|Motto: Praga Caput Rei publicae
(Prague, Head of the State; Latin)
|Coordinates: 50°05′N 14°25′E|
|- Mayor||Bohuslav Svoboda (ODS)|
|- City||496 km² (191.5 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||399 m (1,309 ft)|
|- Density||2,544.6/km² (6,590.4/sq mi)|
|Time zone||CET (UTC+1)|
|- Summer (DST)||CEST (UTC+2)|
|Postal code||1xx xx|
Prague (Czech: Praha), is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated on the Vltava River in central Bohemia, it is home to approximately 1.2 million people. Since 1992, its historic center has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According to Guinness World Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. The four independent boroughs that had formerly constituted Prague—Hradčany, Malá Strana, Staré Město and Nové Město—were proclaimed a single city in 1784. Further expansion occurred with the annexation of city quarters Josefov in 1850 and Vyšehrad in 1883, and in early 1922, an additional 37 municipalities were incorporated, raising its population to 676,000. In 1938, the population reached one million.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of Europe's and the world's most popular tourist destinations. It is the sixth-most visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.
Prague suffered considerably less damage during World War II than other major cities in the region, allowing most of its historic architecture to stay true to form. It boasts one of the world's most pristine and varied collections of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassicism, Art Nouveau, cubism, and ultra-modern architecture. Unique in the world is cubism, elsewhere limited to paintings but here materialized in architecture as well. Prague’s cubists even set up a housing establishment inspired by this style. Arts under communism were limited to “socialist realism,” with its unsightly high-rise apartment buildings built of prefabricated panels.
Major events in the history of its peoples' quest for faith are evident in the city's culture; thus, the nickname "City of a Hundred Spires" and "Golden City," for its cornucopia of churches. Only a brief excursion into the succession of its rulers and the famous, with their respective imprints on architecture, arts, and learning can one fully appreciate and understand Prague.
The land where Prague was to be built has been settled since the Paleolithic Age. Several thousands of years ago, there were trade routes connecting southern parts of Europe to northern Europe which passed through this area, following the course of the river. From around 500 B.C.E. the Celtic tribe known as the "Boii" were the first documented inhabitants of this region, who named the region Bohemia (“Boiohaemum”) and the river Vltava.
Between the sixth and ninth centuries C.E., the Germanic tribe Marcomanni and other Germanic tribes migrated to Bohemia. In the sixth century their elites, along with majority of inhabitants, moved to the Danubian area, which enabled a Slavic tribe invading from the West to settle this territory. During the Migration of Peoples— roughly from the third to the seventh centuries C.E.—Slav colonization spread westward from the Steppes of the East all the way to the territory of the present–day Czech Republic, up to Poland and down to Yugoslavia. From probably the sixth century C.E. on, the Slavic peoples settled, in several waves of migration, into the regions abandoned by the Germanic tribes, with Forefather Czech (Praotec Čech) becoming the founder of the Czech nation.
According to a Czech legend, there were three brothers—Czech, Lech and Rus—who, along with their tribes, set out on a journey in search of a new place to live. Czech continued until he came upon a rich land overflowing with milk and honey and climbed to the top of the Říp Hill in Bohemia, claiming it the place for him and his tribe. However, the first Czech chronicle calls Forefather Czech “Bohemus,” implying that he was a Celt, since Bohemus is Latin for a member of the Boii tribe.
The Czech legend also mentions a new leader of the Slavs of Bohemia, Krok, who had three beautiful daughters named Kazi, Teta and Libuše.
Libuše inherited the rule over the Czech tribes from her father, and with it the supreme “court of appeal.” She saw many prophecies from her castle Libušín, located in central Bohemia; this is also supported by archaeological finds dating back to the seventh century. Legend says that a man who did not like one of her decisions as a judge spread bad publicity about the Czechs being ruled by a woman. She resolved this through another, famous, vision:
I see a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars! I see a place in the middle of a forest where a steep cliff rises above the Vltava River. There is a man chiseling the threshold (prah) for the house. A castle named Prague will be built there, on the seven hills of which a fair city will grow, whose fame will rise to the stars.
The man became her husband, and that was the origin of the Premyslid dynasty, which governed over the Czech Lands until the fourteenth century.
Beginning around 936, the Czech rulers brought most of Bohemia under their control. The first Bohemian ruler acknowledged by historians was Czech Prince Bořivoj, who ruled in the second half of the ninth century. He and his wife Ludmila (who became a patron saint of Bohemia after her death) were baptized by Metoděj (Methodius) of Constantinople, who, together with his brother Cyril, brought Christianity to the region in 863. Bořivoj moved his seat to Prague, also called the Prague castle grounds or Prague Castle, which thus became the seat of the Czech rulers as well as the world's largest castle and inhabited fortress.
