Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. It is the fourteenth-largest city in the European Union. It is also the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava River, the city is home to about 1.24 million people, while its larger urban zone is estimated to have a population of nearly 2 million. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters.
Prague has been a political, cultural, and economic centre of central Europe with waxing and waning fortunes during its 1,100-year existence. Founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was not only the capital of the Czech state, but also the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire and after World War I became the capital of Czechoslovakia. The city played major roles in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, and in 20th-century history, during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era.
Prague is home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Main attractions include the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter, the Lennon Wall and Petřín hill. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The city boasts more than ten major museums, along with numerous theatres, galleries, cinemas, and other historical exhibits. A modern public transportation system connects the city. Also, it is home to a wide range of public and private schools, including Charles University (Univerzita Karlova v Praze). Prague is classified as an "Alpha-" global city according to GaWC studies, comparable to Vienna, Seoul and Washington, D.C. Its rich history makes it a popular tourist destination, and the city receives more than 4.4 million international visitors annually, . Prague ranked fifth in the Tripadvisor world list of best destinations in 2014. Prague is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.
During the thousand years of its existence, the city grew from a settlement stretching from Prague Castle in the north to the fort of Vyšehrad in the south, becoming the multicultural capital of a modern European state, the Czech Republic, a member state of the European Union.
The area on which Prague was founded was settled as early as the Paleolithic age. According to the Jewish historian and chronicler David Solomon Ganz (1541–1613), author of a book published in Hebrew, entitled Tzemach Dovid, the city was founded by an ancient king, Boyya (Boiia), in c. 1306 BC. He gave his name to the city that lay around the place where Prague now stands, calling it Bayonheim. The historical territory of Bohemia (Latin: Boihaemum), located within the western portion of the Czech Republic, and the neighboring Bavaria (Bayern) also took their names from this ancient king, Boyya (Boiia).
Around 200 BC the Celts (Boii) established an oppidum (settlement) in the south, now called Závist. By the end of the 1st century BC, the population in Bohemia was composed mostly of the Germanic tribes (Marcomanni, Quadi, Lombards and possibly the Suebi). During the reign of Augustus Caesar (27 BC - 14 AD), the city's name was Maroboden, after a ruler at that time whose name was Maroboduus (a man belonging to one of the Germanic tribes). Around the area where modern-day Prague stands, the map of Ptolemaios (2nd century) mentioned a Germanic city called Casurgis.
In the late 5th century AD, during the great migration period following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes moved westwards and in the 6th century, the Slavic tribes settled Central Europe. By the 9th century, the city was called Praha (Prague), by which name it is still called today.
According to legends, Prague was founded in the 8th century by the Czech duchess and prophetess Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the Přemyslid dynasty. Legend says that Libuše came out on a rocky cliff high above the Vltava and prophesied: "I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars." On the site she ordered to build a castle and a town called Prague.
By the year 800 there was a simple fort fortified with wooden buildings, occupying about two-thirds of the area that is now Prague Castle. The first masonry under Prague Castle dates from the year 885.
The other Prague fort, the Přemyslid fort Vyšehrad was founded in the 10th century, some 70 years later than Prague Castle. Prague Castle is dominated by the cathedral, which was founded in 1344, but completed in the 20th century.
The region became the seat of the dukes, and later kings of Bohemia. Under Roman Emperor Otto II the area became a bishopric in 973. Until Prague was elevated to archbishopric in 1344, it was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Mainz.
Prague was an important seat for trading where merchants from all of Europe settled, including many Jews, as recalled in 965 by the Hispano-Jewish merchant and traveller Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub. The Old New Synagogue of 1270 still stands. Prague contained an important slave market.
At the site of the ford in the Vltava river, King Vladislaus I had the first bridge built in 1170, the Judith Bridge (Juditin most), named in honor of his wife Judith of Thuringia. This bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1342. Some of the original foundation stones of that bridge remain.
In 1257, under King Ottokar II, Malá Strana ("Lesser Quarter") was founded in Prague on the site of an older village in what would become the Hradčany (Prague Castle) area. This was the district of the German people, who had the right to administer the law autonomously, pursuant to Magdeburg rights. The new district was on the bank opposite of the Staré Město ("Old Town"), which had borough status and was bordered by a line of walls and fortifications.
