Overview of Prague

History of Prague

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The Boii, a Celtic tribe, were some of the first settlers to the area around 200 BC. Germanic tribes, possibly the Marcomanni, took their place around the 6th century AD, and Slavic tribes eventually replaced them. In the 7th century, a Frankish merchant named Samo united the different groups and helped to found the Great Moravian Empire (Velkomoravska rise) in 830 at the crossroads of the Germanic and Byzantium people. Eventually, the empire collapsed in 907 with the Hungarian invasion.

From the 9th century until 1306 the Premyslid dynasty ruled the area. Around 880, the Prague Castle was founded by prince Borivoj, the first Premyslid princes. Vratislav II was granted the royal crown and became the first Czech king in 1085. However, he was subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire and the German king.

John of Luxembourg's son, Charles IV, took the throne and led the Czechs into the Golden Age. He was crowned King of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355 and his favorite city, Prague, became the capital of the Empire. St. Vitus Cathedral was started, the New Town was founded, Charles University was established (the first university in Central Europe), and the construction of Charles Bridge began in 1357. Charles IV is remembered as the most beloved Czech king and the "father of the Czech nation".

Charles IV's son, Wenceslas IV, took the throne and ruled until the Hussite wars of the 15th century. Conflicts between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church were increasing and a reform movement was led by priest Jan Hus. Hus's disobedience was addressed when he was burned at the stake in 1415. This event sparked a massive protest by his followers, the Hussites. In 1419, the First Defenestration of Prague took place when the Hussites threw seven counselors out of the windows of Prague's New Town Hall. After intense battles within the city and country from 1420 to 1434 with many buildings and documents undergoing damage, the conflicts ended by an agreement between the Hussites and the Catholic Church. The Hussites were able to elect a Czech Protestant, George of Podebrady as the country's new king in 1458. He was quite successful in uniting his kingdom and enabling a peaceful understanding among the Protestants and Catholics.

In 1526, Ferdinand I of Habsburg took the Czech throne. The influential Habsburgs ruled until 1918. Once again, religious conflict appeared as the Habsburgs embraced Catholicism and systematically took away Protestant freedom. Once again, an uprising followed. In 1618 several of King Matthias's governors were attacked and a series of conflicts took place. The Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 ended these skirmishes, but started the Thirty Years's War that spread across Europe. Catholicism was the only official religion and Czech language and customs were suppressed. This period is referred to as the Dark Age (doba temna).

Marie Therese, ruler of the Austrian Empire, helped the situation with her son, Joseph II, with reforms that reduced the power of the Catholic Church. The four independent urban areas of Prague were united by Joseph II in 1784 and Josefov (named after the emperor) was added to the Prague's historical center in 1850. Prague was again coming alive. In 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited Prague and his opera, Don Giovanni, had its premiere at the Estates Theater.

The 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand brought about the first World War, and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This led to the Czech and Slovakia lands to jointly proclaim an independent Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918. The period between WWI and WWII became known as "the First Republic" with Prague as the capital.

In September 1938, as pressure from Hitler's Germany began to build Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Pact allowing Hitler to invade and claim Czechoslovakia's border areas. On March 15, 1939, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Hitler's army. The country was occupied by Nazi Germany until the end of World War II in 1945. The war ended with the help of an uprising in Prague on May 5, 1945.

After WWII, the country came under the power of the Communist Party. About 95 percent of all privately owned companies became the property of the state. The economy suffered and the people were greatly repressed. The Communist totalitarian regime lasted until the 1989.

The Russian perestroika that was introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s marked a turning point for communism worldwide. Public demonstrations erupted and a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Velvet Revolution ended brought an end to communism. Vaclav Havel was elected president during the country's first democratic elections in January 1990.

On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The country continued to modernize and develop, joining NATO in 1999. In 2002, the Czech Republic was approved to become a member of the European Union. In 2009, the Czech Republic held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In spite of the many wars, struggles, conflicts and in-fighting, the country held strong and was able to preserve its many architectural and cultural wonders.


Known for its regal majesty, incredible beauty, and magical atmosphere, the city has been the jewel in the crown of many different empires and governments. Founded in the late 9th century, it was the seat of Bohemian kings and the Holy Roman Empire. Under the rule of Charles IV in the 14th century, many of the city's most attractive elements were constructed. The first stone bridge over the Vltava, Judith Bridge, was built in 1172. The Old Town was founded in 1234 and the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) was founded in 1257. The city had a mint, foreign merchants, bankers, and craftsmen.

The city was cosmopolitan and multi-national, but differences in religion were starting to be an issue. On Easter in 1389, members of the Prague clergy announced that Jews had desecrated the host and the clergy encouraged mobs to pillage the affluent Jewish quarter. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Prague (some 3,000 people) perished.

In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia came under the lead of the House of Habsburg- fervent Catholics. Again, there was religious animosity and Protestants were persecuted. In spite of these issues, a flood of young, foreign, creative people continued to descend on the city until occupation by the Saxons in 1631 and Swedish in 1648. The city's population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. In 1689, a great fire devastated the broken city. This led to a massive renovation and again people returned. The Jewish population returned and by 1708 accounted for about a quarter of Prague's population.

In 1713-14, the plague came to Prague and killed around 13,000 people. The city continued to struggle, but economic growth bolstered the city through the 18th century with a population of 80,000 in 1771. The rich decorated the city with Baroque palaces, churches and gardens. The Industrial Revolution helped the city enter the modern age and factories appeared. The Czech nationalist movement began and gained the majority in the town council in 1861. The First Republic of 1918 appeared as Prague became a modern European capital. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000.

This changed with the appearance of the German Army in Czechoslovakia in 1939. Jews fled the city and the people of Prague lived in fear. The assassination of a powerful Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, occurred in Prague and brought bloody reprisals. By the end of the war, Prague was again a damaged jewel. Over 1,000 people were killed and much of the city damaged. However, the ability of the country to negotiate and protest through words left it in much better shape then most other European capitals.

In 1948, Prague became territory of the Soviet Union. Attempts as independence were harshly punished and the Soviet Union invaded the country on August 21, 1968. The Velvet Revolution took place on the streets of the city in 1989. The people's voice was heard, and in 1993 Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic. Once again, the city was an important centre, not only of the Czech Republic, but of Europe.

In 1992, the city was recognized with much of the historic centre being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Almost nowhere else in Europe has retained the spirit of a historical city the way Prague has. The bridges, romance, mystery, and history of the city set it apart as a truly unique, and eternal, capital.

Update 27/01/2011

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