The mythological princess Libuše
prophesies the glory of Prague.
During the thousand years of its existence, Prague grew from a settlement stretching from Prague Castle in the north to the fort of Vyšehrad in the south, becoming the capital of a modern European country, the Czech Republic.
The Prague astronomical clock
was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working.
The region was settled as early as the Paleolithic age. Jewish chronicler David Solomon Ganz, citing Cyriacus Spangenberg, claimed that the city was founded as Boihaem in c. 1306 BC by an ancient king, Boyya.
Around the fifth and fourth century BC, a Celts tribe appeared in the area, later establishing settlements including an oppidum in Závist, a present-day suburb of Prague, and naming the region of Bohemia, which means "home of the Boii people". In the last century BC, the Celts were slowly driven away by Germanic tribes (Marcomanni, Quadi, Lombards and possibly the Suebi), leading some to place the seat of the Marcomanni king, Maroboduus, in southern Prague in the suburb now called Závist. Around the area where present-day Prague stands, the 2nd century map drawn by Ptolemaios 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 living in Bohemia moved westwards and, probably in the 6th century, the Slavic tribes (Venedi) settled the Central Bohemian Region. In the following three centuries, the Czech tribes built several fortified settlements in the area, most notably in the Šárka valley, Butovice and Levý Hradec.
The construction of what came to be known as Prague Castle began near the end of the 9th century, expanding a fortified settlement that had existed on the site since the year 800. The first masonry under Prague Castle dates from the year 885 at the latest. The other prominent 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 began construction in 1344, but wasn't completed until the 20th century.
The legendary origins of Prague attribute its foundation to the 8th century 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." She ordered a castle and a town called Praha to be built on the site.
The region became the seat of the dukes, and later kings of Bohemia. Under Holy 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 across 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 in the city. Prague was also once home to 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 honour of his wife Judith of Thuringia. This bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1342, but some of the original foundation stones of that bridge remain in the river. It was rebuilt and named the Charles Bridge.
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 by the area the third-largest city in Europe (after Rome and Constantinople).
Charles IV 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.
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) was murdered.
Depiction of the "Prague Banner" (municipal flag dated to the 16th century)
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 (1.2 by 1.8 metres), with a red field sprinkled with small white fleurs-de-lis, and a silver old Town Coat-of-Arms in the centre. The words "PÁN BŮH POMOC NAŠE" (The Lord is our Relief) appeared above the coat-of-arms, with a Hussite chalice centred 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 brought 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 poet 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 his army was crushed in the Battle of White Mountain (1620) not far from the city. Following this in 1621 was an execution of 27 Czech Protestant leaders (involved in the uprising) in Old Town Square and the exiling of many others. Prague was forcibly converted back to Roman Catholicism followed by the rest of Czech lands. The city suffered subsequently during the war under an attack by Electoral Saxony (1631) and during the 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 had been in Prague since the end of the 10th century and, by 1708, they accounted for about a quarter of Prague's population.
In 1689, a great fire devastated Prague, but this spurred a renovation and a rebuilding of the city. In 1713–14, a major outbreak of plague hit Prague one last time, killing 12,000 to 13,000 people.
In 1744, Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded Bohemia. He took Prague after a severe and prolonged siege in the course of which a large part of the town was destroyed. In 1757 the Prussian bombardment destroyed more than one quarter of the city and heavily damaged St. Vitus Cathedral. However a month later, Frederick the Great was defeated and forced to retreat from Bohemia.
The economy of Prague continued to improve during the 18th century. The population increased to 80,000 inhabitants by 1771. Many rich merchants and nobles enhanced the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens full of art and music, creating a Baroque city renowned throughout the world to this day.
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 in Europe in 1848 also touched Prague, 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.
First Czechoslovak Republic
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 Garrigue Masaryk. At this time Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000.
Second World War
Prague liberated by Red Army
in May 1945
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 native German-speaking) Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during the Second World War, 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.
In February 1945, Prague suffered several bombing raids by the US Army Air Forces. 701 people were killed, more than 1,000 people were injured and some buildings, factories and historical landmarks (Emmaus Monastery,
Vinohrady Synagogue) were destroyed. 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 navigational mistake. In March, a deliberate raid targeted military factories in Prague, killing about 370 people.
On 5 May 1945, two days before Germany capitulated, an uprising against Germany occurred. Several thousand Czechs were killed in four days of bloody street fighting, with many atrocities committed by both sides. At daybreak on 9 May, the 3rd Shock Army of the Red Army took the city almost unopposed. The majority (about 50,000 people) of the German population of Prague either fled or were expelled by the Beneš decrees in the aftermath of the war.
Prague was a city in the territory of military and political control of the Soviet Union (see Iron Curtain). The largest Stalin Monument was unveiled on Letná hill in 1955 and destroyed in 1962. The 4th Czechoslovak Writers' Congress held in the city in June 1967 took a strong position against the regime. On 31 October 1967 students demonstrated at Strahov. This spurred the new secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubček, to proclaim a new deal in his city's and country's life, starting the short-lived season of the "socialism with a human face". It was the Prague Spring, which aimed at the renovation of institutions in a democratic way. The other Warsaw Pact member countries, except Romania and Albania, reacted with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the capital on 21 August 1968 by tanks, suppressing any attempt at reform.
Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc committed suicide by self-immolation in January and February 1969 to protest against the "normalization" of the country.
After the Velvet Revolution
Prague high-rise buildings at Pankrác
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. From 1995 high-rise buildings began to be built in Prague in large quantities. In the late 1990s, Prague again became an important cultural centre of Europe and was notably influenced by globalisation. In 2000, IMF and World Bank summit took place in Prague and anti-globalization riots took place here. In 2002, Prague suffered from widespread floods that damaged buildings and its underground transport system.
Prague launched a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but failed to make the candidate city shortlist. In June 2009, as the result of financial pressures from the global recession, Prague's officials also chose to cancel the city's planned bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.