Prince Wenceslas wanted Bohemia, part of the Great Moravian Empire in the ninth century, to become an equal partner in a greater empire. He initiated friendly relations with the Saxon dynasty, much to the dislike of his brother Boleslav, who had him assassinated. Wenceslas was buried at St. Vitus' Rotunda, now part of St. Vitus' Cathedral, the church he founded. A few years later he was canonized and became Bohemia's most beloved patron saint. He is the "Good King Wenceslas" sung about in Christmas carols.
In 962 Boleslav changed his mind and Bohemia became part of the newly instituted Roman Empire when Otto I the Great from the Saxon dynasty became emperor. That was in the initial stage of the Holy Roman Empire; with the term adopted in the twelfth century.
By the early tenth century, the area around and below Prague Castle had developed into an important trading center, where merchants coming from all over Europe gathered. In 965, Jewish merchant and traveler Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub wrote: "Prague is built from stone and lime, and it has the biggest trade center. Slavs are on the whole courageous and brave... They occupy the lands which are the most fertile and abundant with all the food supply."
In 973, the first bishopric was founded in Bohemia, with the bishop's palace located on the Prague Castle grounds. The first Czech bishop was Adalbert, who became a Czech, Polish and Hungarian patron saint after his canonization in 999. Soon afterwards, in the eleventh century, another Romanesque fortified settlement was built across the river Vltava at Vyšehrad. During the reign of Prince Vratislav II, who rose to the title of Vratislav I, King of Bohemia, in 1085, Vyšehrad became the temporary seat of Czech rulers.
Prince Vladislav II, who was crowned Vladislav I, King of Bohemia, in 1158, ordered numerous monasteries and churches built.
In 1212 Bohemia became a kingdom when Prince Přemysl Otakar I rose to the title of king by inheritance from Frederick II, who became emperor in 1215. This act was legalized in the document titled the "Golden Bull of Sicily."
In the thirteenth century, the towns started to rise; three settlements around the Prague castle grounds gained the status of a town. The settlement below Prague Castle became New Town of Prague in 1257 under King Prince Přemysl Otakar II; it was later renamed Lesser Town (Malá Strana). The town of Hradčany, which was built just outside of Prague's castle grounds, dates back to 1320. Across the river Vltava, the Old Town of Prague (Staré Město) had already gained the privilege of a town in 1230. Přemysl Otakar II, known as the “King of Iron and Gold,” ruled over seven other countries from Silesia to the Adriatic coast and was the most powerful king of the Holy Roman Empire of his time. He encouraged trade and law and order, as well as welcomed German immigrants.
The Premyslid dynasty came to an end in 1306, when the male line died out. The Luxembourg dynasty inherited the throne after Eliška, sister of the last Premyslid ruler, married John of Luxembourg.
The city flourished enormously during the fpurteenth century under Charles IV (Karl IV), of the Luxembourg dynasty, whose rule is dubbed the “Golden Age of Prague.” Charles, the oldest son of Princess Eliška Premyslid and John of Luxembourg, was born in Prague in 1316 and inherited the throne of the king of Bohemia upon the death of his father in 1346. Thanks to Charles, the bishopric of Prague was promoted to an archbishopric in 1344. In 1348 he founded Charles University, the first university in central, northern and eastern Europe, which was also the first German university. In the same year he established New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to Old Town.
Furthermore, he rebuilt the Prague Castle and Vyšehrad and erected a new bridge in the place of an old one–the remarkable Charles Bridge. The construction of St. Vitus' Cathedral, an architectural gem for its various styles due to it being built over the course of centuries, had begun, and countless churches sprang up. In 1355 Charles IV was crowned the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome, and Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. He took it upon himself to make the city the most dominant of the empire and one of the most beautiful in the world, with the Prague Castle the dominant site and St. Vitus' Cathedral the towering structure, unsurpassed by anything else.
Being a wise, benevolent and magnanimous man who sympathized with the plight of the poor, he even commissioned the building of the Hungry wall (Hladová zeď). Legend says that the wall was absolutely purposeless; instead, Charles IV wanted to pay the workers during the period of famine without having to resort to charity. However, historical sources show that the purpose of the wall was to expand Lesser Town and protect the city against invaders.
Since this was the Gothic period, everything was built in grandiose style decorated in an independent art style, the Bohemian school. The Czech Lands were among the most powerful in Europe, and the modern city of Prague looks the way it does due to the influence of Charles IV. His priority was promotion of the Czech language and traditions. The population reached 40,000, many of those being students eager to study at the newly founded university.