The era of Charles IV
Prague flourished during the 14th-century reign (1346–1378) of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Bohemia of the new Luxembourg dynasty. As King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, he transformed Prague into an imperial capital and it was at that time the third-largest city in Europe (after Rome and Constantinople).
He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town and laid out the design himself. The Charles Bridge, replacing the Judith Bridge destroyed in the flood just prior to his reign, was erected to connect the east bank districts to the Malá Strana and castle area. On 9 July 1357 at 5:31 am, Charles IV personally laid the first foundation stone for the Charles Bridge. The exact time of laying the first foundation stone is known because the palindromic number 135797531 was carved into the Old Town bridge tower having been chosen by the royal astrologists and numerologists as the best time for starting the bridge construction. In 1347, he founded Charles University, which remains the oldest university in Central Europe.
He began construction of the Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, within the largest of the Prague Castle courtyards, on the site of the Romanesque rotunda there. Prague was elevated to an archbishopric in 1344, the year the cathedral was begun.
The city had a mint and was a centre of trade for German and Italian bankers and merchants. The social order, however, became more turbulent due to the rising power of the craftsmen's guilds (themselves often torn by internal fights), and the increasing number of poor people.
The Hunger Wall, a substantial fortification wall south of Malá Strana and the Castle area, was built during a famine in the 1360s. The work is reputed to have been ordered by Charles IV as a means of providing employment and food to the workers and their families.
Charles IV died in 1378. During the reign of his son, King Wenceslaus IV (1378–1419), a period of intense turmoil ensued. During Easter 1389, members of the Prague clergy announced that Jews had desecrated the host (Eucharistic wafer) and the clergy encouraged mobs to pillage, ransack and burn the Jewish quarter. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Prague (3,000 people) perished.
Jan Hus, a theologian and rector at the Charles University, preached in Prague. In 1402, he began giving sermons in the Bethlehem Chapel. Inspired by John Wycliffe, these sermons focused on what were seen as radical reforms of a corrupt Church. Having become too dangerous for the political and religious establishment, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance, put on trial for heresy, and burned at the stake in Constanz in 1415.
Four years later Prague experienced its first defenestration, when the people rebelled under the command of the Prague priest Jan Želivský. Hus' death, coupled with Czech proto-nationalism and proto-Protestantism, had spurred the Hussite Wars. Peasant rebels, led by the general Jan Žižka, along with Hussite troops from Prague, defeated Emperor Sigismund, in the Battle of Vítkov Hill in 1420.
During the Hussite Wars when the City of Prague was attacked by "Crusader" and mercenary forces, the city militia fought bravely under the Prague Banner. This swallow-tailed banner is approximately 4 by 6 feet, with a red field sprinkled with small white fleurs-de-lis, and a silver old Town Coat-of-Arms in the center. The words "PÁN BUH POMOC NASSE" (The Lord is our Relief) appeared above the coat-of-arms, with a Hussite chalice centered on the top. Near the swallow-tails is a crescent shaped golden sun with rays protruding.
One of these banners was captured by Swedish troops in Battle of Prague (1648), when they captured the western bank of the Vltava river and were repulsed from the eastern bank, they placed it in the Royal Military Museum in Stockholm; although this flag still exists, it is in very poor condition. They also took the Codex Gigas and the Codex Argenteus. The earliest evidence indicates that a gonfalon with a municipal charge painted on it was used for Old Town as early as 1419. Since this city militia flag was in use before 1477 and during the Hussite Wars, it is the oldest still preserved municipal flag of Bohemia.
In the following two centuries, Prague strengthened its role as a merchant city. Many noteworthy Gothic buildings were erected and Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle was added.
