Letter from Prague The changing face of Wenceslas Square

27-11-2004 | Daniela Lazarová

Wenceslas Square -a place visited by millions of tourists every year - has been captured on thousands of postcards over the years, pictures which document its transformation. At the start of the twentieth century people could still ski down the square in winter. For the less athletic, there were horse drawn carriages and in the 50s you could hop on one of the open trams riding up and down the square so slowly it was possible to hang on to the bottom step and feel the wind in your face. It was the construction of the Prague metro in the late 70s which radically changed the face of Wenceslas Square. With underground transport there was no more need for trams and the last tram wove its way down the square in 1980.

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Wenceslas SquareWenceslas Square The next two decades brought a concerted effort to turn the city centre into a pedestrian zone, as far as possible. Although cars can still drive up and down the square there is now much more room for greenery - there are newly planted trees, benches and flower beds and the freed up space in the centre has made room for a variety of modern sculptures. I may not necessarily like all the sculptures displayed, but I very much liked the trend. Therefore, I was horrified to hear that that may be about to change.

Trams on Wenceslas Square in 1963, photo: CTKTrams on Wenceslas Square in 1963, photo: CTK The city hall is seriously considering a plan to bring trams back to Wenceslas Square and, possibly, even Prikopy Street, the pedestrian alley branching off the bottom of the square. Such a move would allegedly fill a gap in public transport - especially for older people who are afraid of riding the metro escalators. The town's councillors also feel that it would be good for visitors to view the city centre from a tram and that the locals would appreciate a direct link from the bottom of Wenceslas Square to Vinohradska street, a distance that most people now cover on foot because it is not worthwhile taking the metro for what is a ten minute walk. The idea is that more trams in the centre would also take the pressure off those cutting through the centre of Wenceslas square - up and down Jindrisska street -and that they would be less packed in the rush hours.

All arguments that make sense, and I've already heard several locals say : what a good idea. However I'm hoping it will never come to fruition. The way I see it the Prague city centre has been changing for the better and bringing in more traffic just seems like a step backwards.

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