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Prague (in Czech: Praha) is the capital city of the Czech Republic. It has served as the capital city of Czechoslovakia, as well as the centre of the Bohemian kingdom, since the ninth century. Today, the city of Prague is divided in 57 municipal districts and 22 administrative districts.[1] The capital is headed by the Mayor, Pavel Bem, and the population consists of approximately 1,160,000 residents. [2]

(CC) Photo: Louise Valmoria
St. Vitus' Cathedral (Katedrála svatého Víta) within the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) grounds

Many significant architectural styles can be seen in Prague, and the historic centre of Prague is on UNESCO's World Heritage List.[3] Most significant architecture in the historic centre was built in the 14th century under the patronage Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The city plays host to a range of succeeding styles, particularly that of the Baroque, and also includes a fine example of Cubist architecture.

Significant structures in Prague are the Charles Bridge (Karlův most), the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad),[4] as well as the Old Town, Lesser Town and the Jewish quarter. It also is the location of the Klementium and the Karolinum (Universita Karlova, or Charles University), which was founded in 1348 and is the oldest university north of the Alps.[5]

History of Prague

As a developing area, the initial township that was to become Prague was situated on a hill overlooking the Vltava River, with the primary defensive structures ideally placed to overlook the valley to the north east and the curve of the river to the east.

The area on which Prague was founded was settled in ancient times since the Paleolithic Age. Prehistoric cultures in the area included the Gravettian culture. Around 200 BCE the Celts had a settlement in the south, called Závist, but later they were replaced by Germanic tribes. The Slavs conquered the site from the 4th century CE onwards, though for a period were subdued by the Eurasian Avars.

The history written by Cosmas of Prague, the Chronica Boëmorum[6], describes the founding of the Bohemian state and the marriage between Princess Libuše and the Ploughman, Přemysl, beginning the Přemyslid dynasty which centred in Prague. The first Bohemian ruler acknowledged by historians was the Czech Prince Bořivoj Přemyslovec, who moved his fortifications from Levý Hradec to Prague in the second half of the 9th century. His wife, Ludmila, was canonised as a patron saint of Bohemia after her death and is often acknowledged in architectural features in medieval structures as a woman holding a castle.

Bořivoj's grandson, Prince Wenceslas, initiated friendly relations with the Saxon dynasty in order for Bohemia to play a greater role in the empire. Orientation towards the Saxons was not favoured by his brother Boleslav I of Bohemia, and Wenceslas was assassinated on September 28, 929. He was buried in St. Vitus' Rotunda, the church which he founded and on which grounds the future St. Vitus' Cathedral would be built upon. St Wenceslas' Chapel in the Cathedral is placed on the very foundations of the Rotunda. A few years later, Wenceslas was canonised and also became a patron saint of Bohemia. 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.

The city Prague became a bishopric in 973, under the archbishopric of Mainz. The first Czech bishop was Adalbert, who was canonised in 999. The bishop's palace was built within the grounds of the Prague Castle.

In the thirteenth century, the Premyslids were finally able to assert their independence. Otakar I in 1212 extracted a formal edict from the Emperor, known as the Golden Bull, which secured the royal title for himself and his descendants. During this period, Prague began to prosper due to its central positioning on Central European trade routes.

Upon the discovery of large silver deposits in the nearby town of Kutná Hora around 1300, Prague began minting its own coins, known as groschen. Under King Wenceslaus II the minting code Ius regale montanorum was created, resulting in coin reforms that ultimately led to the implementation of the groschen. The groschen became one of the most widely circulated type of coin in Medieval Europe.

Prague under Charles IV: The First Golden Age

Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV initiated a great deal of Gothic-era building work that remains in the city today. His reign is considered one of the Golden Ages of the history of the Bohemian kingdom. Whilst he was still heir to the throne, he negotiated for Prague to become an independent archbishopric in 1344.

King Vladislav II had a first bridge on the Vltava built in 1170, the Judith Bridge, which crumbled in 1342. To replace the bridge, Charles IV commissioned a stone bridge, known as the Charles Bridge, as a testament to his reign and to signify the financial, cultural and architectural dominance of his city. Some remnants of what was the Judith Bridge remain on the western bank of the city.

Under the auspices of Charles IV, Prague was the effective capital of the Holy Roman Empire. As well as commissioning the university, St. Vitus' Cathedral and the Charles Bridge, many new monasteries and churches were build and the town of Nové Město established. Designed to accommodate the influx of clergy and students attending the new institutions, the town planning of Nové Město was far ahead of its time, and it was intended to link the southern fortress of Vyšehrad with Staré Město.

