„I see a grand city whose glory touches the stars!" The prophetess Libuse exclaimed as the legend says. She was right!
Prague belongs among the most beautiful and attractive cities in the whole world and is the most important cultural, spiritual and historical merit of the Czech Republic. Her history reflects not only the events that took place both in the city and country but also events that influenced the history of the whole of Europe. In the history of Prague we can discover triumphs and fame, years of creative work, historic milestones but also hardship and misery.
Prague was a place where, during the Premysl times, the Czech constituency was being formed. A seat from which kings and ceasars ruled the whole of Europe, for instance Premysl Otakar II and Charles IV, during whose times Prague was a centre of intelligence and prosperity. However, bad times weighed down on Prague as well, the worst period of history undoubtedly being the Nazi occupation of 1939 – 1945. There are hundreds of modest graves and memorial plaques of those executed or tortured to be found in Prague.
Nevertheless, today's Prague is a free city visited by millions of tourists every year which comes as no surprise as there is so much to admire. The panoramic view of Hradcany, Prague Castle, the towers of St Vitus Cathedral and St George's Cathedral is simply breathtaking.
Prague is a treasury of art created not only by Czech artists but also craftsmen from foreign countries. All of those who visit this beautiful city will definitely come back again.
Historically the Prague Basin had much to offer settlers with its elevated position, plentiful supply of water and fertile soils. Indeed, the first settlement can be traced back to the Paleolithic age, from which time innumberable relics have been found, whilst the earliest human remains on Bohemian soil are more than 17 000 years old. Neolithic farmers are known to have inhabited the region from around 5000 to 2700 BC and subsequent settlers included Germanic and Slavic tribes who co existed relatively peacefully until the arrival of the Avars, against whom the Slavs staged a successful rebellion in the early 620's.
In 870 Prague Castle was founded by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid dynasty and Prague subsequently became the main seat of the the Premyslid princes - the oldest ruling dynasty of the state of Bohemia. By the early 10th century, the area at the foot of Prague Castle had developed into an important trading centre. The earliest written report of Prague dates back to 965 when Jewish merchant and traveller Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub observed: "Prague is built from stone and lime, and it has the biggest trade centre. Slavs are on the whole courageous and brave... They occupy the lands which are the most fertile and abundant with a good food supply."
In the 11th Century another fortified castle was built on the opposite side of the river and upstream from Prague Castle. Vysehrad (high castle) was to become the temporary seat of the Czech rulers during the reign of Prince of Bohemia Vladislav II, who was crowned King of Bohemia Vladislav I. Many important buildings were built under his reign including innumberable churches, the Strahov Monastery and the Judith Bridge – the first bridge to join Mala Strana with Stare Mesto.
The Premyslid dynasty ruled until 1306 when the male lineage ceased and Princess Eliska married John of Luxembourg. They had a son Charles IV who was crowned King in 1346 heralding the start of Prague's Golden Era. The impact of Charles IV on the development of Prague is hard to underestimate. Due to his efforts, Prague was raised from a bishopric to an archbishopric, he founded the first University in central and Eastern Europe and, in addition to rebuilding Prague Castle and Vysherad, he also founded the New Town. In 1355 Charles was crowned King of the Holy Roman Empire and was in no doubt that he wanted Prague to be the central city in the Empire. During his reign Prague flourished dramatically to become the largest town in Europe and the Czech lands became more powerful than ever before.
A more difficult and turbulent time followed the death of the Emperor in 1378. At this time the preacher Jan Hus was spreading his message of Church reform and his execution for heresy triggered the start of the Hussite wars in 1419.
1526 saw the ascension of the Habsburg dynasty to the throne with the crowning of Ferdinand Habsburg. It was however, his Grandson Rudoph II who was responsible for the second glorious era during which Prague once again became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Rudolph II set up residence in Prague Castle and during his reign Prague was an artistic and cultural melting pot and meeting place for artists, craftsmen, scientists, philosophers, alchemists, theologians, astronomers and other learned men from all over the continent. When Rudolph II died, his successor moved the Habsburg seat backto Vienna.
In 1618 the defenestration at Prague Castle saw Catholic governors thrown from the windows and marked the start of the 30 years war which culminated with the Battle at Bila Hora (White Mountain).The Catholics won, twenty seven reformers were executed in Old Town Square and thus began another period of Vienna-based Habsburg rule which would last until 1918. In the years which followed, Prague was ransacked by both the Saxons and the Swedes and diminished in size and stature to become a small town with a population reduced from 60 000 to 20 000.
The period of restoration which followed the 30 years war saw the predominance of Baroque architecture throughout the city. There were of course still invasions and in 1741 – 1742 Prague was occupied by french troops followed by the Prussians in 1744.
In 1784 all four independent sectors of the city were united as one under the orders of Emperor Joseph II.
In the 19th Century, whilst the Industrial Revolution didn't impact upon the town of Prague itself, new towns such as Holesovice, Karlin and Smichov did begin to spring up around its periphery.The feelings of Nationalism which were sweeping Europe were however felt strongly in Prague and throughout Bohemia - the most prominent project in Prague being the financing and building of a National Theatre for the staging of Czech works.
The nationalist dream was realised in 1918 at the end of World War 1 when Tomas Garrique Masaryk became the first President of the Czechoslovakia . This period of Independance was short lived however and in 1939 the country was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. This period saw the decimation of the Jewish community in Prague as they were moved firstly to Terezin and finally further east.
The liberation of Prague by the Red Army in 1945 offered some initial hope of re- establishing a free Czechoslovakia - hope which was ended by the Communist Coup in 1948. Klement Gottwald established a hardline government and , apartfrom a brief period of relaxation under Dubcek in 1968, the city lived under the oppresive Communist regime until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The Velvet Revolution resulted in Vaclav Havel becoming President of Czechoslovakia until its two halves 'divorced' each other in 1993 to become the Czech and Slovak Republics respectively.
The Czech Republic become a member of the EU in 2004 and will hold the Presidency for six months next yearin 2008.
Following its emergence from behind the Iron Curtain, Prague is now visited by three million tourists a year, all eager to see the beauty and magic that was hidden for so long. As for what the future holds for Prague – only time will tell.