Prague history

U Prague (pronounced /ˈprɑːɡ/; Czech: Praha pronounced [ˈpraɦa] ( listen), see also other names) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Nicknames for Prague have included Praga mater urbium/Praha matka měst ("Prague – Mother of Cities") in Latin/Czech, Stověžatá Praha ("City of a Hundred Spires") in Czech or Zlaté město/Goldene Stadt ("Golden City") in Czech/German.[4]

Situated on the Vltava River in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years. For many decades during the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the permanent seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

Today, the city proper is home to more than 1.2 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 1.9 million.[5]

Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, making the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, receiving more than 4.1 million international visitors annually, as of 2009[update].

Bridges over Vltava river, as seen from the Letna.
Prague panorama upstream Vltava river, from Charles Bridge.
Prague, New Town, a weir on Vltava river, under the Castle, in background.

The name Prague comes from an old Slavic root, praga, which means “ford”, referring to the city's origin at a crossing of the Vltava River.

The native name of the city, Praha, is also related to the modern Czech word práh ("threshold"). A legendary etymology connects the name of the city with duchess Libuše, prophetess and a wife of mythical founder of the Přemyslid dynasty. She is said to have ordered "the city to be built where a man hews a threshold of his house".

Czech práh shall be understood here as to be in the river, rapids or cataract: its edge as a passage to the other river side. Contrarily, although there are a few weirs nowadays, there was not discovered any such geological threshold in the river under the Prague Castle. Thus some derive the name Praha from the stone of the hill, where the original castle was built: na prazě, the original term for shale rock. (In those days, there were forests around the Castle, on the nine hills of the future city: the Old Town on the other river bank as well as the Lesser Town underneath the Castle appeared later.)[7]


The history of Prague spans thousands of years, during which time the city grew from a castle known as Vyšehrad to the multicultural capital of a modern European state, the Czech Republic.
Ancient age

The area on which Prague was founded was settled as early as the Paleolithic age. Around 200 BC the Celts had a settlement in the south, called Závist, but later they were replaced by the Marcomanni, a Germanic people and later by the West Slavic people. According to legends, Prague was founded by Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the dynasty of the same name. Whether this legend is true or not, Prague's first nucleus[citation needed] was a castle on a hill commanding the left (western) bank of Vltava: this is known as Prague Castle, to differentiate from another castle, which was later, in the latter part of the 9th century[citation needed], erected on the opposite right (eastern) bank the Přemyslid fort Vyšehrad, which is now wrongly considered as the oldest one.

The city became the seat of the dukes and later kings of Bohemia. Under emperor Otto II the city became a bishopric in 973. Until Prague was elevated to archbishopric in 1344, it was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Mainz.

It was an important seat for trading where merchants from all of Europe settled, including many Jews, as recalled in 965 by the Jewish merchant and traveller Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub. The Old New Synagogue of 1270 survives.

King Vladislav II had a first bridge on the Vltava built in 1170, the Judith Bridge, which was destroyed by flood in 1342.

In 1257, under King Otakar II, Malá Strana ("Lesser Quarter") was founded in Prague on a place of an older village in the future Hradčany area: it was the district of the German people. These had the right to administrate the law autonomously, pursuant to Magdeburg rights. The new district was on the opposite bank of the Staré Město ("Old Town"), which had a borough status and was defended by a line of walls and fortifications.

The era of Charles IV

The city flourished during the 14th century reign of the king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV of the new Luxembourg dynasty. He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town. The Charles Bridge was erected to connect the new district to Malá Strana. Monuments by Charles include the Saint Vitus Cathedral, the oldest gothic cathedral in Central Europe, which is actually inside the Castle, and the Charles University. The latter is the oldest university in central Europe. Prague was then the third-largest city in Europe. Under Charles, Prague was, from 1355, the actual capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and its rank was elevated to that of archbishopric (1344). It had a mint, and German and Italian merchants, as well as bankers, were present in the city. The social order, however, became more turbulent due to the rising power of the craftsmen's guild (themselves often torn by internal fights), and the presence of increasing number of poor people.

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.[8][9]

During the reign of King Wenceslas IV (1378–1419), Jan Hus, a theologian and lector 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 reforming the 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 in Konstanz in 1415. Four years later Prague experienced its First Defenestration (the act of throwing someone out the window as a political protest - in this case, the city's councillors out the window of the New Town Hall), 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 so-called Hussite Wars. In 1420, peasant rebels, led by the general Jan Žižka, along with Hussite troops from Prague, defeated the Bohemian King Sigismund, in the Battle of Vítkov Hill.