In 1526, the Bohemian estates elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg. The fervent Catholicism of its members was to bring them into conflict in Bohemia, and then in Prague, where Protestant ideas were gaining popularity. These problems were not pre-eminent under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, elected King of Bohemia in 1576, who chose Prague as his home. He lived in the Prague Castle, where his court welcomed not only astrologers and magicians but also scientists, musicians, and artists. Rudolf was an art lover too, and Prague became the capital of European culture. This was a prosperous period for the city: famous people living there in that age include the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, the painter Arcimboldo, the alchemists Edward Kelley and John Dee, the poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston, and others.
In 1618, the famous second defenestration of Prague provoked the Thirty Years' War, a particularly harsh period for Prague and Bohemia. Ferdinand II of Habsburg was deposed, and his place as King of Bohemia taken by Frederick V, Elector Palatine; however the Czech Army under him was crushed in the Battle of White Mountain (1620) not far from the city. Following this in 1621 was an execution of 27 Czech leaders (involved in the uprising) in Old Town Square and the exiling of many others. The city suffered subsequently during the war under Saxon (1631) and Battle of Prague (1648). Prague began a steady decline which reduced the population from the 60,000 it had had in the years before the war to 20,000. In the second half of the 17th century Prague's population began to grow again. Jews have been in Prague since the end of the 10th century and, by 1708, they accounted for about a quarter of Prague's population.
The economic rise continued through the 18th century, and the city in 1771 had 80,000 inhabitants. Many of these were rich merchants and nobles who enriched the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens full of art and music, creating a Baroque style renowned throughout the world.
After the Battle of Prague in 1757 Prussian bombardment destroyed more than one quarter of the city and heavy damage suffered also the St. Vitus Cathedral. However next month after the Battle of Kolín, Frederick II. lost and had to retreat from Bohemia.
In 1784, under Joseph II, the four municipalities of Malá Strana, Nové Město, Staré Město, and Hradčany were merged into a single entity. The Jewish district, called Josefov, was included only in 1850. The Industrial Revolution had a strong effect in Prague, as factories could take advantage of the coal mines and ironworks of the nearby region. A first suburb, Karlín, was created in 1817, and twenty years later the population exceeded 100,000.
The revolutions that shocked all Europe around 1848 touched Prague too, but they were fiercely suppressed. In the following years the Czech National Revival began its rise, until it gained the majority in the town council in 1861. Prague had a German-speaking majority in 1848, but by 1880 the number of German speakers had decreased to 14% (42,000), and by 1910 to 6.7% (37,000), due to a massive increase of the city's overall population caused by the influx of Czechs from the rest of Bohemia and Moravia and also due to return of social status importance of the Czech language.
World War I ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle as the seat of president (Tomáš Masaryk). At this time Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000.
Hitler ordered the German Army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939 and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate. For most of its history Prague had been a multi-ethnic city with important Czech, German and (mostly Czech- and/or German-speaking) Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews were deported and killed by the Germans. In 1942, Prague was witness to the assassination of one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany – Reinhard Heydrich – during Operation Anthropoid, accomplished by Czechoslovak national heroes Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš. Hitler ordered bloody reprisals.
At the end of the war Prague suffered several bombing raids by the US Army Air Forces. 701 people were killed, over 1,000 people were injured and hundreds of buildings, factories and historical landmarks were destroyed (Emmaus Monastery, Faust House, Vinohrady Synagogue). Many historic structures in Prague, however, escaped the destruction of the war and the damage was small compared to the total destruction of many other cities in that time. According to American pilots, it was the result of a navigation mistake.
On 5 May 1945, two days before Germany capitulated, an uprising against Germany occurred. Four days later the 3rd Shock Army of the Red Army liberated the city. The majority of the German population either fled or was expelled by the Beneš decrees in the aftermath of the war.
In 1989, after the riot police beat back a peaceful student demonstration, the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague, and the Czechoslovak capital benefited greatly from the new mood. In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic. In the late 1990s Prague again became an important cultural centre of Europe and was notably influenced by globalisation. In 2000 anti-globalization protests in Prague (some 15,000 protesters) turned violent during the IMF and World Bank summits. In 2002 Prague suffered from widespread floods that damaged buildings and also its underground transport system. Prague launched a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but failed to make the candidate city shortlist. Due to low political support, Prague's officials chose in June 2009 to cancel the city's planned bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics as well.