Prague history


Legend about Libuše photo from

The foundation of the Prague town is connected with the legend of Libuše that in her prophecy („I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars ….“) showed the place of the future seat of the Czech rulers to her companions. She instructed them to call it Prague (in Czech Praha), because even the prices and dukes must bow their heads low before a threshold (in Czech práh), so they will bow their heads low towards her town. Her words were obeyed. The Prague Castle was built, it was surrounded with deep moat and high barrier, and it ruled the whole Czech country besides Vyšehrad Castle.


Medieval Prague photo from

The oldest population of Prague dates back to 6th century, when the Slavic tribes came to our territory. After the inhabitation of the area of the Prague Castle, the first church was founded here in 885 that was dedicated to Virgin Mary, it was one of the oldest churches in the Czech lands. In the year 926 St. Vitus Rotunda was built in the Prague Castle, a few years later relics of St. Wenceslas were transported here. Also foundations were laid to Vyšehrad Castle in this century.
From 995 Prague became the only seat of power of the Czech princedom thanks to the ruling of Přemyslid dynasty. In the second half of the eleventh century the Czech lands became kingdom with the seat of power in the Prague Castle. Among important buildings of this period time belong for example Judith Bridge (finished in 1172) or foundation of the Old Town Hall. During the reign of Charles IV, Prague experienced period of prosperity. After the flood demolished the mentioned original Judith Bridge, Petr Parléř built on this place Charles Bridge. In 1348, Charles IV founded the first university in the central Europe – Charles University. During the reign of Charles IV, the Prague bishopric was upgraded to an archbishopric and the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral was started.


The Hussite Era photo from

The 15th century was marked by the social and religious tension. Reform movement was founded and it fought against the Roman Catholic Church. They were named Hussites after their preacher Jan Hus. This Reformer, who sermonized his ideas in the Bethlehem chapel, was burned at the stake as heretic in Constance on the 6th July 1415. His death triggered further protests. One uprising was headed by Jan Želivský. The success of the Prague people was stopped in the thirties of the 15th century in the battle of Lipany, where they were defeated and the Prague was seized by Utraquists. In 1483 George of Poděbrady was elected as the new Czech king.



Prague in Rudolphine period photo from

Prague was one of the most important cities in the Habsburg group of states. The situation changed after the Estates Uprising that took place in 1547. The uprising against Ferdinand I. was suppressed and the privileges and independence of Prague were subsequently restricted. The decline of the fifties was terminated by new prosperity during the reign of the emperor Rudolph II that moved his court to Prague in 1583. Also science and culture developed, many renaissance buildings were built. The rule of Rudolph II was terminated in 1612. The Second Defenestration of Prague led to the Czech Estates Uprising, the Czech Estates fought the Habsburgs. Their efforts were terminated in the Battle of White Mountain, where they were defeated in 1620. Next year 27 Czech noblemen from the rebels were executed on the Old Town Square. At the end of the Thirty Year war, when Prague was besieged by the Swedish troops, great part of the Rudolphine collections was transported to Sweden. Further development of baroque architecture took place after the great fire that affected Prague in 1689.



Marie Therese and Joseph II. photo from

During this period of time important reforms were started and thus the Prague city came to the beginning of the modern era. Important event was the union of four independent urban areas of Prague – Hradčany, Lesser Town, New Town and Old Town. And so the Royal capital Prague came into existence.



National Revival

At the beginning of 19th century started the era of industrial revolution together with the Czech National Revival that was mainly concentrated in Prague. Prague changed during the industrial revolution as never before. Prague played significant role in the revolutionary year 1848, when it became the centre of the uprising of the radical democrats that was terminated by the action of the emperor troops. In the middle of this century, Prague was not purely German town, but also Czech culture and theatres gained influence. The foundation stone of the National Theatre was laid. Important year in the history of the Prague city and mainly of its transport is the year 1875, because the horse-tramway is put into operation. In 1890, Prague was affected by hundred-year flood. The area of Old Town up to Old Town Square was flooded and Charles Bridge was severely damaged.



World War I and establishment of the Czechoslovakia photo from

The beginning of the 20th century in Prague was marked by the great technical progress. The electrical tram gradually replaced horse-tramway, many new industrial factories were built, most of them were founded on the outskirts of the city. And so the centre was gradually getting cleaner. Between the years 1905 and 1912, Municipal House was built that represented the culmination of secession architecture. The city expanded also from the cultural point of view, many new cinemas were built, and also new orchards were established. Also cubism came to Prague thanks to the construction of the House of the Black Madonna. The World War I affected also the Prague city. The rationing system, industrial and transport restrictions brought waves of discontent. In October 1918, the Czechoslovakian Republic was proclaimed.

