Little Square in Prague
As the Old Town developed there was a conscious decision to maintain a large square that acted as a meeting place, a place of safety from fire and as a market square. On German language maps it’s called the “Grosse Markt” or the Big Market. Today we call this place the Old Town Square but there is another nice but smaller square nearby aptly called Little Square which is also on the route of my Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour.
You’ll find that the Little Square is not actually a square. As I never tire of telling people, in Czech it’s Malé Náměsti (it sounds like marlay na-me-esty) which literally translates as the Little Junction. So when you are in a Náměsti, don’t look at the shape, look at how many streets connect into it.
In our case one of those streets was the hugely important Karlova, part of the Royal Road and direction to the Charles Bridge. But first the Little Square. Architecturally it’s one of the few places in the city (large squares excepted) where you can see, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and private decorative commissions. Until 2015 it was primarily used as a car park until the city revamped it in a redevelopment scheme by removing the parking option and allowing the outdoor eating between April and October.
Why Visit the Little Square?
You won’t actually head for for the Little Square. What will happen is usually that you’ve been on the Old Town Square and you want to walk to Charles Bridge so as you leave the big square past the Astronomical Clock the way gets narrower and suddenly there it is, the triangle called Little Square. If you visit here in nice weather then it’s because it’s a popular place to eat out as several restaurants share the space including the Hard Rock Cafe. Little Square also hosts a small market at Easter and the same for the Christmas Market.
Leaving the architecture and restaurants to one side, historically the Little Square or Little Market was a Czech Market but it doubled as a place where market traders on the big square could water their horses. The original watering point is still there although more ornate than it would have been. So you’ll definitely take pictures of the fountain but I absolutely guarantee that it won’t be the first picture you take.
V. J. Rott Building
That honour will go to the Rott Building. On what we call the sunny side of the Little Square is a richly decorated Renaissance style building with the huge “V J Rott” name. Vincent Josef Rott was an extremely wealthy ironmonger who owned two adjacent buildings on the square and in 1896 he commissioned an artisan called Mikulaš Aleš to decorate the front of one of them. Three things to note are 1) Men with heavier metal equipment are pictured on the left, 2) Women with lighter tools are pictured on the right and finally 3) If you look in the centre above the second floor you see text which says “Nedej zahynouti nam i budoucim SV Vaclave”. It literally translates as “Do not let us or our future perish ST Vaclav”. A strange direct appeal to the patron saint of the country in a period of Czech National Revival.
People often think that this was the building that contained the original ironmongers shop. In fact the shop was next door in what is now the reception of the Hotel Rott. One interesting item is at the end of the entry hall to the hotel on the right. It’s a record of ownership of the building from construction to the present day.
So if you are heading to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe you’ll be going into the V J Rott building. The Pragl glass shop is under the arches opposite Hotel Rott. The Richter House (Richterovy Dum) hosted the first telephone exchange in the city and 4 doors down in the building called U Zlate Koruny you can see the original interior of a 1920s Prague chemist/pharmacy (historically this side of the square was the location of foreign chemists).