History

History of Prague

First inhabitants arrived in the area of the Prague basin in the early Stone Age, however the Slavic nation - the recent inhabitants - settled this territory in the 5th and 6th centuries. During the era of the Przemyslid dynasty, two fortified settlements were built on the rocks above the Vltava River. The Prague Castle was founded in the 9th century and a century later Vysehrad was erected on the steep bank above the river. St. Wenceslas, one of the first Czech monarchs, is nowadays considered to be the patron of the Czech land. Jirsky Monastery is the most significant representative of the Romanesque monuments together with numerous rotundas strewn around Prague.

In the 12th century, a commercial centre rose in the settlement round the castle. It was occupied by significant German and Jewish communities, as well as the Czech inhabitants, and it is said that the Capital got its name after the wooden sills placed under water (‘práh’ in Czech) on the shallows beside the settlement, later called Mala Strana (the Lesser Town). It is situated on the left river bank and nowadays is famous for scenic alleys, gardens, taverns and townhouses. The opposite riverside is called the Old Town, a part of which is the Jewish Quarter. The development of this part of the city is linked with the Gothic era when the reign of Charles IV was at its peak. The Emperor promoted Prague to the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire, ordered the building of the New Town (Nove Mesto) adjacent to the Old Town, where nowadays Wenceslas square and Narodni Trida are to be found. The Charles Bridge was erected to connect the new district to Mala Strana. In addition, in 1348 Charles IV founded a university named after him. Wenceslas IV, the son of Charles IV, witnessed church reformation connected with names such as Jan Hus and Jan Zelivsky.

The Hapsburg era marked further flowering for the city: in particular during the reign of Rudolf II, who made Prague his home. New palaces were built in the Prague Castle and around it, while Prague became the centre of European culture and intelligence. Rudolf’s well-known artistic collection may serve as the evidence. After his death, governors regained the control over the territory but did not govern it to the satisfaction of local inhabitants. A series of battles, plundering and capitulation took place during a short period of time that followed. Thousands of Protestants started emigrating shortly afterwards, while their wealth fell to the Liechtenstein dynasty. The general decline of Prague was completed by the Thirty Years’ War.

In the period of Catholic Counter-Reformation, i.e. in the second half of the 17th century, the new architectural style of Baroque gave the city most of the appearance we know nowadays. Many temples, palaces and townhouses were constructed in those times. The Charles Bridge was enriched by the majority of its 59 statues, and while Maria Theresa of Austria was ruling over the territory, the Prague castle gained its current appearance. In the year 1784, when Joseph II was in control, all four Prague towns were joined together - Hradcany, Mala Strana, the Old Town and the New Town - and Prague turned into the second biggest city of the Austrian monarchy.

In the 19th and early 20th century, a vast amount of artists and scientists, such as Bedrich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak, Jan Neruda or Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (from the minority communities it was, for example, Franz Kafka), influenced the life in Prague. At the same time many new constructions enriched the city: the National Theatre, the National Museum, Rudolfinum and the famous Municipal House built in the Art Nouveau style.

Prague’s suburbs were largely industrialized between the two World Wars and the urban development expanded. Typical for the period after the World War II, i.e. the period of totalitarian regime, are extensive high-rise panel buildings. The harmony of the historical centre has been disrupted by the construction of several Parliament buildings, a New Scene of the National Theatre and the Culture Palace at Vysehrad. The opening of the city underground, which has been functioning since 1974, is one of the most indisputably positive impacts.

Many banks, hotels and shopping centres were built after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, while focus on reconstructions of several dozen of monuments was increased.

Lesser Town (Malá Strana)

Little churches in the area of the present Lesser Town were surrounded by independent settlements as early as the 9th century. The quarter of Lesser Town, which spreads on the slopes under the Prague Castle, was granted municipal rights by King Premysl Otakar II in 1257. During the reign of Charles IV, the town was protected by medieval Gothic walls and later, in the 16th century, it’s appearance changed dramatically under the influence of Baroque style. The 17th and 18th centuries were significant for the usual urban development as well as for the construction of large noble palaces. Of all quarters of Prague, the Lesser Town is the one to have changed the least. Only a few buildings were built there since the end of 18th century, therefore, the impressive Baroque palaces and ancient houses are still a great pride of the Lesser Town.

The Lesser Town Square (Malostranske namesti) forms the quarter centre dominated by the St Nicholas’ Church. The view of the Old Town across the Vltava River is fascinating. A street called Nerudova used to be the main route leading to the Prague Castle and part of the Royal Way. It was named after the famous Czech writer and poet Jan Neruda, who used to live in the house called “The Two Suns”. Several cosy pubs and restaurants, souvenir shops, as well as embassies may be found in the area. An interesting feature of Nerudova Street are the decorated period doorways of some of the houses and the distinctive house symbols placed above them, which were used instead of house numbers in the Middle Ages.

Charles Bridge (Karlův most)

The bridge, connecting the Lesser Town with the Old Town, is 515 metres long, 10 metres wide and is constructed from sandstone blocks, being one of the oldest bridges in Central Europe. It was built in the place of the old Romanesque Judith Bridge (1170) which was badly damaged by a flood in 1342. The Stone or Prague Bridge, since 1870 called Charles Bridge, was built by the order of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1357. The original construction project was carried out by Master Otto and finished later by Petr Parler in 1402.

The bridge is also famous for its 30 Baroque statues and sculptures dating back to the 18th century (M. B. Braun, F. M. Brokof). The original statues have been replaced by copies.

Several legends are connected with the bridge: in 1393, was Jan Nepomucky, a vicar who refused to betray the confessional secrets of Queen Sofia to Czech King Wenceslas IV, cast from Charles Bridge into the Vltava River. A small brass cross with five stars was erected on the wall from which he was thrown. According to a legend, everyone who places their hand on the cross with each finger touching one of the stars will have a secret wish fulfilled. People also touch the figure on the bottom of the statue of St. Jan Nepomucky, which is said to bring luck.

Two towers guard both ends of the bridge: The Old Town Tower was erected in the 14th century and is the work of Peter Parler. The decoration on its frontage is a unique example of European sculpture of the late Gothic period. It is dominated by the figures of Charles IV and Wenceslas IV, St. Adalbert, St. Sigismund and St. Vitus. The collection is complemented by imperial coats of arms.

National Theatre (Národní divadlo)

The National Theatre’s repertoire consists of ballet, drama and opera performances. Its foundation stone was laid during a great national demonstration in 1868. The neo-Renaissance building was opened in 1881 and only 12 performances took place there before it burned down in August of the same year. In 1883 the theatre was reconstructed and reopened after a spontaneous public fund-raising campaign. Such a nationalist effort and enthusiasm gave rise to the motto which appears on the stage curtain at the National Theatre: “Nation to Itself”.

Only Czech artists, such as J. Zitek, J. V. Myslbek, M. Ales, F. Zenisek, V. Hynais, were involved in decoration of the building’s exterior and interior.

Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)

Prague Castle is the most visited tourist attraction in the Czech Republic. It was founded by Prince Borivoj of the Przemyslid dynasty in 9th century, originally as a residence of the Czech rulers. In 1918 the Prague Castle became the seat of the president of Czechoslovakia, then since 1st January 1993, the seat of the President of the Czech Republic. It is a complexity of buildings representing all architectural styles and periods, and according to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle in the world.

A Guard Changing Ceremony takes place every hour by the castle gates. At noon, it also includes a fanfare and the flag ceremony in the first bailey.