The natives of Prague call the city “The Mother of Cities”, “The Golden City”, or “The City of a Hundred Spires”. Visitors from all over the world consider it to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. In 1993, the city’s historical centre was rightfully added to the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage.
The historical core of the Czech capital city, which is spread out on both banks of the Vltava river in a valley overlooked by Hradčany hill, is composed of four former independent towns: Old Town, a medieval market centre which includes the Old Town square and the Jewish quarter; New Town, founded by the emperor Charles IV; Hradčany, which includes Prague Castle with its magnificent gothic St Vitus Cathedral; and the Lesser Quarter, a picturesque borough with baroque palaces and narrow streets, with the aforementioned St Vitus Cathedral towering over them. Although the activities and everyday life of the inhabitants of these towns had been been closely linked for centuries, the towns did not become administratively united until 1784.
Prague Castle, rebuilt many times, was the seat of the Přemyslid kings and later of the Luxembourg emperors. The image of the city was most influenced by Charles IV, who reigned in the second half of the 14th century and founded Charles University, the New Town, Charles Bridge, and many churches and monasteries. After the Hussite Wars and the tragic death of King Louis Jagellonian at Mohács, the Hapsburgs were elected as sovereigns of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown in 1526, and Prague ceased to be a capital city, with only one, but important, interruption during the reign of Rudolph II (1583-1611). Although Bohemian baroque nobility made efforts to settle down in Vienna in the vicinity of the emperor’s court, they did not cease to build their palaces with gardens in Prague, which became a baroque fortress after the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that both started (1618) and ended (1648) in Prague. The city expanded past its walls for the first time in 1817: the first borough to be built outside the city walls was classicist Karlín to the east. During the 19th century, the nearby villages and towns developed quickly, with the historical Prague Towns being variegated with cubist and art-deco monuments. Former villages and towns became part of Greater Prague, the representative capital of the new Czechoslovak Republic created in 1918, boosting the population to 676,000. Interwar Prague was a vibrant metropolis, where Czech, German and Jewish culture met and influenced each other.
Prague, presently the capital city of the Czech Republic, has 1,200,000 inhabitants. It is the seat of many universities and dozens of international companies and acts as an important communication hub. It is famous for its monuments and cultural heritage as well as for its wide offer of cultural entertainment for music, theatre and art lovers.
Photos © Blanka Šubecová, Dana Vondrášková, Eva Chodějovská, Historický ústav AV ČR, 2010