All that changed under the weak King Wenceslas IV (Václav IV) (1378–1419), son of Charles IV. During his reign, the social and religious reformer Master Jan Hus, a preacher and rector of Charles University, held sermons in Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel, speaking in Czech, advocating reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. His burning at the stake in 1415 in Constance, Germany, for alleged heresy triggered the Hussite wars four years later, following the defenestration, when the radical wing of Hus’s proponents under the command of Prague priest Jan Želivský responded to the city’s counselors’ refusal to set free the imprisoned Hussites by throwing the counselors out of the New Town Hall’s window. King Wenceslas IV died 16 days later.
The crown was passed to the king’s younger stepbrother Sigismund (Zikmund, son of Charles IV), who was opposed by the Hussites for his endeavors to reestablish the sovereignty of the Catholic Church. In retaliation, Sigismund invaded Prague with a 30,000-strong crusaders army. It was Sigismund who invited Hus to Constance to defend himself from heresy and promised him immunity—a promise he failed to keep. In 1420, peasant rebels, led by the famous one-eyed general Jan Žižka, along with Hussite troops, defeated Sigismund in the Battle of Vítkov Mountain (Bitva na Vítkově). This was an historical attempt by the Czech nobility to overthrow the corrupt Catholic Church. French philosopher René Descartes fought in this battle on the side of the Catholics and allegedly fainted after being wounded. When he regained consciousness, he declared the famous “I think, therefore I am.”
More crusades followed, all of which ended in Sigismund’s defeat, but after Žižka's death, the Hussite warriors were unable to maintain unity and eventually split. The most radical of them were defeated at the Battle of Lipany (Bitva u Lipan) in 1434 after the moderate Hussites teamed up with Czech Catholics. Sigismund then became king of Bohemia until his death in 1437, when the male line of the Luxembourg dynasty died out.
After a brief rule of the Jagellon Dynasty, Ferdinand Hapsburg was crowned as the next Bohemian king, and when his brother Charles V stepped down as emperor in 1556, Ferdinand took over the Holy Roman Empire in 1558. This was the beginning of the Hapsburg dynasty, when the Czech Lands became part of the Austrian Empire and remained so for the next 298 years. Later on the Austrian domination turned into one of “Austroslavismus,” based on the belief that Czechs Lands were too small to be governed by themselves.
Rudolf II of the Hapsburg Dynasty (1583-1612) left an indelible impression on Prague thanks to his love of the arts. Construction of monasteries and churches was in the full swing. Architecturally, with the Catholic Church firmly reestablished, this was the period of the “Prague Baroque.” During Rudolf II’s reign, the city, with a population of 60,000, became the center of artists, alchemists and the learned from the entire European continent. Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was offered sojourn and the position of the court astrologist by Rudolf II after Tycho’s disagreement with the Danish king. Legend has it that Tycho died of the ruptured bladder while he was either observing the eclipse of the sun or forced to observe the etiquette of not leaving the emperor’s table during the feast. He was buried in Prague’s Týn Church (Kostel Panny Marie před Týnem) at the Old Town Square. Another famous astronomer working out of Prague was Johannes Kepler.
In 1609, under the influence of the Protestant estates, Rudolf II, a devout Catholic, issued the "Imperial Charter of Emperor" in which he legalized extensive religious freedom, unparalleled in Europe. This prompted scores of German Protestants, both Lutherans and Calvinists, to migrate to Bohemia.
After Rudolf's death, his brother and successor Matthias became ill, so Rudolf’s cousin, the archduke Ferdinand of Styria, was preliminarily accepted as the Bohemian king. This met with opposition from the Czech Protestant estates, and the tension between Czech Protestants and pro-Hapsburg Catholics culminated into the Third Defenestration of Prague, when Catholic governors were thrown out of the Prague Castle windows on May 23, 1618. The Protestants replaced the Catholic governors, thus signifying their split from the Hapsburg monarchy. This incident led to the Thirty Years' War.
When Ferdinand of Styria was elected Emperor Ferdinand II, the Czech Protestants would not accept him as king of Bohemia and elected a Calvinist, Frederick V of Pfalz in his stead. The Battle of the White Mountain (Bitva na Bílé hoře) followed on November 8, 1620. Ferdinand II summoned aid not only from Catholic Spain, Poland, and Bavaria, but also from Lutheran Saxony, which was at odds with the Calvinists. This was a showdown between Protestants and Catholics, with the Catholics winning and Emperor Ferdinand II assuming the title of the king of Bohemia. Re-Catholicization of the Czech Lands followed. Twenty-seven Protestant leaders, including Charles University rector Dr. Jan Jesenius (Ján Jesenský, of Slovak origin) who held the first public autopsy of the human body, were executed at Old Town Square on June 21, 1621. The Protestants had to return all seized Catholic property to the Catholic Church. The upper classes were given the option either to emigrate or convert to Catholicism. The German language was given equal rights with the Czech language.