The greyness of the war time was replaced by the expansion during the interwar time. Many new buildings were built, the size of Prague also increased. For example Vinohrady or Smíchov were attached. During this period of time, one of the greatest expansions in the history of the city took place. Great development took place not only in architecture but also in transport. Wenceslas Square was adapted for automobile transport, the first airplanes started to land in Kbely. In September 1929, the St. Vitus Cathedral was finally finished after more then five hundred years. The thirties were marked by the economic depression. In spite of this the international airport Ruzyně was put into operation, regulation of the river Vltava was carried out and also the first projects of the underground railway emerged.



World War II and Protectorate photo from

Prague as well as other towns was shaken by the war, but it was not significantly damaged. Prague was occupied by the German troops on the 15th March. Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed in Prague, and thus integration into German empire took place. Right hand traffic was implemented and it caused confusion in tram transport. Also all universities were closed in the territory of the Protectorate. During the war, the Jews especially from the area of Old Town were transported to the concentration camps. The town was controlled by the German propaganda, German language was on the first place everywhere. In May 1942 assassination attempt on the Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich was carried out by two parachutists in the area of today’s Vychovatelna. The protector was deadly injured, which caused increase of Nazi terror against Czech majority.
On the 5th May 1945 the Prague Uprising broke out. The fights took place in the whole city, fire arose in the Old Town Hall, people fought for the Czech radio broadcasting. The city waited for the liberation several days. The American troops had to stay at Pilsen, so the Russian troops came to Prague on the 9th May and they found almost no resistance. The reconstruction of the city was started immediately after the liberation.



Occupation and normalisation photo from

The history of Prague after the World War II was affected by the assumption of power by the Communist Party because it had growing influence in the period of post-war reconstruction. Starting in February 1948, factories were nationalized, the first big housing complexes were built, many streets and squares changed their names. The monument of Stalin was built on Letná field, a big group of statues of workers, farmers and solders that belonged to one of the biggest on the world. Important date was the 1st May 1953, the Czech television started broadcasting from the building of Měšťanská beseda (Burghers' house). In 1960 new territorially administrative allocation of Prague took effect and also further four localities were attached. The city districts Prague 1 to Prague 10 that were established also at this stage have survived in certain appearance to date. The year 1968 brought new changes to Prague. The town was expanded by further 30 localities, the construction of the underground tram started that was later transformed into Metro. Certain democratic easing took place, the censorship was abolished.

The change came in the night from 20th August to 21st August 1968, when the city was occupied by the allied troops of USSR. Some Prague people tried to oppose it but without success. The forces of Warsaw Pact caused significant damage. Following year Prague became the seat of the Czech Socialist Republic, the federal and also Czech government had their sessions here. The August demonstrations were oppressed by the Soviet army and the so called period of normalisation started. In spite of these changes the city developed further, among other things the Nuselský Bridge was built.

The period till the year 1980 was marked by the expansion of panel housing estates, start-up of metro or construction of crosstown road. The Prague Metro was opened in 1974. Approximately further 30 localities were attached, the preparations for construction of further large housing estates started, such as Southern Town. In the political area, centres of resistance against the regime began to be formed in Prague. One of them was Charta 77, organisation of writers, actors and other publicly known people. In order to suppress the dissatisfaction of the people, the regime began to build large department stores in Prague as the Western European countries did, for example Kotva or Máj. But they described them as the symbol of the advanced economy of the socialist regime.



Velvet Revolution and Prague after revolution photo from

In 1988 anti-communistic powers in the society started to gain strength and they brought the first demonstrations. On the 17th November 1989 the march of the opposition (mostly students) was dispersed by the Public Police in Národní třída (National Street) in Prague. This impulse represented the beginning of the new socio-political era, the democracy was established and the main personality of the Velvet Revolution was Václav Havel. Prague changed very much in the nineties. However no imposing buildings were built, but the city centre was reconstructed and Prague experienced great boom in the area of tourism and also economy. In 1992 the historical centre of Prague was inscribed in the list of World Cultural Heritage Fund UNESCO. Since 1993 Prague has been the capital of the Czech Republic and in 1996 the construction of the famous Dancing House was finished on Rašín Embankment. At the beginning of the new century, Prague has become one of the most important European metropolises; in 2006 it was the 12th richest region of the European Union. The metropolis experiences also bad times, such as flood in 2002. Prague is continuously developing and it holds diverse sports, cultural, political and other meetings.