Things to see and do in Prague

Things to see and do in Prague

Prague is not only the largest city in Czechia, it is also the capital. It is the fourteenth largest of the European Union cities. It is Bohemia’s historical capital. Located in the country’s north-west region along Vlatava River, about 1.26 million people live there and its urban zone has an estimate of close to 2 million people. The climate is temperate with chilly winters and warm summers.

Prague is known as a cultural, political and economic hub for central Europe. Established during the Romanesque era, it flourished during the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic eras, it was the major residence of many Roman Emperors, particularly Charles IV (1346-1378). The city was actively involved in the “Austro-Hungarian Empire”, “Habsburg Monarchy”, the “Thirty Year’s War” and the “Protestant and Bohemian Reformation”.

Prague plays host to several well-known cultures that outlived 20th century Europe’s destruction.  The “Prague astronomical clock”, the “Charles Bridge”, “Prague Castle”, and “Old town Square”, are some of the major attractions. Prague’s historic centers have been added to UNESCO’s list of “World Heritage Sites” since 1992.

Prague can boast of at least ten major museums, theaters and lots of other historical exhibits. The city is linked by a modern public transport system. It has many schools including central Europe’s oldest university, Charles University.

The GaWC studies classified Prague as a “Beta+” global city. In 2016, Prague was ranked sixth according to Tripadvisor’s list of best destinations. As at 2014, the city had more than 6.4 million yearly international visitors. It is also the fifth on the list of the world’s most visited cities.

History

Things see do Prague
The mythical princess Libuše predicts Prague’s glory.

The city has grown from a settlement across Prague castle, to the capital of Czechia, a European Union member state.

Early history

The first installation of the Prague astronomical clock happened in 1410, becoming the world’s third oldest of its kind and the oldest functioning one.

The region existed as far back as the Paleolithic age. The Celts came to the area between the fifth and fourth BC, establishing settlements across the city.

During the great Migration age in the latter part of the 5th century AD, the German tribes in Bohemia migrated west, and the Slavic tribes settled in Central Europe and present day Prague in the 6th century. In the next century, Czech tribes constructed a lot of fortified settlements, particularly in Butovice, Levy Hradec, and the Sarka valley.

The construction of the Prague Castle started towards the end of the 9th century, building a fortified settlement on the site by the year 800. The Prague Castle’s first masonry can be traced back to 885. The “Premyslid fort Vysehrad”, was established in the 10th century, 70 years after the establishment of the Prague Castle. The cathedral is a major part of the Prague Castle.

Things see do Prague
A view of one of the bridge towers of the Charles Bridge

According to Prague myth, Libuse an 8th century Czech prophetess and duchess along with her husband Premysl are responsible for its foundation. According to legend, Libuse emerged form a rocky cliff directly above the Vlatava prophesying that, “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” She ordered the construction of a castle and town known as Praha.

David Solomon Ganz a Jewish chronicler in the 17th century, alluding to Cyriacus Spangenberg, stated that the city was not established as Boihaem until c. 1306 BC by king Boyya.

The region gained a reputation as the sit of power. In 973, under Emperor Otto II of Rome, the area was transformed into a bishopric. Till its archbishopric elevation in 1344, Prague belonged to the Archbishopric of Mainz’s jurisdiction.

As stated in 965 by Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub a Hispano-Jewish merchant, Prague was an essential trading seat for merchants from across Europe and a lot Jews. An important slave market was located inside Prague. Even the 1270 Old New Synagogue still exists.

In 1170, King Vladislaus I built the first bridge in the Vlatava River and named it Judith Bridge after his wife Judith Thuringia. It was later flooded in 1342.

King Ottokar II, founded Mala Strana aka Lesser Quarter, in 1257 in an older village located in what later became the Hradcany “Prague Castle” region. The Germans who were empowered to administer the law independently, according to Magdeburg rights, lived in this district.

The Charles IV era

The Czech Crown Jewels
The Czech Crown Jewels

Prague was very prosperous in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV, a Roman Emperor and Bohemia’s king of the Luxembourg dynasty. During his reign, Prague became in imperial capital, and Europe’s third largest city next to Rome and Constantinople.

