Prague Streets – 17 Listopadu
17 Listopadu translates as 17th November. It’s an iconic date known by all Czechs so it’s hardly surprising that there will be a story behind it. 17 Listopadu is the road which links Paris Street with Jan Palach Square and runs alongside the Old Jewish Cemetery for almost half it’s length. If you are standing in front of the Rudolfinum looking at the building then on your right down the side of the Rudolfinum where the tram line runs, that is 17 Listopadu.
Before the Rudolfinum
Most people giving directions in the area will use the Rudolfinum as a point of reference but back in the 16th Century it had not yet been built and the space between the Old Jewish Cemetery and the riverside had just received an official street name, Sanytrova. One side of 17 Listopadu is in the Jewish Quarter or what we call Josefov but the other side of the street is in the Old Town. On my Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour you’ll learn more about street signs and how many tell you what may be in a street to give a clue to why the street got that name and you’ll learn why some streets are in different districts. So in our case Sanytr translates as “Potassium Nitrate” commonly known as Saltpeter and the primary element of gun powder. So for around 350 years our street contained facilities which made Prague self-sufficient in the production of gun powder. This was all cleared away to make room for the Rudolfinum and other buildings in the 1870s.
The event which leads to this name begins on October 28th 1939, Czech Independence Day. There were nationwide protests and strikes against the occupation by Nazi forces. In Prague a march including students and workers was fired on by soldiers and German security police killing one protester and injuring others. The man who was killed was buried a week later with no fanfare or memorial. One of the injured was Jan Opletal, a medical student who died on November 11th and was buried on the 15th. It was events on the 15th again protesting Nazi occupation which caused the German Reichsprotektor Kurt von Neurath, on November 17th, to close all Czech universities and colleges, arrest and begin to deport 1850 students (many would die at the Sachsenhausen camp) and finally to execute nine leaders of the Student Union. It was the exiled Czech government under President Beneš that first asked the League of Nations to ratify November 17th as the International Day of Students. In the post-WW2 changes, Sanytrova was changed to 17 Listopadu and later November 17th was recognised as a National Holiday to commemorate the “Fight for Freedom and Against Tyranny”.
In the “Bourne Identity”, after Jason Bourne arrives at the “Zurich” train station, the next scene shows him standing in a quiet snow covered road with tramlines. This was filmed in 17 Listopadu. You can read more on the Bourne Identity Prague Filming Locations.
17 Listopadu used to cross the junction with Paris Street and continue to a monastery. It was shortened in the late 1960s when the Hotel Intercontinental was built.
When the Sanytrova nitrate beds were cleared during the preparations for the foundations of the Rudolfinum, the earth was taken to the park in front of the main train station.
International Students Day, November 17th commemorates the events of 1939 in Prague and has done since 1941.
The student march of November 17th 1989 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1939 events ended up triggering the Velvet Revolution and the downfall of Communist power.