Fluent in Czech, French, German, Latin and Italian, Charles was able to summon a wide variety of artists and thinkers to Prague, among them Petrarch. Notably, he promoted the Czech language as the official language alongside that of German and Latin, and his reign is also considered to be 'golden' due to his reigning over a time of peace in central Europe whilst the rest of the continent was involved in the Hundred Years' War.

The Bohemian Reformation

Prague was the centre of the Bohemian Reformation, with the increased influence of the church after its independence from the archbishopric of Mainz. Debauchery and petty theft increased amongst the Czech clergy, which led to reformers attacking the practices of the Church.

Jan Hus, a peasant-born preacher and lecturer, gave sermons against the excesses of the clergy at the Bethlémská kaple. He had been inspired by the works of English reformer John Wycliffe, whose heretical works had reached Prague, and further disturbed the church by preaching to the population in the Czech language against the corrupt tendencies of the current church administration. In 1412, Hus and his followers were excommunicated and banished from Prague, whereupon they began spreading their reformist teachings across Bohemia. The Council of Constance summoned Hus to answer charges of heresy in 1414, and left under assurances from Emperor Sigismund that he would receive safe passage. He was subsequently imprisoned at Constance and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

The execution of Hus in Constance ignited widespread riots in Prague, and led to the Hussite Wars of 1419-34. During continuing riots after King Vaclav endorsed the return of anti-Hussite priests to their parishes, several councillors were thrown from the windows of the Novoměstská radnice (Prague's first defenestration). This triggered the Pope to declare a crusade against the Czech heretics.

For more information, see: Hussite Revolution.

The great fire of 1541

In 1541 a great fire began in Mala Strana and wiped out the dwelling places of the medieval tradesmen and clergy who had lived in Mala Strana and Hradcany. Due to Vienna being under siege by the Turks at the time, the Habsburg nobility chose to pursue their major building projects in Prague until the threat subsided. As a result, architecture from this period has been well preserved.

Whilst the castle remained intact, the left bank of the Vltava river was wiped out and in place of the old Gothic town, the newly ascendant Catholic nobility began to build palaces. The fire never reached Stare Mesto, and thus the medieval street plan of this area still remains intact although baroque structures were later built upon the original Gothic buildings.

Rudolf II: Prague as Imperial Capital

The imperial court was switched from Vienna to Prague by Emperor Rudolf II (r 1576-1612) in 1583, the first and only time Prague would be the centre of the Habsburg Empire. Rudolf II was fond of alchemy, astronomy and art, and thus Rudolfine Prague played host to a wide variety of international artists and astronomers from the "The School of Prague" painters and surrealist painter Giuseppe Archimboldo,[7] to court astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, who invented modern astronomy.[8]. Rudolf endowed Prague with some of the finest examples of Mannerist architecture still extant in Europe. Rudolf's architectural vision for the imperial residence was coherent, ambitious, and proto-baroque.Rudolf granted considerable liberty in terms of academic, political, and religious freedom. He sought the company of scholars, who often published and disseminated unorthodox opinionsl he permitted marriage between Catholics and Protestants. Rudolf was aware, however, that some members of the clergy and nobility wished to limit freedom of expression and conscience; while there was constant tension in Prague during this period between tolerance and intolerance, tolerance predominated.

Religious issues

On 9 July 1609, Rudolf II, acting as Holy Roman Emperor, issued a Majesty that decreed freedom of religion in Bohemia. The Bohemian estates had sought such a decree since the end of the Hussite Revolution in the early 15th century. The Hussite Revolution had left Prague, and Bohemia generally in disarray, as the archbishop converted to the Hussite cause, and Catholic orders and imperial forces left the city. For over a century, fundamental issues remained unresolved concerning religious practice and authority, the structure of the social-political order, and Bohemia's relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the church.

This was a time of economic and cultural prosperity for the Jewish community, confined to the Jewish Quarter with the largest population in the Diaspora.

Rudolf's religious tolerance was answered by the Catholic church's intervention. It forced the heirless monarch to abdicate in favour of his Catholic brother Matthias. As Matthias also had no heirs, he put forward his cousin Ferdinand II as his successor. The largely Protestant Czech nobility in Prague resisted. The nobility's uprising of 1611 was a precursor to their actions in 1618 that led to the Thirty Years War. The 1611 uprising was not only a reaction to an invasion by the army of the bishop of Passau, which was involved in the dynastic dispute between Emperor Rudolf and his brother Matthias, but a reaction to the vigorous Catholic renewal that was taking place. The defenestration of Catholic leaders and the destruction and theft of Catholic objects illustrates that the mobs were not randomly destroying, but trying to halt Catholic renewal. This conflict "signaled the end of peaceful coexistence" of Catholics and Hussites in Prague.[9]

Thirty Years' War, Counter Reformation and the Dark Ages

In 1618, members of the Bohemian estates (the nobility) threw Habsburg officials out of a window of the Prague castle, killing them. The Prague defenestration, which has been viewed as the catalyst for the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, is one of the best known acts of uprising in early modern Europe.

