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Learn a little before you go, so you can appreciate the city a bit more. Here’s a Short History Of Prague.
History of Prague: Early History
The history of Prague spans well over a thousand years. The settlement of Prague began in the 9th century AD with the construction of Prague Castle. This would cement Prague as the capital of Bohemia.
Bohemia was an ancient region of Europe that covered the majority of modern day Czech Republic.
The castle, still standing today, is known as the largest ancient castle in the world. It’s worth the trip alone to be able to see and explore this medieval wonder.
Medieval Prague and Charles IV
Prague is probably the tourist hotspot that it is today because of the incredible medieval buildings that are still standing all throughout the city. As a medieval city, Prague really came of age in the 14th century under the reign of Charles IV.
Charles, as the King of Bohemia, founded a new university (now called the Charles University) and was involved in the reconstruction of Prague castle. He was held in such high regard that he was eventually elected as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
His election to the position of Holy Roman Emperor saw ensured the continuing growth of Prague into one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. He oversaw a huge amount of new construction, making him arguably the most important figure in the history of the city.
The 30 Years War
The history of Prague turned fairly violent in the 17th century, thanks to a war of religion that became known as the 30 years war. It was a war between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants in central Europe, each of whom wanted to dominate the region.
The war started in Prague in an event known as the defenestration of Prague. Two Catholic Lords were thrown out of the window of Prague castle (defenestration literally means to be thrown out of a window), in an event that would start one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts.
The 30 years war raged from 1618 until 1648. The end of the war saw the region transform from one of Protestantism to one of Roman Catholicism. To this day Roman Catholicism is still the dominant religion in the Czech Republic, though according to surveys the majority of Czechs are non religious.
The Dark Ages
There’s not a lot to know about the history of Prague between the 18th and 20th centuries. It became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,and Czech history, culture and language was suppressed. Today, this is known as the dark ages of Prague.
Early 20th Century Prague
Prague’s history took another turn at the end of the First World War, which saw the breakup of many of the major empires of Europe. Before the war, Prague was considered a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The collapse of this empire led to the creation of the nation of Czechoslovakia. Prague, as the major city in the region, would be the capital.
World War Two in Prague
Czechoslovakia’s independence as a country only lasted until 1938. Nazi Germany then invaded and took control of Czechoslovakia in the lead up to World War Two.
Throughout World War Two, under German occupation, the citizens of Prague underwent incredible suffering and oppression. Prior to the War, the city had a Jewish population of around 92,000, comprising around 20% of the entire population of the city. After World War Two, just 15,000 remained.
The majority of Jews were sent to their deaths in German concentration camps.
- Terezin, a concentration camp that you can visit as a day trip from Prague, provides a harrowing example of the atrocities that the Jewish population underwent throughout the war.
A Light In The Darkness; Nicholas Winton
Prague was also the scene for one of the most uplifting stories to come out of the Second World War. In 1938 and 1939, a British humanitarian by the name of Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 Jewish children, organising them safe passage out of the Czech Republic and into Great Britain.
His incredible story remained unknown until 1988, when it was finally uncovered. He was later dubbed ‘the British Schindler’ for his amazing exploits throughout the war.
- 60 minutes (US) did a story on Nicholas Winton, and you can watch it on youtube.
Cold War Prague
When World War Two ended, Czechoslovakia held free elections in an attempt to become a democratic country. But in 1948, the Soviet Union supported a communist coup, and Czechoslovakia became a single party communist state.
As for all communist states at the time, life was difficult, with poor economic conditions and a high degree of censorship and restriction. In 1968, the Czech government attempted to break free of some of these restrictions, in an attempt at reform that became known as the Prague Spring. But the Soviets quickly invaded the country and crushed the resistance, preventing and reforms taking place.
It wasn’t until 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the communist dictatorship was broken. The series of protests broke out at this time and led to the transition of power became known as the velvet revolution.
Modern Day Prague
The modern day Czech Republic has been an independent state since 1993, when it officially split with Slovakia, and the nation of Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. The separation of these two nations was a peaceful process, and a majority of citizens today support and are happy with the decision. Prague is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, with millions of visitors venturing to the Czech capital each year.
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More reading on the history of Prague
- The power of good: Nicholas Winton
- Nicholas Winton (60 minutes youtube video)
- Terezin: Children of the Holocaust
- History of Prague timeline (myczechrepublic.com)
- History of Prague (Wikipedia)
- The defenestrations of Prague (article on todayifoundout.com)
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