In the following two centuries, Prague strengthened its role as a merchant city. Many noteworthy Gothic buildings were erected[citation needed], including the Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle.
Habsburg era

In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was handed over to 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 at the time having increasing success.[citation needed] These problems were not preeminent 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 saw invitations to 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 Johann 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 lords (involved in the Battle of White Mountain) in Old Town Square and an exiling of many others. The city suffered subsequently during the war under Saxon (1631) and Swedish (1648) occupation. 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.[10]

In 1689, a great fire devastated Prague, but this spurred a renovation and a rebuilding of the city. In 1713–1714, a major outbreak of plague hit Prague one last time, killing 12–13,000 people.[11] The economic rise continued through the 18th century, and the city in 1771 had 80,000 inhabitants. Many of these were rich merchants who, together with noblemen of German, Spanish, and even Italian origin, enriched the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens, creating a Baroque style renowned throughout the world. After the Battle of Prague in 1757 the city was badly damaged during a Prussian bombardment.[12] In 1784, under Joseph II, the four municipalities of Malá Strana, Nové Město, Staré Město, and Hradcany 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 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 nationalist movement (opposed to another nationalist party, the German one) began its rise, until it gained the majority in the Town Council in 1861. Prague had German-speaking near-majority in 1848, but by 1880 the German population 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 the assimilation of some Germans.[13]
20th century
The Jerusalemer Synagogue, built in 1905 to 1906 by Wilhelm Stiassny, of Bratislava, is the largest Jewish place of worship in Prague

At the beginning of the 20th century Czech lands were the most productive part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with 80% of Empire's industrial production and some Czech politics began with attempts to separate it from Habsburg empire.[citation needed]
The First Republic
Main article: Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938)

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.
Second World War
Main article: German occupation of Czechoslovakia

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 multiethnic 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 fled the city

In 1942, Prague was witness to the assassination of one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany - Reinhard Heydrich (during Operation Anthropoid). Hitler ordered bloody reprisals. At the end of the war Prague suffered several bombing raids by the U.S. Air Force. Over 1000 people were killed and hundreds of buildings, factories and historical landmarks were destroyed (however the damage was small compared to the total destruction of many other cities in that time). Once the outcome of the war was decided and it was known that Germany would surrender to the allies, Prague revolted against the Nazi occupants on 5 May 1945 two days before Germany capitulated, on May 7. Four days later the Soviet army entered the city. The majority of the German population either fled or was expelled in the aftermath of the war.
Cold War

Prague was a city in the territory of military and political control of the Soviet Union (see Iron Curtain). The 4th Czechoslovakian Writers' Congress held in the city in 1967 took a strong position against the regime. 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 Soviet Union and its allies reacted with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968 by tanks, suppressing any attempt at work.
Era after the Velvet Revolution

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 globalization. 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,[14] 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 2020 Summer Olympics as well.[15]

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of Europe's (and the world's) most popular tourist destinations. It is the sixth most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.[16] Prague suffered considerably less damage during World War II than some other major cities in the region, allowing most of its historic architecture to stay true to form. It contains one of the world's most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Art Nouveau to Baroque, Renaissance, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern. Some popular sights include:

* Old Town (Staré Město) with its Old Town Square
* The Astronomical Clock (Orloj) on Old Town Square
* The picturesque Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
* The vaulted gothic Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga) of 1270.
* New Town (Nové město) with its busy and historic Wenceslas Square
* Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) with its Infant Jesus of Prague
* Prague Castle (Pražský hrad - the largest castle in the world) with its St. Vitus Cathedral
* Josefov (the old Jewish quarter) with Old Jewish Cemetery and Old New Synagogue
* Jan Žižka equestrian statue in Vítkov park, Žižkov - Prague 3.
* The Lennon Wall
* Vinohrady, a sightly quarter in the center
* Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague - huge collections of glass, furniture, textile, toys, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Art Deco, and so on.
* The museum of Heydrich assassination in the crypt of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius
* National Museum
* Vyšehrad castle & cemetery where many famous Czechs are buried including the composers Antonín Dvořák & Bedřich Smetana.
* Písek Gate, last preserved city gate of Baroque fortification
* Petřínská rozhledna, an observation tower on Petřín hill, which resembles the Eiffel Tower
* Anděl (neighborhood) which is probably the busiest part of the city with a super modern shopping mall and architecture
* Žižkov Television Tower (Žižkovský vysílač) with observation deck - Prague 3.
* The New Jewish Cemetery in Olšany, location of Franz Kafka's grave - Prague 3.
* The Metronome, a giant, functional metronome that looms over the city
* The Dancing House (Fred and Ginger Building)
* The Mucha Museum, showcasing the Art Nouveau works of Alfons Mucha
* The vast cemeteries that are also used for walks by the locals, such as Olšany Cemetery
* Places connected to writers living in the city, such as Franz Kafka (One popular destination is the Franz Kafka museum, also his grave at the Jewish cemetery near the metro station želivského)
* The Prague Zoo elected as the 7th best zoo in the world by Forbes magazine


Geography & Location

On Vltava river, in the center of the Bohemian basin.

Similarly to Rome, the city of Prague is spread over nine hills: Letná, Vítkov, Opyš, Větrov, Skalka, Emauzy, Vyšehrad, Karlov and the highest Petřín.[4]

The city of Prague experiences a humid continental climate with warm summers and relatively cold winters.


Prague is traditionally one of the cultural centres of Europe, hosting many cultural events.[citation needed]

Significant cultural institutions:

* National Theatre (Národní divadlo)
* Estates Theatre (Stavovské or Tyršovo or Nosticovo divadlo), premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni was held there
* The Rudolfinum (home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra)
* The Municipal House (home to Prague Symphony Orchestra)
* The Smetana Theatre (home to the Prague State Opera (Státní opera))
* National Museum (Národní muzeum)
* Museum of the Capital City of Prague
* Jewish Museum in Prague
* Mucha Museum
* Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague
* Náprstek Museum (Náprstkovo muzeum)
* Josef Sudek Gallery
* National Library
* National Gallery

There are hundreds of concert halls, galleries, cinemas and music clubs in the city. Prague hosts Music Festivals including the Prague Spring International Music Festival, the Prague Autumn International Music Festival and the Prague International Organ Festival. Film festivals include the Febiofest, the One World and Echoes of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Prague also hosts the Prague Writers Festival, the Summer Shakespeare Festival [17], the Prague Fringe Festival, the World Roma Festival as well as hundreds of Vernissages and fashion shows.

Many films have been made at the Barrandov Studios. Hollywood movies set in Prague include Mission Impossible, Blade II and xXx. Other Czech films shot in Prague include Empties and The Fifth Horseman is Fear. Also, the music video to "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" by Kanye West was shot in Prague, and features shots of the Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Clock, among other famous landmarks. Prague was also the setting for the film "Dungeons and Dragons" in 2000.

Forbes Traveler Magazine listed Prague ZOO among the world's best zoos.

The Prague restaurant Allegro received the first Michelin star in the whole of post-Communist Eastern Europe.

With the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe, Prague has become a popular weekend city destination allowing tourists to visit its many museums and cultural sites as well as try its famous Czech beers and hearty cuisine.

Prague sites many buildings by renowned architects, including Adolf Loos (Villa Müller), Frank O. Gehry (Dancing House), or Jean Nouvel (Golden Angel).


The GDP per capita of Prague is more than double that of the Czech Republic as a whole, with a per-capita GDP (PPP) of 33,784 (purchasing power standard) in 2004, which is 157.1% of the European Union average, ranking Prague among the 12 richest EU regions,[19] in Purchasing Power. However, the price level is significantly lower than in comparable cities.

The city is the site of the European headquarters of many international companies[citation needed].

Since the late 1990s, Prague has become a popular filming location for international productions and Hollywood, Bollywood motion pictures. A combination of architecture, low costs and the existing motion picture infrastructure have proven attractive to international film production companies.

Prague's economy is based on various industrial sectors. Prague's industrial sector is split into aircraft engines, diesel engines, refined oil products, electronics, chemicals, food, printing, automobiles etc. Also a significant proportion of research and development is based in Prague. Approximately one-fifth of all investment in the Czech Republic takes place in Prague city.

Almost one-half of the national income from tourism is spent in Prague. The city offers approximately 73,000 beds in accommodation facilities, most of which were built after 1990, including almost 51,000 beds in hotels and boarding houses capable of satisfying all categories of visitors.