He designed and built the New Town close to the Old Town. The Charles Bridge which replaced the Judith Bridge was built to connect the castle area and Malá Strana to the east bank districts. He laid the first foundation for the Charles Bridge on the 9th of July 1357. In 1347, he established Charles University.

He started work on the “Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral” inside Prague’s largest Castle courtyard. And in 1344, Prague became an archbishopric.

St Vitus Cahedral
St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle

The city was a trade hub for Italian and German merchants and bankers. Because of the increasing turbulence associated with the growing power of the craftsmen’s guilds, and the growing number of poor people, the social order grew turbulent.

Charles IV is reputed to have built the Hunger Wall in the 1360s as a way of providing food and employment for the workers and their families.

Charles IV died in the year 1378. There was extreme turmoil when King Wenceslaus (1378-1419) Charles IV’s son ruled. Easter of 1389, Prague’s clergy stated that the Jews had defiled the Eucharistic wafer, so they encouraged mobs to ransack and burn down the Jewish quarter. Prague’s Jewish population was almost wiped out as 3,000 people died.

Prague Banner
Illustration of the “Prague Banner”
Prague coat of arms
Prague’s coat of arms

Jan Hus who was a rector and theologian at Charles University used to preach in Prague. He started preaching at the Bethel Chapel in 1402. The sermons were focused on saving the church from corruption. Because of this, in 1415 Hus was called to the “Council of Constance”, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake.

Four years later, the people rebelled under the Prague priest Jan Zeliysky’s command in their first defenestration. The death of Hus along with Czech proto-protestantism and proto-nationalism, provoked the Hussite Wars. The General Jan Zizka led troop along with Hussite troops from Prague, were able to defeat Emperor Sigismund in 1420 at the “Battle of Vittkov Hill”.

During the Hussite Wars, the city fought bravely under the Prague Banner. The Swedish troops captured one of the banners in the 1648 “Battle of Prague”. After capturing the western bank of the Vltava River, it was placed in Stockholm’s Royal Military Museum. The flag though still existing, is in poor condition. They also went way with the Codex Argenteus and Codex Gigas. The fact that the this city’s militia flag was used before 1477 and through the Hussite Wars means that it is the oldest preserved municipal flag owned by Bohemia.

Prague built its position as a merchant city in the ensuing two centuries. A lot of Gothic buildings were built including the Prague Castle’s Vladislav Hall.

Habsburg era

1750 Prague Panorama
1650 Prague Panorama

The Bohemian estates appointed the House of Hasburg’s Ferdinand I in 1526. The staunch catholic beliefs of its members led to conflict in Bohemia and Prague because of the rising popularity of Protestantism. These problems did not exist in the time of Emperor Rudolf II. He made the Prague Castle his court, where he welcomed all kinds of visitors. Because Rudolf loved art, Prague soon became a hub of European culture. This was the city’s age of prosperity as lots of famous people like Edward Kelley, Tycho Brahe, John Dee, Johannes Kepler, and Elizabeth Jane Weston and more, lived there.

The popular “second defenestration of Prague” occurred in 1618, and led to the “Thirty Years’ War”. They deposed Ferdinand II and his position as Bohemia’s king was taken over by Frederick V; he however lost his army in the 1620 “Battle of White Mountain”. After this, 27 Czech soldiers were executed in 1621 in the Old Town Square while many others were exiled. The city went through a lot during the 1631 war under Saxon and the 1648 Battle of Prague. The city went through a steady decline resulting in a loss of population from 60,000 before the war, to 20,000. Prague’s population however, began to grow back in the second part of the 17th century. By 1708, the Jews accounted for quarter of Prague’s population.

Monument to František Palacký
Monument to František Palacký

There was an enormous fire outbreak in Prague in 1689, which prompted the renovation of the city. Another major plague outbreak hit Prague in 1713-14 killing about 12,000 to 13,000 persons.

Prussia’ Frederick the Great invaded Bohemia and won possession of Prague, destroying a huge portion of the town. However, a month after the “Battle of Kolin”, he was defeated and he retreated from Bohemia.

The economic boom was sustained through the 18th century and by 1771, the population of the city had grown to 80,000. A lot of wealthy merchants enriched the city, thereby creating a Baroque style that is celebrated across the world.

