, red-number plates, much to the confusion of visitors.
Two large palaces break the unity of the houses on Nerudova ulice. Both were designed by the adventurous baroque architect Giovanni Santini, one of the popular Italian builders hired by wealthy nobles in the early 18th century. The Morzin Palace, on the left at No. 5, is now the Romanian Embassy. The fascinating façade, created in 1713 with an allegory of night and day, is the work of Ferdinand Brokoff, of Charles Bridge statue fame. Across the street at No. 20 is the Thun-Hohenstein Palace, now the Italian Embassy. The gateway with two enormous eagles (the emblem of the Kolovrat family, who owned the building at the time) is the work of the other great Charles Bridge statue sculptor, Mathias Braun. Santini himself lived at No. 14, the Valkoun House.
The archway at Nerudova No. 13 is a prime example of the many winding passageways that give the Lesser Quarter its captivatingly ghostly character at night. Higher up the street at No. 33 is the Bretfeld Palace, a rococo house on the corner of Jánský vršek. The relief of St. Nicholas on the façade was created by Ignaz Platzer, a sculptor known for his classical and rococo work. But it's the building's historical associations that give it intrigue: Mozart, his librettist partner Lorenzo da Ponte, and the aging but still infamous philanderer and music lover Casanova stayed here at the time of the world premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787.