Czech Airlines has its head office on the grounds of Ruzyně International Airport in Ruzyně, Prague.
Colleges and universities

Several universities and colleges are located in the city:

* Charles University (UK) founded in 1348 (the oldest university in Central and Eastern Europe)
* Czech Technical University (ČVUT) founded in 1707
* Academy of Fine Arts (AVU) founded in 1800
* Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (VŠUP) founded in 1885
* Institute of Chemical Technology (VŠCHT) founded in 1920
* Academy of Performing Arts (AMU) founded in 1945
* Czech University of Agriculture (ČZU) founded in 1906/1952
* University of Economics (VŠE) founded in 1953
* Anglo-American College (AAC) founded in 1990
* University of New York in Prague [1] (UNYP) founded in 1998
* University of Northern Virginia in Prague [2] (UNVA) founded in 1998

Science, research and hi-tech centers

The region city of Prague is an important centre of research:

* Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (CAS) founded in 1953

...and its institutes:

* Czech Language Institute (Ústav pro jazyk český) founded in 1946
* Institute of Information Theory and Automation (UTIA) founded in 1959


Střížkov metro station on line C
The "nostalgic tram" no. 91 runs through the city centre
Barrandov bridge at night, part of the Municipal Ring Road.
Construction of Tunnel Blanka at quarter Troja
Construction of 2 km long bridge across river Vltava and Berounka valley on Prague Ring Road in April 2009

Public transportation

The public transport infrastructure consists of an integrated transport system of Prague Metro (its length is 59 km with 57 stations in total), Prague Tram System (including the "nostalgic tram" no. 91), buses, the Petřín funicular to Petřín Hill, and five ferries: PID, Pražská integrovaná doprava (English: Prague integrated traffic system) Prague integrated traffic) All services have a common ticketing system, and are run by The Prague Public Transit (Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy, a.s.) and some other companies (full list). Recently, Prague integrated transport coordinator (ROPID) has franchised operation of ferries on the Vltava river, which are also a part of the public transport system with common fares, taxi.

Cars and trucks

The recent situation on the streets is very unpleasant: the main traffic stream of cars leads through the centre of the city. The longest city Tunnel in Europe with a proposed length of 5.5 km and with 5 interchanges with the surface is now being built to relieve congestion in the north-western part of Prague. The tunnel is called Tunel Blanka and it is part of the Municipal Ring Road. Construction started in 2007 and the tunnel is scheduled to be completed in 2011/2012. The southern part of the Prague Ring Road(with a length of almost 17 km) is also under construction with a proposed completion date of April 2010.[citation needed]


The city forms the hub of the Czech railway system, with services to all parts of the Czech Republic and abroad. There is also a commuter rail system known as Esko Prague which serves the Prague metropolitan area.

Prague has two international railway stations, Hlavní nádraží (formerly called and sometimes still referred to as Wilsonovo nádraží) and Praha-Holešovice. Intercity services also stop at the main stations Praha-Smíchov and Masarykovo nádraží. In addition to these, there are a number of smaller suburban stations. In the future rail should play a greater role in Prague Public Transport System.[citation needed]


Prague is served by Ruzyně International Airport, the biggest airport in the Czech Republic and one of the busiest in Central and Eastern Europe. It is the hub of the flag carrier, Czech Airlines, as well as of the low-cost airline Smart Wings operating throughout Europe.

Other airports in Prague include the city's original airport at the Kbely north-east district, which is serviced by the Czech Air Force, internationally too: The runway (9-27) at Kbely is 2 km long. The airport also houses the Prague Aviation Museum.

The close airport in Letňany is mainly used for private aviation and aeroclub aviation.

Another close airport is Aero Vodochody aircraft factory's on the north, used for testing purposes, as well as for aeroclub aviation.
Aeroclub airfields

There are a few aeroclubs around Prague: I.e. the Točná airfield is located in the south part of the city, just on the right (east) river bank, and serves mostly as an aeroclub.

Ships and ferries

* Pražská paroplavební společnost
* ferries


Taxi services in Prague can be divided into two sectors. There are major taxicab companies, operating call-for-taxi services (radio-taxi) or from regulated taxi stands, and independent drivers, who make pickups on the street. The latter are notorious for overcharging, targeted mainly at foreign tourists and are possibly managed by (mob) crime organizations.[citation needed]