Joseph II merged the four municipalities of Nove Mesto, Mala Strana, Hradcany and Strare Mesto into one entity. They added the Jewish district of Josefov in 1850. The industrial revolution transformed the entire city. Karlin the first suburb was established in 1817, and twenty years later, the population had grown past 100,000.

The 1848 revolution across Europe affected Prague, but was later suppressed. The following year, the “Czech National Revival” started rising until it became the town council’s majority in 1861. In 1884 majority of people in Prague spoke German, but by 1880, the number had decreased to 14% (42,000), and because of a boost in the city’s population caused by Czech invasion and the social relevance of the Czech language, it decreased to 6.7% (37%) in 1910.

20th century

First Czechoslovak Republic

Prague liberated by Red Army in May 1945
Prague liberated by Red Army in May 1945

Czechoslovakia was created after the conquest of the “Austro-Hungarian Empire” at the end of World War I. Prague was elected its capital and Prague Castle became the seat of President Tomas Masaryk. By 1930, its population had surged to 850,000.

World War II

On the 15th of March 1939, the German army invaded Prague and declared Moravia and Bohemia German protectorates. After its invasion in 1939, the Germans deported most of the Jews from Prague. In 1942, Prague witnessed the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich one of the most powerful Nazi’s by Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis during “Operation Anthropoid”.  The consequences were bloody.

Towards the end of the war, the US Air Force bombed Prague, killing 701 people and injuring about 1000 as well as destroying lots of buildings and properties. Fortunately, a lot of historical structures in Prague survived the war, and the American pilots stated that the bombing was caused by a navigational error.

An uprising started on May 5 1945, two days before German’s surrender. Four days later, the city was liberated by the Red Army’s 3rd Shock Army. After the war, majority of the Germans in Prague ran away or were expelled under the Benes Decree.

Cold War

Velvet Revolution of November 1989
Velvet Revolution of November 1989

Prague was under political and military control of the Soviet Union. The 4th edition of the “Czechoslovakian Writer’s Congress” which took place in June 1967, in the city, strongly opposed the regime. Students also demonstrated at Strahov on the 31st of October 1967. Because of this, Alexander Dubcek, the communist party’s new secretary proclaimed a new deal, introducing “socialism with a human face”. Other members of the Warsaw Pact minus Albania and Romania, reacted by invading Czechoslovakia and its capital on August 21, 1968 with tanks, subduing all attempts at reform.

After Velvet Revolution

High-rise buildings in Prague
High-rise buildings in Prague

After the riot police quelled a nonviolent student demonstration in 1989. After Czechoslovakia split in 1993, Prague was chosen as the capital of the Czech Republic. By the late 1990’s Prague had become a cultural hub in Europe, enjoying the benefits of globalization.

Prague made a bid to host the “2016 summer Olympics”. However, it did not make the cut. The city’s officials had to cancel its bid to host the “2020 Summer Olympics” because of global recession.

Name

Bridges over the River Vltava
Bridges over the River Vltava

Praha which is a Czech name is gotten from the Slavic word práh, meaning “rapid” or “ford” in reference to the origin of the city at a crossing point over the River Vltava. The Warsaw district also has the same history.

Another origin of the name provides that it is connected to the Czech word práh and history links the city’s name with princess Libuse, who was a prophetess as well as the wife of the Premyslid dynaty’s mythical founder. It is reported that she ordered the city “to be built where a man hews a threshold of his house”. Therefore, the Czech práh may have been referring to fords in the river or rapids, whose edge might have helped ford the river, and provided a “threshold” for the castle.

na prazě is another origin of the name Praha, which is the original expression for the “Shale hillside rock” where the first castle was built.

Its English spelling was derived from French. Prague is also referred to as the “City of a Hundred Spires. Other nicknames for the city include the Mother of Cities, the Golden City, and the Heart of Europe.

Geography

Prague is located at the center of the Bohemian Basin on the Vltaya river at about 50°05″N and 14°27″E. The city is on the same latitude as Germany, Frankfurt, France, Canada, and Vancouver.

