Early History of Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires

The early history of Prague dates back to the foundation of Prague Castle by Borivoj I in 870 AD. The epic story of Prague covers more than a thousand years and stands today as a proud city which has witnessed a long journey before becoming a modern European state.

Various Germanic and Celtic tribes were among the first inmate who occupies the area of Prague. However, one of the Celtic tribes, the Boii, was the first inhabitant which is known by their name. The Bohemia region and the river Vltava is named by the tribal group Boii. This name is used still today in the Western part of the Czech Republic.

It is during the 6th century when the Slavic tribes started their establishment alongside the German tribes around the Prague, who eventually came out as a dominant people in the area. In the early history of Prague, first settlement was established in 8th century in the Lesser Town. It gradually moved to the hilltop site above the Lesser Town which paved the way to the construction of the Prague Castle in the 9th century. By the early 10th century the area around and below Prague Castle had developed into an important trading centre, where merchants from all over Europe gathered. The first written record of the existence of a busy commercial centre below the Prague castle was by the Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, a merchant. It is also during this time when St. Vitus Rotunda and the Vyšehrad Castle were founded along with The Prague bishopric.

In the 11th century Vratislav II became the the first Czech King and remained subordinate to the German King and the Holy Roman Empire. In the year 1172 the first stone bridge was built and named after the queen Judith.

Prague became a town in the 13th century which can still be considered as early history of Prague, when The Old Town and The Lesser Town were founded. A series of disputes started among the dynasties in the 14th century. It is during this part of era which saw the death of Vaclav II. The murder of Vaclav III, in the following year marked the end of the Premyslid dynasty and Bohemia was left without a male heir.

Golden Era

Early history of Prague is not complete without the mention of golden era. Prague’s Golden age started when the Czech nobles offered the throne to John of Luxembourg’s son Charles IV. King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor made it his residential capital. During his rulership Prague became the largest town in Europe.  He rebuilt Prague in High Gothic style by adding expensive buildings to the town. The Charles University, known as the oldest university in the Central Europe was founded in 1348 and the residential town was enhanced with public buildings like Charles Bridge (1357), numerous structures the Slavonic Abbey, the church at Karlov and many others.

The Hussite Wars

The Church-reform movement led by Jan Hus was seen in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. As a result of the religious conflicts between the Hussites and the Roman Catholics, Hussite wars or the Bohemian wars were sweeping the country from 1419 to 1437. The Hussite community included most of the Czech population which formed a major military power.  Five crusades which were demonstrated against them by the Pope were defeated. Many historical artifacts were destroyed during this time and the Prague Castle deteriorates. This period took away a lot of shine from the early history of Prague and the progress made during the golden era. Significant usage of early hand-held firearms such as hand cannons made the Husstie revolution exceptional in terms of strategy and execution in the battleground.

Prague’s Second Golden Age

Following the antagonism of the Husstie wars, the Bohmian nobles shifted their focus forming their own estates. Archduke Ferdinand, the king of Bohemia was elected by the nobles in 1526 which continued until the end of World war I. Rudolf II ascended the throne in 1576 and chose to live in Prague rather than Vienna, marking the beginning of the Second Golden Era.

It is under his leadership that the city’s museum was endowed with some of the finest European arts. Many other splendours of Prague city like Josefov were built during this period. Although Rudolf II gifted many benefits to Prague, he however ultimately failed to resolve the long standing split between Catholics and Protestants. In 1618, two Catholic governors were thrown out of the windows of Prague Castle, setting the stage for the war which lasted until 1648.

Battle Of White Mountain

The Czechs were ruled by their Protestant king, Frederick V of Palatinate who was a bland commander-in-chief resulting in his defeat by the Habsburgs in a battle that lasted just for 2 hours. Consequently the Austrians arrested 47 Bohemian noblemen and executed 27 of them publicly. Frederick was left with no other choice other than running away from the town which earned him the name of “Winter king”.  This resulted in Habsburgs rule for next 300 years on the Czech land. By the end of 18th century Czech language was on the verge of dying out as the Prague remained dominated by the Germans. The most intriguing aspect of early history of Prague is the constant tussle between peaceful times of prosperity and war ravages.

Czech National Revival and Independence

In the 19th century the industrial revelution begun and railway connectivity opened between Vienna and Prague in 1845. This allowed the Prague’s Czech population to move into the city from the countryside eventually taking over the Germans.

Czech institutions were established to celebrate the rich Czech history and culture, The National Theatre opened in 1868 and the National Museum opened in 1890. The Austro-Hungarian empire fell in 1918 as Tomás G. Masaryk, a 65-year-old philosophy professor spoke in favour creating a combined democratic Czech and Slovak state. Gradually, his concept gained international support and Prague became the capital of independent Czechoslovakia. Masaryk was elected as the first president of Czechoslovakia.

A short period of so called ‘the First Republic” gave Prague many remarkable buildings. It emerged as one of the 10 strongest economies in the world. Meanwhile the ethnic Germans in the Czech border regions found a Knight in the new German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1933. In order to avoid the conflict “Munich Accord” was signed, thus marking the darkest days in the Czech history.

World War II

During World War II (1939-1945), Nazi Germany occupied Prague and the rest of the country. The Prague uprising and liberation by the Soviet Red Army also marked the end of World War II in 1945. The Communist Party seized power and Alexander Dubček, secretary of the Communist Party, attempted to create “socialism with a humanface”, leading up the Prague Spring of 1968. “Prague Spring” failed and five Warsaw Pact member countries invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968.

Velvet Revolution and Beyond

The advent of The Velvet Revolution in Prague on November 17, 1989 marks an end to communism. Czechoslovakia became a democratic country. Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993. Prague was now the capital of the Czech Republic.

Eventually prosperity returned to the country by the end of 1990’s and it joined European Union in 2004 with a goal of implementing foreign policy. Although Czech has managed its way back to the Western family, yet much transformation work is still ongoing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *