Prague Travel Guide


Prague History

During the last 15 or so years, Prague gained a strong reputation among tourists and businessmen as a city both of dynamic development and of well preserved historical monuments. This helped the city to mount up in the tourist charts - Prague now belongs to the most required European destinations.

Prague's attractiveness did not emerge from nothing. During the history, the city enjoyed excellent and rich years when it became one of the most important places in Europe. But usually such period was replaced by deep decline when the city turned dark. Almost all eras left its fingerprint in today's Prague appearance.

On the other hand, the city has good luck in the history: it was almost untouched by the ravages of war, natural disasters (eg. Prague quickly recovered from 2002 flood), it did not undergo major redevelopments from one to other architectural style in the history. All of the aforementioned fact contributes to the the unique and fresh look of the city now.

In Prague's compact medieval centre you can find a mixture of architectural styles from Gothic and Baroque to Art Nouveau and modern architecture. And Prague's history is a really rich one...

Prague's changes over time

Prehistoric settlements

Prague valley was always an attractive place to settle. First evidence of human habitation in the area dates back into ten thousands years before Christ, as groups of mammoth hunters in the last ice era wandered around in search of food.

First permanent farming communities were built in the fourth century B.C. (most of them in the north-western and southern parts of today's Prague – always by the river as source of the water) by Celtic tribes. One of Celtic tribe called Boii gave the name to the area: word Bohemia is the denomination for western part of Czech Republic so far. Bohemia is, in fact, a cradle of Celtic culture.

In the first century B.C., Celtic tribes were pushed out of the territory by the invading Germanic tribe of Marcomanni and Quadi.

Sings of Celtic and Germanic habitation can be found on various places around Prague, for example in Zbraslav on the southern border of Prague.

Slav tribes arriving

The Slav tribes finally reached the territory from the east during the 6th century A.D. Two tribes settled on the opposite sides of the Vltava river, one on the place of Prague Castle and the second one on the place, where Prague second castle – Vysehrad can be found.

For the short period of time during the 9th, Prague belong to the first "state formation" in the territory, called Grater Moravian Empire. On of the rulers, prince Rastislav, invited two emissaries from Constantinople – St. Cyril and St. Methodius – who brought roots of Christianity into the region.

Early medieval times

Prague Vysehrad Castle

Around 880 Czech prince Borivoj from the Premyslid dynasty decided to build Prague Castle as the main seat of the dynasty, on top of the Hradcany.

Several years later, Christianity became the state religion under the rule of St. Wenceslas, who ruled from 925 to 935. The Duke of Bohemia now has a statue on the top of the Wenceslas Square. He was canonised as a saint and became the national patron saint.

The reign of Premyslid dynasty in the half of 13th century covered large part of Central Europe, it stretched from Silesia south to the Mediterranean see. However, the murder of the young king Wenceslas III in 1306 left no male heir to the Czech throne and the Premyslid dynasty died out.

14th century: Golden Age

Charles Bridge

The new Royal dynasty of the Luxembourgs ruled Bohemia since 1310, when Holy Roman Emperor, John of Luxembourg, became King of Bohemia.

During the rule of his son, Charles IV (who ruled 1346-1378), Prague enjoyed superb times. After Charles IV was elected Holy Roman Empire in 1355, Prague became its capital. The city with brand new Gothic face grew rapidly in size and prosperity as Bohemia's capital and became one of the most splendid cities in Europe.

Emperor Charles IV himself is one of the most remarkable persons in the history of Czech land. He founded the Charles University and granted the royal privileges to the newly built New Town of Prague. The construction of the Charles Bridge and the St. Vitus Cathedral on the Prague Castle started.

15th century: Hussites

The execution of the Czech reformist Master John Huss for alleged heresy in Constance in 1415 paved the way to a nationalist rebellion in Bohemia and later lead to the Hussite Wars – the internal conflict between the Catholics and the protestants. First defenestration (several Catholic councillors were thrown out of the window in the New Town Hall) took place in 1419. A military commander with one eye, Jan Zizka, led Hussite troops that defended Prague against anti-Hussite crusade.

Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund was accepted as king by Hussites in return for religious tolerance, and after his death, Jiri z Pobedrad ruled the country as the only Hussite king (ruled 1452-1471). Jiri z Podebrad is considered as modernist ruler. He proposed, for instance, united Europe, but his appeal did not receive any response.

In 1476 the Vladislas from Polish dynasty of Jagiello, politically weak, was crowned Kings of Bohemia. Vladislas Hall of the Prague Castle was finished by the architect Benedict Reid.

16th century: Hapsburgs on the Czech throne

Prague Castle

The reign of the Catholic Hapsburg dynasty begins in 1526 after the "invitation" by Czech based nobility. First decades of their rule brought prosperity into Prague again, especially after Emperor Rudolf II is crowned the Czech king in 1575. Prague Castle is reconstructed in the Renaissance style and the city became shortly the residential of the Hapsburgs. Prague experienced its second Golden Age as it became the centre of science and alchemy. Many top scholars of that age were invited by the Emperor to make their research on the Emperor's court. Tycho de Brahe and Johannes Kepler were among them, for instance. The Emperor himself gathered great art collections and the city really flourished.

17th century & 18th century: Dark times

Prague Castle

Second Prague´s defenestration, during which two Hapsburg councillors and their secretary were thrown away from the Prague Castle window, started the Protestant uprising in 1618. It triggered the Thirty Years' War, that devastated not just Bohemia kingdom, but also other parts of Europe.

However, Czech Protestants are defeated in the Battle of the White Mountain on 8 November 1620. After that, 27 nobles who initiated the uprising were executed on the Old Town Square.

The Dark Age of the Czech history is a result of Bohemia's subjugation to Austrian rule. Czechs lost their independence and rights for almost three hundred years and German was Prague's only official language. The territory of Bohemia was Catholicised and Germanised by force.

Of course, Hapsburgs move their seat back to Vienna, leaving Prague as provincial town.

The city of Prague got a new drive in the second half of the 18th century, when the reconstruction were supported by German – and later by Czech – money. The city got a new, Baroque facelift.

Austrian Emperor Josef II, son of Maria Theresa, granted some sort of political and religious rights to minorities and united the four independent urban areas of Prague (Old Town, New Town, Lesser Quarter and Hradcany) into one single unit in 1784. The Czech National Revival was about to wake up, whose aim was the resurrection of Czech culture, language and statehood.

19th century: Czech National Revival

National Theatre

During the 19th century, new urban areas as a result of Industrial revolution arose around Prague – industrial quarters of Smíchov and Karlín were founded. It created a ring of factories around the historical centre. Bohemia is becoming one of the most industrialised regions of Europe. Large part of Josefov (former Jewish Ghetto) was demolished.

Prague also played important role in what is called Czech National Revival. Firstly, it found its expression in Czech-language journalism, literature and drama. In 1848, as elsewhere in Europe, Prague was hit by the uprisings. People in streets called for a Constitution and more power for local governments. Several constitutional attempts were made by the Emperor's court, but most of them were soon drawn back. Czech and Moravians lived within the borders of the Empire until the end of the World War I.

Important buildings in Prague were built during this period, such as National Theatre, National Museum or the New Town Hall.

1918-1938: Independent Czechoslovak State

Prague Karlín

The Czechs and the Slovaks declared independence after the end of the World War I. This was negotiated by philosopher, writer and politician Tomas Garrigue Masaryk mostly with the US president Woodrow Wilson. Czechoslovakia – support by Allies - declared its independence on 28 October 1918. Prague became the capital of Czechoslovakia and Masaryk was inaugurated as the first Czechoslovak President.

Czechoslovakia enjoyed post-war prosperity until the Great Depression in 1930s. However, the country was allowed to survive only for twenty years.