The Battle of Bila Hora in 1620, also known as the Battle of White Mountain, solidified the position of the Habsburgs over the Czech lands. This was the first battle of the Thirty Years War. The Protestant forces of the "Winter King" Frederick of Palatinate were defeated by Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II.

As well as the loss of sovereignty, the battle resulted in the decimation of the Bohemian and Moravian aristocracy, and after the war there was a mass emigration of religious and intellectual figures. Due to the Peace of Westphalia, which was signed at the end of the Thirty Years' War, a large majority of the Bohemian nobility who survived the battle went into exile, and their properties were handed over to loyal Catholic nobles.

From this period would emerge the dominance of Albrecht von Waldstein, who within five years of the battle owned a quarter of Bohemia from either compulsory purchase or in return for money loaned to Emperor Ferdinand. Despite losing his position as Ferdinand's counsel after becoming too expensive, Ferdinand was forced to reinstate him after the Saxons occupied Prague in 1630 due to needing the services provided by Waldstein's estates. After Waldstein's rebellion against Ferdinand in 1634, the emperor immediately hatched a plot to murder him.

During Habsburg rule, Prague became largely under the sphere of German influence, with the Czech rendered to a dialect. It is due to the influence of the Habsburgs that the city was endowed with the numerous Baroque palaces and monasteries which are still extant today.

Czech nationalism

In the time of Emperor Joseph II (reigned 1765 to 1790) language in Bohemia did not connote nationality but social class, as German was the language of culture and civility and Czech was the language of the peasantry. In the course of the 19th-century national revival a rejuvenated Czech language became a component of the invented traditions of a Czech nation conceived as having been oppressed by the Germans since Hussite times, while immigration from the countryside made Czech the first language of the Prague working class and of a growing middle class. The connections between language and nationality made Prague the city of three nationalities, Czech, German, and Jewish; by 1880a certain Czech identity could now be seen as self-evident.[10]

Development in the 20th century

Only in the last 100 years has the city of Prague begun to spread out beyond the ancient perimeter of its original four self-governing towns. This was largely due to the town planning of Charles IV, which had been conducted on a grand scale, as it was only until the industrial revolution that the suburbs began to extend beyond the boundaries of the medieval town.

Prague Circle

Beginning in 1895 a circle of Prague Jews ("Der Prager Kreis") established themselves as champions and translators into German of Czech literature, particularly poetry. This was done at a time when interest elsewhere in the culture of Germany's Slav neighbors was nonexistent. These Jews - Friedrich Adler (1857-1938), Otto Pick, Rudolf Fuchs, Max Brod (1884-1968), Franz Werfel (1890-1945), among others - were mediators between two hostile cultures and builders of bridges of understanding. they oscillated incessantly between yearning for a concrete and closed identity, according to the "Völkisch" creed, and the opposing desire to break national boundaries. Their deep sympathy for the awakening national Czech culture did not prevent them from maintaining their deep engagement with German culture. Their representation of German identity as culture and not as ethnos helped them to combine their strong German identification with their sentiments for Czech nationalism and their adherence to Zionism. They, in fact, reinterpreted "Völkism" itself as a cultural category. In this way, German "Völkisch" categories shaped the way in which they represented and valued Jewish and Czech identities. Like other attempts at cultural symbiosis, the effort ended with the rise of Hitlerism. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was the most famous of the Prague Circle.[11]

Structural Damage and Repair

While relatively undamaged after occupation by the Germans and liberation by the Russians, some structural damage has resulted in new and interesting buildings and features.

(CC) Photo: Louise Valmoria
The virtue of Justice alongside that of the Five Year Plan, placed by the Soviets after damage to the Míčovna during World War II

Upon the expulsion of the occupying German troops from Prague, the defeated army set up their tanks in a line facing the town hall in the Old Town Square, destroying a part of the town hall. Whilst the famous tower containing the Astronomical Clock remained intact, the demolished building has not been rebuilt or replaced, instead leaving the area as an open market, bazaar and meeting place in order to commemorate the incident.

Along Na Příkape, structural damage to one of its heritage buildings resulted in a debate as to whether or not to reconstruct a building in the fashion of the 17th-18th century buildings in a neoclassical style. A more modernist proposal was created, leading to a glass facade which is structurally in line with the older buildings, and now houses a mall.

