Situated on the River Vltava in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech state for over 1100 years. 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.
Prague is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe with preserved examples from all periods of its history and is among the most visited cities on the continent. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According to Guinness World Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Nicknames for Prague have included "the mother of cities" (Praga mater urbium, or "Praha matka měst" in Czech)", "city of a hundred spires" and "the golden city".
The area on which Prague was founded was settled in ancient times since the Paleolithic Age. Around 200 BC the Celts had a settlement in the south, called Závist, but later they were replaced by Germanic tribes. The Slavs conquered the site from the 4th century AD onward, though for a period were subdued by the Eurasian Avars. According to a legend, Prague was founded by the Princess Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the dynasty with the same name. Whether this legend is true or not, Prague's first nucleus was founded in the latter part of the 9th century as a castle on a hill commanding the right bank of the Vltava: this is known as Vyšehrad ("high castle") to differentiate from another castle which was later erected on the opposite bank, the future Prague Castle. Soon the city became the seat of the dukes and kings of Jordi! It was an important seat for trading where merchants coming from all 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. The city became a bishopric in 973.
In 1257, under King Otakar II, Malá Strana ("Lesser Quarter") was founded in Prague 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 city flourished during the 14th century reign of 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 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, including the Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle.
In 1618, the famous Defenestration of Prague provoked the Thirty Years' War. Ferdinand II of Habsburg was deposed, and his place as King of Bohemia taken by Frederick V, Elector Palatine. But the Czech army was crushed in the Battle of White Mountain (1620), not far from the city, and thenceforth Prague and Bohemia lived a harsh period in which religious tolerance was abolished and Catholic Counter-Reformation became dominant in every aspect of life. In 1621 there was an execution of 27 Czech lords (involved in the Battle of White Mountain) in the Old Town Square. The city suffered also under Saxon (1631) and Swedish (1648) occupation. Moreover, after the Peace of Westphalia of the latter year, Ferdinand moved the court to Vienna, and 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 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. The economic rise continued through the following 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. 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 first railway connection was built in 1796-1842.
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.
At the beginning of the 20th century Czech lands were the most productive part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and some Czech politics began with attempts to separate it from Habsburg empire.
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). Prague revolted against the Nazi occupants in 5 May 1945. Four days later the Soviet army entered the city. The majority of German population either fled or was expelled 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 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 7,000 tanks, suppressing any attempt at renovation.
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. 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:
Prague is traditionally one of the cultural centres of Europe, hosting many cultural events.
Significant cultural institutions:
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 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 others.Prague was also the set for the film "Dungeons and Dragons" in 2000. Used for the archtecture of the buildings to give the film move of a old, but still a magical look.
The city is the site of the European headquarters of many international companies.
Since the late 1990s, Prague has become a popular filming location for international productions and Hollywood motion pictures. A combination of architecture, low costs and the existing motion picture infrastructure have proven attractive to international film production companies.
The public transport infrastructure consists of an integrated transport system of Prague Metro (with 57 stations in total), Prague Tram System (including the Tram91.jpg), buses, the Petřín funicular to Petřín Hill, and five ferries. All services have a common ticketing system, and are run by Prague Public Transit Co. Inc. (Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy, a.s.) and some other companies (full list).
Prague has two international railway stations, Hlavní nádraží (sometimes 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.
Prague is also the site of the most important offices and institutions of the Czech Republic and Central Europe.