The hype about Old Town Square is completely justified. Picture a perimeter of colorful baroque houses contrasting with the sweeping old-Gothic style of the Týn church in the background. The unexpectedly large size gives it a majestic presence as it opens up from feeder alleyways. As the heart of Old Town, the square grew to its present proportions when Prague's original marketplace moved away from the river in the 12th century. Its shape and appearance have changed little since that time (the monument to religious reformer Jan Hus, at the center of the square, was erected in the early 20th century). During the day the square pulses with activity, as musicians vie for the attention of visitors milling about. In summer the square's south end is dominated by sprawling outdoor restaurants. During the Easter and Christmas seasons it fills with wooden booths of vendors selling everything from simple wooden toys to fine glassware and mulled wine. At night the brightly lighted towers of the
Týn church rise gloriously over the glowing baroque façades.
But the square's history is not all wine and music: During the 15th century the square was the focal point of conflict between Czech Hussites and the mainly Catholic Austrians and Germans. In 1422 the radical Hussite preacher Jan Želivský was executed here for his part in storming the New Town's town hall three years earlier. In the 1419 uprising a judge, a mayor, and seven city council members were thrown out the window—the first of Prague's many famous defenestrations. Within a few years the Hussites had taken over the town, expelled many of the Catholics, and set up their own administration.
Twenty-seven white crosses embedded in the square's paving stones, at the base of Old Town Hall, mark the spot where 27 Bohemian noblemen were killed by the Austrian Habsburgs in 1621 during the dark days following the defeat of the Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain. The grotesque spectacle, designed to quash any further national or religious opposition, took about five hours to complete, as the men were put to the sword or hanged one by one.