Prague History And Culture, Czech Republic
Prague’s history is based on the numerous archeological finds that narrate a highly populated land since prehistoric times. In Roman times, the significant presence of the Boii, Latin for Bohemian, and Germanic populations, was replaced by the Slavic precursors during the sixth century.
Having stopped with Tatars raids and freed themselves of the Avars in 623, the Slav leader Samo was elected emperor, bringing long-lasting peace to the region. Greater Moravia was founded around 830 and began to spread Christianity in the pagan land under the rule of Rastislav with the assistance of Cyril and Methodius.
The Premyslid dynasty
The fall of the empire under the Hun invasions left the Premyslid dynasty which, settled in the North-Eastern city districts, occupied the site of the current Prague Castle. This dynasty’s success is mainly due to Bohemia’s entrance in the Holy Roman Empire.
Having received the royal title from Frederick II of Swabia - which raised the duke to the hereditary title of king – the Premyslids reigned until the early 1300’s, just before the coronation of Charles IV. Thanks to them, Bohemia was proclaimed a kingdom during the second half of the eleventh century with Prague Castle as the royal palace.
The reign of Charles IV
A member of the House of Luxembourg, Charles IV was crowned King of the Romans and Emperor of Bohemia at age 20, rising to Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire just a few years later. Well-educated and in love with Prague, he built the first Central European university and a new part of the city (Nové Mesto). Under his rule, Prague became one of the most important European cities.
The Bubonic Plague that raged the continent in the fourteenth hit Prague hard. The precursors of what would become Luther’s protestant reform – Jan Hus first and foremost - began to blame the corruption of the Catholic Church for the terrible epidemic. Hus’ execution in 1415 caused revolts throughout the country leading to the Hussite Wars.
The Hapsburgs and the rule of Rudolph II
In 1458, the Hussites’ victory led to the reign of the last Bohemian king following the decline of the Premyslid dynasty: George of Podebrady, the brilliant pacifier. In 1471, his death opened the doors to Polish rule before the coronation of the Hapsburgs, in 1526. Returning to Catholicism, Prague owed its peace and stability to the able diplomacy of Rudolph II who kept the peace with the influential protestant nobles.
Rudolph II was the only Austrian emperor to move the royal court to Prague. He was a reserved man, fascinated by magic, surrounded by alchemists, artists and intellectuals such as Kepler and Archimboldo. During this era, Prague became a cosmopolitan metropolis, vivacious and radiant, known for its splendid Renaissance palazzos and beautiful squares.
Rudolph's successors and the inept management of the delicate religious question exasperated the malaise of the protestant population which, with the famous Defenestrations of Prague (the deciding incident where three of the emperor’s catholic advisors were thrown out of the castle's windows) led, in 1618, to the Thirty Years' War, a conflict that involved all of Europe.
With the victory of the Catholic League in the Battle of White Mountain in 1621, the Hapsburg crushed the rebellion and reestablished their rule in Prague, Germanizing the institutions and relegating the city to the fringes of the empire. The city’s long period of desolation came to a close at the end of the eighteenth century, after the memorable fire of 1689, destroying Prague, gave rise to Baroque style reconstruction.
A slow rebirth
In 1781, Joseph II issued the Patent of Toleration on religion and merged the independent municipalities of Stare Mesto, Nove Mesto, Hradcany and Mala Strana to create the historic center of Prague we know today. Thus began the slow cultural rebirth which, with the defeat of the empire, led to the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
From the fall of the Hapsburgs, Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia, inherited the leading Austrian industries whose success was due to the lands rich in raw materials and minerals. These profitable years, where technical innovation opened doors to cinema, electric streetcars and new businesses, were interrupted in 1938 by the criminal Munich Agreement and prompt invasion of Hitler’s Germany.
During the Second World War, Prague and its population, transformed into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, experienced the extreme Final Solution first-hand. Prague Jews and Slavic ethnics were harshly persecuted and annihilated until May 1945 when the Red Army finally entered Prague and liberated the country from Nazi domination.
In 1948, the Czechoslovak coup d’état placed the country under the influence of Joseph Stalin’s USSR, ushering in over four decades of dictatorship, surviving the Prague Spring, spawn of that “humanistic socialism” envisioned by Alexander Dubcek and crushed by the 1968 Soviet tank invasion.
After the “Velvet Revolution”
Until 1989, Prague was held in the restrictive straight-jacket of so-called "normalization", delicately shattered after the fall of the Berlin wall. In the wake of Gorbachev's Perestroika, the bloodless "Velvet Revolution" began a new phase with the election of dramatist Vaclav Havel as president of the republic and resignation of the Communist party.
In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia leading to the creation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose capital is Prague, the city is now one of the most important metropolises in the European Community, popular tourist destination and thriving economic and cultural center.