After the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War, Ferdinand II moved the court to Vienna, and Prague embarked on a steady decline that reduced the population three-fold to 20,000.
After the great fire of 1689 devastated Prague, the city was renovated and rebuilt. The economic rise continued throughout the eighteenth century, with the population swelling to 80,000 in 1771. Many of these were rich merchants who, together with noblemen, contributed to the Baroque beauty of the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens. In 1784, under Emperor Joseph II, the four municipalities of Malá Strana, Nové Město, Staré Město and Hradčany were merged into a single entity. The Jewish district, Josefov, was included in 1850. The Industrial Revolution brought with it factories. The first suburb, Karlín, appeared in 1817, and 20 years later the population exceeded 100,000. The first railway connection was built in 1842. The adverse affect of modernization was the destruction of a great deal of Old Town, almost the entire New Town, and the Jewish Town.
In 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by Napoleon, Holy Roman Emperor Francis II stepped down as Emperor and became Francis I, Emperor of Austria. The Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, which brought with it nationalism, liberalism and socialism, had an effect on Prague but were fiercely suppressed, and in 1867, Emperor Francis Joseph I established the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy of the Austrian Empire and Kingdom of Hungary.
Next in line for the throne was Archduke Francis Ferdinand d'Este. Married to Sophie von Chotek from a Czech aristocratic family, he was in favor of triple monarchy, expanding an Austria-Hungary dualism into an Austria-Hungary-Czech triple monarchy. But on June 28, 1914, his ambitions were cut short when he and his wife were assassinated at Sarajevo. His assassination served as a pretext in the outbreak of World War I, which ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918. Prague became the capital—truly European with the highly developed industrial base, and until the outbreak of World War II, a sanctuary for the Europeans exiled by totalitarian and fascist regimes. A broad spectrum of political parties—right wing and communists—co-shared the political duties. In 1930 the population of the city rose to 850,000.
For most of its history, Prague had been a multi-ethnic city with important Czech, German, and Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews either fled the city or were killed in the Holocaust. Most of the Jews living in Prague emigrated after the war, particularly after the communist coup, the establishment of Israel in 1948, and the Soviet invasion in 1968. In the early 1990s, the Jewish community numbered only eight hundred, compared to the pre-war 50,000. In 2006, some 1,600 people were registered in the Jewish community. Also deported during the war were Gypsies (Romas) and other “inferior” citizens.
During the war, the citizens of Prague were widely oppressed and persecuted by the Nazis. Politicians, university professors and students were murdered or imprisoned with the assistance of Germans or Czech informants. The Prague uprising (Pražské květnové povstání) began on May 5, 1945, when Czechs, assisted by a revolting Russian division formerly in service of the Waffen SS, had revolted against the Nazi occupants. That same day, General Patton's 150,000-strong American Third Army was in Pilsen, only a few hours away from Prague, while Marshal Konev's Soviet Army was on the borders of Moravia. Patton was in favor of liberating Prague but had to comply with the instructions from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose offer of intervention was turned down by the Soviet chief of staff with words that American help was not needed. This was in keeping with a prior agreement at the Yalta Conference that Bohemia would be liberated by the Red Army. On May 9, 1945, the day after Germany officially capitulated, the Soviet tanks reached Prague, and it was not until May 12, 1945, that the war was quelled in the Czech Lands.
The ethnic German population, which had formed the majority of the city's inhabitants until the late nineteenth century, either fled or was expelled in an act of retaliation in the months following the end of the war. This was a very sad moment in the Czech history, as massacres of Germans occurred and many innocent Germans were forcefully relocated.
In regard to the arts, Prague was virtually untouched by the war. Architecture and arts in the twentieth century were inspired by Art Nouveau, Functionalism, Avant-Garde, and other streams. In the 1920s, the Gothic St. Vitus’ Cathedral was finally completed.
The Czechs, unaware that they became the victims in rival politics, felt gratitude towards the Soviet soldiers. General Otto von Bismarck once declared: "He who is master of Bohemia, is master of Europe..." Prague became the capital of a republic under the military and political control of the Soviet Union, and in 1955 it entered the Warsaw Pact.
The always lively intellectual world of Prague, however, suffered under the totalitarian regime, in spite of the rather careful program of rebuilding and caring for the damaged monuments after World War II. At the Fourth Czechoslovakian Writers' Congress held in the city in 1967, a strong position against the regime was taken. This spurred the new secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubček, to proclaim a new deal in his city's and country's life, beginning the short-lived season of the "socialism with a human face"—the Prague Spring, which aimed at a democratic reform of institutions. The Soviet Union and the rest of the Warsaw Pact, with the exception of Romania, suppressed it under tanks' tracks with occupation of Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968.
In 1989, after the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague, and Czechoslovakia finally freed itself from communism and Soviet influence. Prague benefited deeply from the new mood. In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic.
Replete with significant cultural institutions, Prague hosts many cultural and musical events. It is a city of great culture, with many historical sites to be seen. Some of these are: Orloj (The Astronomical Clock), Karlův Most (Charles Bridge), Prague Castle with its Katedrála Sv. Víta (St. Vitus Cathedral), Josefov (the old Jewish quarter) with Old Jewish Cemetery and Old New Synagogue, Bethlehem Chapel, The Museum of Operation Anthropoid - Reinhard Heydrich assassination - in the crypt of the Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius, The New Jewish Cemetery in Olšany, location of Franz Kafka's grave.
Charles Bridge, built under Charles IV, is one of the landmarks of the city. It is the oldest preserved Prague bridge and the successor to the previous wooden bridge built probably in the tenth century, and Juditin Most (Judith's Bridge), the second stone bridge in Central Europe, probably from 1170, which was destroyed by flooding in 1342. In 1357 King Charles IV laid the foundation stone of the new bridge, which soon became a center of the city life, a venue for trading, trials, and tournaments. This was where the Swedes struck in their 1648 invasion of Prague. It was built in the Gothic style, decorated with Baroque sculptures.
Legend has it that one of the builders, in an effort to concoct a premium quality mortar, asked for lime to be mixed with eggs and wine. Since there was not enough eggs available in Prague, Charles IV ordered that they be brought in from all Czech municipalities, and the town of Velvary sent hard boiled eggs, fearing that the eggs would break in transport.
Another legend mentions the legendary Bruncvík’s sword that is built in an identified part of the bridge. When the worst disaster befalls the Czech Lands, St. Wenceslas, the patron of Czechs, will summon his knights and passing through Charles Bridge, his horse will trip over a rock that will expose the sword. St. Wenceslas will then declare, wielding the sword, that all enemies will be beheaded, and the Czech Lands will be living in peace and calm thereafter.
The seventeenth century is considered the Golden Age of Jewish Prague. The Jewish community of Prague numbered some 15,000 people (approximately 30 percent of the entire population), making it the largest Ashkenazi community in the world and the second largest community in Europe after Thessaloníki. In 1597 to 1609, the Maharal (Judah Loew ben Bezalel), considered the greatest of Jewish scholars in Prague's history, served as the city’s chief rabbi. His tomb at the Old Jewish Cemetery became a pilgrimage site. The expulsion of Jews from Prague by Queen Maria Theresa of Austria in 1745, allegedly due to their collaboration with the Prussian army, was a severe blow to the flourishing community. The queen allowed the Jews to return three years later. The former Jewish quarter, renamed Josefov in 1850, was demolished during the "ghetto clearance" at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The GDP per capita of Prague is more than double that of the Czech Republic as a whole, with a per capita GDP (PPP) of EUR 32,357 in 2002, which is some 153 percent of the European Union average. Many multinational corporations have their European headquarters there.
Since the late 1990s, Prague has become a popular location with foreign movie producers and Hollywood motion pictures. Since it was not devastated during World War II, the city is often substituted for Amsterdam or London in movies set in those cities in the pre-World War II period. A combination of architecture, low costs, tax breaks, and the standing motion picture infrastructure has proved attractive to international film production companies.
Prague's public transit infrastructure consists of an integrated transit system of Prague Metro with its three metro lines and 54 stations, trams, (including the nostalgic tram no. 91), buses, a funicular to Petřín Hill and a chairlift at Prague Zoo. All services have a common ticketing system and are run by Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy (The Capital City of Prague Transit Company).
The city forms the hub of the České dráhy (Czech Railway) system, with services to all parts of the Czech Republic and neighboring countries.
Prague has two international railway stations, Hlavní nádraží (sometimes referred to as Wilsonovo nádraží, named for former United States president Woodrow Wilson) and Praha Holešovice, and a number of smaller suburban stations.
Prague is served by Ruzyně International Airport, one of Europe's most modern airports, which is the hub of the flag carrier, Czech Airlines (CSA).
Prague is the site of many sports events, national stadiums and teams:
Many famous people worked out of this cultural, scientific and economic center of Bohemia and later the Czech Republic:
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