Culture

Veletržní palác
Veletržní palác
National Theatre in Prague
National Theatre in Prague
Rudolfinum, a concert and exhibition hall
Rudolfinum, a concert and exhibition hall
Prague Congress Centre
Prague Congress Centre

Some of the major cultural institutions in the city include, the “Estate Theatre”, and the “National Theatre”. The Rudolfinum, as well as the Municipal House, are some other major cultural institutions.

The city has a lot of world class museums like the the “Jewish Museum in Prague”,  the “Jethe “National Museum,” “National Museum”, “Museum of the Capital City of Prague”, “the wish Museum in Prague”, the “Museum of Decorative Arts”, the “Alfons Mucha Museum”, the the “Josef Sudek Gallery”, “African Prague Museum”, “the “Naprstek Museum”, the “National Library”. the “Josef Sudek Studio”, and the “National Gallery”.

The city also has lots of galleries, concert halls, music clubs and cinemas. It hosts music festivals like the “Prague Autumn International Music Festival”, the “Prague International Jazz Festival”, the “Prague Spring International Music Festival”, and the “Prague International Organ Festival”.

A lot of Hollywood movies have been set in Prague and some of them include, Doom, Mission Impossible, Red Tails, Blade II, Hellboy, and so on. Apart from movies, music videos like Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music was also filmed in Prague.

Prague has grown into a popular weekend destination across Europe as lots of tourists are drawn to its many museums, and cultural heritage. The city also plays host to a lot of architectural works by renowned architects.

Food

Allegro restaurant was awarded the first Michelin star in Post-communist Central Europe in 2008. It managed to maintain it till 2011. As at 2016, there were three restaurants with Michelin stars in Prague; Field, La Degustation, and Bohême Bourgeoise.

Staré Město, Nusle, Malá Strana, and Zizkov, hosts hundreds of restaurants, pubs and bars, particularly Czech beer. The Czech festival, which is the largest beer festival in the whole of Czech, is also hosted in Prague.

Economy

Žižkov Television Tower with "babies" crawling
Žižkov Television Tower with “babies” crawling

The economy of Prague makes up 25% of Czech Republic’s GDP, and is the country’s best regional economy. Eurostat stated that as at 2007, it’s GDP per capita for “purchasing power standard” was €42,800. At 172%, of the average EU-27, Prague is the highest performing European “NUT” two-tier region.

About one-fifth of the Czech workforce is employed by Prague and its wages are above average. The economic structure of the country has shifted to service providing from industrialization since 1990. Service is responsible for about 80% of its employment. Despite the country’s economic problems, the number of registered foreign residents is still on the rise. About one-fifth of Czechia’s investment happens in the city.

About one-half of the nation’s tourism revenue is spent in Prague. The city’s accommodation facilities offer about 73,000 beds, majority of which were built after 1990.

Charles Bridge (Karlův most), Vltava River, Prague, 2015
Charles Bridge (Karlův most), Vltava River, Prague, 2015

Due to its existing motion pictures infrastructures as well as the low architecture costs, the city became a choice location for Hollywood and Bollywood productions between the late 90’s and late 2000s.

The economy of modern Prague is mainly service and export oriented, and a 2010 survey listed the city as the best for business in Eastern and Central Europe.

In 2005, studies from the Economist’s livability rankings listed Prague as one of the best three cities in Eastern and Central Europe. The city was listed as one of the most innovative cities across several areas of the global economy, ranking 29th out of 289 cities. It was also placed ahead of Helsinki and Brussels in 2thinking’s 2010 annual analysts “Innovation Cities Index”.

Prague was ranked fifth in Eurostat’s research on “gross domestic product per inhabitant” across Europe’s 271 regions, scoring 172% of the EU’s average, ranking above the whole of Czechia and Paris.

The following companies in the region enjoyed the highest turnover in 2014.

Name                                    Turnover, mld. Kč

ČEZ                                       200.8

Agrofert                                166.8

RWE Supply & Trading CZ 146.1

Some of Czechia’s most important institutions and offices are located in Prague

  • The State house
  • Both houses of Parliament
  • National offices and Ministries
  • Czech television
  • Czech National Bank
  • Galileo global navigation project
  • Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty
  • Czech Republic Academy of Sciences

Learn more about your heritage: A great Jewish sage from Prague: The Maharal of Prague in English

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