Old Town Square in Prague is often known by tourists for its magnificent church, astronomical clock, restaurants, too many segways, and trdelnik (which is in fact not a “donut cone.” Culture yourself if you have not already folks, and do not believe everything a Buzzfeed article tells you). But what lurks underneath the bars, restaurants, and shops of Old Town Square and nearby Prague?
In the 13th century Prague sat about 5-25 feet lower than it does now. Below the city lays a system of underground tunnels. The tunnels used to be connected, but now the underground rooms are blocked off from one another since buildings are individually owned. This underground system is a result of major spring floods that were destroying Prague in earlier centuries. One of the most destructive was the flood of 1342 that completely demolished the Judith bridge which predated the Charles Bridge. Since the 1300s were already horrible enough (plagues, poop in public, and pre-Netflix), residents wanted to avoid more disaster. So they came up with the idea to raise the street level in order prevent flooding.
What appear to be the ground floors of many buildings now are actually the second floor; there is often a floor below. Some of these underground rooms were used as prisons as well as hiding places for soldiers. Not all ground floors have stood the test of time as well as others, but there are still plenty to visit today.
In fact, members of NYU’s Prague Podcast, PragueCast did their own underground tour of Prague for a recent episode. I did my underground tour to satisfy my visiting parents’ wish to “do something different!” Right across from NYU Richtruv Dum is Prague Underground Tours where you can choose between a haunted underground tour (very tacky, would not recommend) or a spiritless underground walking tour (would recommend. If you are lucky, your tour guide still allows you to take pictures near the prop coffins in one of the underground rooms). Lasting a little over an hour, the tour mainly takes place around the area outside of Old Town Square. It covers much of the history of the Jewish Quarter and Old Town Square, only some of which is discussed in the NYU Global Orientation class.
The tour takes you into one privately owned underground area where soldiers used to hide out. It also explores the underground of a bar and restaurant called U Kunštátu. U Kunštátu used to be a Romanesque Palace, and it dates back to 1100. It was owned by the Lords of Kunstat and Podebrady (refer to Jiriho z Podebrad subway stop that I still cannot pronounce properly). Many art exhibits now take place underground here.
If you are the type of person who prefers to spend your money above ground on aforementioned trdelnik, do not fret. You can visit a lot of the underground areas without paying for a tour. The workers at U Kunštátu will let you visit the underground area there for free (although the bar is rather excellent). Other underground places around campus include many restaurants and bars such as Las Adelitas, Pasta Fresca, K4 university student club, and Golden Kettle restaurant. I highly recommend a visit to at least one of these underground bars or restaurants in Prague where you can drink in the history alongside your beer (or rootbeer. Still unsure whether NYU is allowing us to talk about alcohol on this site).
Check out the NYU Prague podcast to learn more not only about the history of Prague’s underground tunnels but about many other of Prague’s “underground” topics on the ninth episode of PragueCast.
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