Eyewitness Travel Prague
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History of Prague

Prague Old Town Square
Old Town Square
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The city of Prague was founded around 800 A.D. Ever since then, traces of important eras in European history have shaped the city's layout and architecture.
From medieval city walls to Gothic cathedrals, from Renaissance facades to Art Nouveau interiors, everything can be seen on your visit to Prague.

Construction of most of the well-known Prague landmarks began during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378). The Charles Bridge, Charles University, and the Saint Vitus Cathedral inside Prague Castle, can all be attributed to him.
When his son King Václav IV took over the throne (1378-1419), he too left his mark on the city, albeit not too positive. Most famously, he allowed a Catholic lynch mob to destroy the Jewish quarter and everybody in it, over a religious dispute. Around 3,000 people died there in 1389, from which the famous Jewish Cemetary in Prague still lays testament.

Jan Hus Memorial Statue
Jan Hus Memorial Statue

Also the execution of Jan Hus took place in this period, in 1415. The influencial priest and theologian was labeled as a threat to the current establishment, so he was burned at the stake for heresy. This only gave more room for his ideas on religious reform, however, as his martyrdom contributed to success of his ideas, not only in Prague, but all across Europe. More than a century after his death, around 90% of the Czech people had abandoned the Catholic church, and were following the protestant teachings of Hus.
On the Prague Old Town square you can find the Jan Hus Memorial statue (built in 1915), and Jan Hus Day has even become a national holiday, held on July 6.

In 1410, the famous Astronomcal Clock was installed in the clock tower on Old Town Square, which is the oldest one in the world that's still working. Every hour, many tourists still gather to watch the ten-second display of the passing Apostles.

Statue of Saint Václav
Statue of Saint Václav

King Václav is not to be confused with Saint Václav, the patron saint of Bohemia, after whom the famous Václav Square was named in 1848. Prince Václav I became Duke of Bohemia in the year 925 A.D. at the age of 18, only to be assassinated by his own brother ten years later. Václav I was seen as a martyr and a saint immediately after his death.
The statue of Saint Václav, which was completed in 1924, still stands proudly at the top of Václav square, in front of the national museum. September 28 is still a national holiday in Czech Republic, called 'Czech Statehood Day', to commemmorate the death of Saint Václav.

Throughout the centuries, Prague has been an important city in major empires as the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all of which left their architectural stamps all over the city of Prague. The gothic church on Old Town Square was (finally) completed in the early 16th century.
Most of the famous Baroque style buildings were built in the 18th century, when the city was home to many rich merchants and noblemen.

Russian tanks ending Prague Spring
Russian tanks ending Prague Spring

It was only in 1918, after World War I, when Czechoslovakia was finally declared an independent republic. 'Independent Czechoslovak State Day' is an important public holiday that celebrates this, held on October 28.

They could only taste independence for a few decades, however, as Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis at the start of the Second World War, and shortly after that became under the influence of the Soviet Communist regime in 1948.
In 1967, the 4th Czechoslovakian Writers' Congress spoke out against the communist regime and demanded changes, which became known as the Prague Spring. This attempt at reform was ended in 1968, when Russian tanks invaded the city, to ensure the communists would keep control.
As a protest to the occupation, in January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in the middle of Václav Square, followed about a month later by Jan Zajíc. On two places on the square, memorials for both students can still be seen.

In 1988, students secretly began writing graffiti on a wall at Velkopřevorské Náměstí (Grand Priory Square). The graffiti at first contained song lyrics by John Lennon, which were already not welcomed by the government, but soon enough expanded to general messages of anti-totalitarianism. This eventually led to a large clash between the student 'Lennonists' and the security police on the nearby Charles Bridge.
'The Lennon Wall' became a symbol of the student resistance, and their desire for freedom, which is why the wall is currently still covered in graffiti that mostly spreads messages of love and peace.

Velvet Revolution Memorial at Národni
Velvet Revolution Memorial

On 17 November 1989, a peaceful student demonstration in Národni Street was ended violently by the riot police. This spurred consecutive demonstrations, from which the numbers grew each day. Nationwide strikes ensued, and on the third day of the protests, already as many as half a million Czechoslovakians crowded the streets of Prague to demand political freedom. As a result, on November 28, the Czech Communist Party declared that it would dismantle the single-party state, and on December 10, the first non-communist government took power. This series of events became known as the Velvet Revolution, and is remembered by another national holiday on November 17, called 'Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day', and with a monument on Národni Street.

The parliament unanimously chose Václav Havel as the first president of the new republic. Havel had been a part of the writers' congress that spurred the events of the Prague Spring, and had been an active political opponent of the communist regime. He was re-elected when the first free elections were held in 1990, and also remained in his seat after the separation of Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, and stayed there until he left office in 2003.

The Dancing House
The Dancing House

The newly won freedom allowed for many changes in the city of Prague, as foreign businesses from Western Europe and the U.S.A. didn't face the closed borders as much as they did before. Tourism flourished as well, and together it created the modern cityscape that Prague has today. A prime example of this is the Dancing House on the river bank of the Vltava, also known as the Fred and Ginger building, which was designed by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry. The construction was made possible through sponsorship by a Dutch insurance company, and it was completed in 1996.
But also the giant metronome in Letna park, which was erected in 1991 on the location where a giant statue of Josef Stalin stood until 1962, serves a permanent reminder to everybody that times have changed. Today, Prague is as much a modern, thriving metropole as any other major European city, and Prague's million-plus inhabitants have nothing but a bright future ahead.

Václav Havel
Václav Havel

President Havel led the country through all of the important changes it has undergone in recent history. And after his death in December 2011, a period of national mourning was declared, and literally hundreds of thousands of Czechs, and many people from all over the world paid tribute to the former president. In 2012, Prague Ruzyně Airport was also officially renamed to Václav Havel International Airport.

Of course, there's a longer, more interesting history behind all of the statues, buildings and landmarks in Prague. You can read many more details on Wikipedia, for example, but we also recommend to take one of the guided walking tours when you're visiting Prague. Within a few hours time, you will hear all of the intriguing stories about the events that took place throughout the centuries, in the beautiful city of Prague.

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