Damage to the Míčovna, or Ball-Game House, located near the Prague Castle, led to some interesting cosmetic changes. Where the sgraffito facade previously featured the virtues, under the auspices of communism, the repaired section of the facade visually placed the virtue of Industry, holding the shield of the Five-Year-Plan next to the natural virtues of temperance, justice, peace and justice.

Prague Today


Prague was the richest of the post-communist nations to enter the European Union after the 2004 enlargement, and is the 12th richest region in the EU with adjusted per capita GDP at 160% of the EU average.[12] Due to a strong service economy, accounting for 77% of employment in Prague[13], the city was able to balance out the slump experienced by traditional industries in the 1990's. Prominent industries in the Prague area are chemical production, electrical engineering and electronics, food processing and general engineering.

2.5 million tourists are attracted to Prague each year.

Transport and Infrastructure

Ruzyne Airport is the main airport of Prague, located 10 km away from the city centre and servicing the city with flights to and from over 100 destinations.

Due to its central location and long history as a transport center, Prague is also a major highway and railway hub in Central Europe. Direct train links from the two international train stations, Prague Main Station (Hlavní nádraží) and Prague Holešovice on Metro line C, directly connect Prague to Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Cracow and Warsaw.

Within the city there is an extensive public transport system serviced by rail, trams, and buses.


Prague scored highly in the Urban Audit in regards to culture, with 88 museums (ranked 5th of the EU27), 97 public libraries (9th) and 55 theatres (7th). [14]


Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is the Czech national sport. Prague hosts two teams: rivals HC Sparta Praha and HC Slavia Praha. The dominant Prague ice hockey team of the 20th century, Sparta Praha's home arena is the 15,000 capacity T-Mobile Arena located in Prague 7. Slavia Praha is based at the 18,000 capacity Sazka Arena, Prague 9, built for 2004's World Ice Hockey Championship.

Prague Derby

Prague is home to four football teams: AC Sparta Praha, SK Slavia Praha, Viktoria Žižkov, and Bohemians 1905. In the national league, games between these teams form the Prague Derby, with games between the two major Prague teams and long-term rivals Sparta and Slavia forming Prague Super Derby games.


Culture and society

  • Becker, Edwin et al., ed. Prague 1900: Poetry and Ectasy. London: Reaktion, 2000. 224 pp.
  • Burton, Richard D. E. Prague: A Cultural and Literary History. Northampton, Me.: Interlink Publ. Group, 2003. 268 pp.
  • Cohen, Gary B. The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861-1914. (1981). 344 pp.
  • Fucíková, Eliska, ed. Rudolf II and Prague: The Court and the City. (1997). 792 pp.
  • Holz, Keith. Modern German Art for Thirties Paris, Prague, and London: Resistance and Acquiescence in a Democratic Public Sphere. (2004). 359 pp.
  • Iggers, Wilma Abeles. Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Berghahn Books, 1995. 381 pp. online edition
  • Porizka, Lubomir; Hojda, Zdenek; and Pesek, Jirí. The Palaces of Prague. (1995). 216 pp.
  • Sayer, Derek. "The Language of Nationality and the Nationality of Language: Prague 1780-1920." Past & Present 1996 (153): 164-210. Issn: 0031-2746 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Spector, Scott. Prague Territories: National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Kafka's Fin de Siècle. (2000). 331 pp. online edition
  • Svácha, Rostislav. The Architecture of New Prague, 1895-1945. (1995). 573 pp.
  • Wilson, Paul. Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion (1995)
  • Wittlich, Peter. Prague: Fin de Siècle. Abbeville, 1992. 280 pp.


  1. Prague City Hall (English language)
  2. Statistical Yearbook of the City of Prague, 2005
  3. UNESCO World Heritage sites: Prague
  4. Příběh Pražského Hradu (in English: History of Prague Castle), Správa Pražského hradu, 2003. Czech Edition ISBN 80-86161-72-2 English Edition ISBN 80-86161-73-0
  5. Universita Karlova
  6. Chronica Boëmorum
  7. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, The School of Prague: Painting at the Court of Rudolf II. (1988)
  8. Peter Marshall, The Magic Circle of Rudolph II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague (2006)
  9. James R. Palmitessa, "The Prague Uprising of 1611: Property, Politics, and Catholic Renewal in the Early Years of Habsburg Rule." Central European History 1998 31(4): 299-328. Issn: 0008-9389 Fulltext: Ebsco
  10. Derek Sayer, "The Language of Nationality and the Nationality of Language: Prague 1780-1920." Past & Present 1996 (153): 164-210.
  11. Scott Spector, Prague Territories: National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Franz Kafka's Fin de Siecle (2000).
  12. - Eurostat survey released February 2008
  13. Urban Audit, 2001 data
  14. Urban Audit, 2001 data