As a result of the Munich Agreement between superpowers and Hitler's Germany, the Nazi army occupied Sudetenland (the areas by the German and Austrian border) in October. The area of Czechoslovakia shrunk by one third and thousands of people were forced to flee into the inner-land. Munich Agreement was a stigma for Czechs and Slovaks, they felt betrayed by their allies. But Britain and France decide "about us, without us" and laid down the fate of Czechoslovakia in the light of upcoming war.

1939-1945: Protectorate Böhmen und Mähren

Prague and the rest of the country are occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939-1945). The area of Czech lands were so-called protectorate, and Slovakia was formally independent state (rather it was a puppet Nazi state). Unfortunately, Prague as a city suffered little damage during the war fury.

In 1942 Czech paratroopers assassinated Reichs Protector Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. As a result, the Nazis burnt out two innocent Czech villages – Lidice and Lezaky.

In the beginning of May 1945, Prague inhabitants rose against the German forces, and the Soviet army arrived on 9 May to liberate the rest of Prague, that was not liberate by the uprising the day before.

1945-1948: Third republic

After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state, but it lost the eastern part of the territory in favour of Soviet union. During the short-lived "Third Republic", the President of the Republic Edvard Benes issued two decrees by which Sudeten Germans were expelled from their homes in border areas. This step was recommended by superpowers as the prevention of the future war, as many Sudenten German who lived in the pre-war Czechoslovakia had strong separationist tendencies.

Communist became dominant party after the war with 36 % vote in 1946 elections. In February 1948 the Communist party seize the power after successful coup d'etat with the backing of the Soviet communists.

1948-1989: Era of communism

In 1948, Communists issued new constitution saying their party has the absolute dominance in the political life. Czechoslovakia experienced mass wave of emigration.

The following decade was marked by harsh repressions and the Communist party organized several grand "judicial" processes in the style of Stalin, that resulted in public purges and hundreds of executed (even including top members of the party) and thousands imprisoned.

The 1960s was characterized by gradual liberalization of public and economic life. Several important cultural events took place. Also the Communist party itself underwent several reform. The aim was to find a so-called "Third way" (between Communism and Capitalism) or the "socialism with the human face". All the process is known under name of Prague Spring.

However, all these tendencies to reform socialism were stopped by the intervention of 5 states of the Warsaw Pact under the leadership of the Soviet Union. The following 20 years are sometimes called as "normalization", some Czech historian call it "time with no face" or "time with history". The party was taken over by the orthodox faction and those who agreed with the reformist tendencies were expelled from the party and lost their jobs. Many people with skills or education must accept jobs of manual workers. It is said almost half a million people were affected, but no execution took place from political reasons as 20 years ago.

1989: Velvet Revolution

The Velvet Revolution started in Prague on 17 November 1989 and brings an end to communism. After the initial manifestation on Narodni trida, several protest against ruling Communist party took place, including the general strike on 27 November, when almost 700 000 people gathered on Letna plain. By the end of the year the communist government resigned and the party gave up the dominance in the state. The "revolution" has almost non violent character. A series of paradoxes peak on 29 December 1989, when the opposition leader, Vaclav Havel, was elected President by communist Parliament. This paved a way to first free elections in June 1990.

1990 until now

Soon after Czechoslovakia disengage its Communist rule, it splits into two independent states – Czech Republic and Slovakia – on 1 January 1993. Prague remained the capital of newly born Czech Republic.

The country joined NATO on 12 March 1999. Czech Republic found her way back to Europe to which belonged over the history and together with other Central and Eastern European states entered the European Union on 1 May 2004.

Czech Republic is now democratic country, having the centre-right government from January 2007. Václav Klaus is Czech president from 2003 (elected for 5 years).

Prague Today

How Prague has changed in recent years? Prague is changing its face and step by step becomes a cosmopolitan city. Find out more about Prague today.