Before the arrival of the Slavs certain regions of Prague were inhabited by Celtic and German tribes. The name Bohemia came from the Celtic Tribe called Boii, which is still used today for the western part of the Czech Republic.
During this period, two Slav tribes inhabited both sides of the Vlata River. The Czechs and the Zlicanis built wooden fortresses on their sides but were not at peace for long, when the nomadic Avars marched in and ruled the area. However, when the Frankish trader Samo united both Slav tribes the Avars were eventually driven out.
9th century - 13th century
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes settled in the region and during the sixth century the Slavic tribes established themselves in the area. By the ninth century, the city was called Prague. During this period, merchants and craftsmen settled around Prague Castle, built by the Prince Bořivoj I of the Czech Přemyslid dynasty (the dynasty responsible for the unification of the Czech tribes in the Bohemia region during the tenth century). Soon after this, the area around the Castle fledged into an important trading centre, where the merchants from all over Europe came together. In 1085, Vratislav II became the first Czech king. In 1170, the first stone bridge was built (Judith Bridge) over the river Vltava (which collapsed in the year 1342 and a new bridge, Charles Bridge took its place in 1357). Otakar became King and granted royal privileges on Staré město or the Old Town, and in 1257 Malá Strana or the Lesser town came into existence by Otakar II.
14th Century – Golden Age
In 1310 the Holy Roman emperor John of Luxembourg became King of Bohemia. The city prosperred in the 14th century under the Luxembourg dynasty during the reign of Charles IV, as Prague became one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest cities. During this period, Hradčany was established around 1320 and in 1338 the Old Town hall was established. In 1342, the Judith Bridge collapsed in a flood which was replaced by the Charles Bridge in 1357. In the year 1348, the New town was found and the Charles University, the first University in Central Europe, was established. In 1355, Charles IV was elected as the Holy Emperor and Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
15th Century – Hussite Revolution
The 15th century is marked by religious conflicts between the Hussite and the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. This was caused by Jan Hus’s church reform movement which eventually led to his conviction and his death, provoking the Hussite preacher, Jan Zelivsky, to rebel. Catholic councillors were thrown down from the New Town Hall and Prague was then ruled by certain Hussite committees. Many historical monuments were destroyed and Prague Castle was also damaged in this era.
16th Century – Habsburg Rule
In 1526, the Habsburg dynasty ruled over Prague and Prague Castle was reconstructed. In 1575, Rudolf II was crowned as the Holy Emperor. During this period, Prague evolved as the centre of science and alchemy and was nicknamed "Magic Prague". Many famous scientists were attracted to Prague during this time. Also following the fire in 1541, Hradčany and Malá Strana were rebuilt and much of the beautiful architecture erected still remains to this present day.
17th Century – Dark Age
The Dark Age began in the 17th century with uprising protests from the year 1618. The ‘Second Defenestration of Prague’ (two Habsburg councillors and their secretary were thrown down from Prague Castle.) This led to the Thirty Years’ War, harming much of Europe and particularly Bohemia where many people died.
In 1620, the Battle of the White Mountain took place and the Protestants were defeated leading to the loss of Prague's independence. Saxons occupied Prague and Swedes moved into Hradčany and Malá Strana in 1648. Other areas were damaged and the population in the city declined by more than 50%.
In 1784, the four towns: Hradčany (Castle District), Malá Strana, Nové Město and Staré Město were proclaimed a single city. During this time, the National Revival, a Czech nationalist movement began that brought the Czech language, culture and identity back into existence.
19th century - Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution boomed in Prague. Many industries were established during this period. In 1845, a railway was started which connected Vienna to Prague. In 1850, Josefov was recognised as one of the historical centres of Prague. The National Theatre was opened in the year 1868, and in 1890 the National Museum was established. The city also experienced a rise in population.
With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the state of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, choosing Prague as the capital city.
In March 1939, Prague was invaded by the Nazi troops and was made a German protectorate. At the end of World War II, Prague was under the control of the Soviet Union and thus under a Communist regime.
In 1968, Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and led a movement called “socialism with a face”, aimed at democratising the country’s institutions mildly. This originated the Prague Spring, a six-month period of reforms granting more rights to the Czechoslovakians, until the Soviet Union, who did not accept this political liberalization, invaded the country by the Warsaw Pact (a defence treaty made up by the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, although the President of Romania, Ceausescu condemned the intervention).
The Velvet Revolution
Making the most of the Soviet crisis, on the 17th November 1989, in Prague, students and dissidents demonstrated peacefully against the Communist Party for over a month, resulting in the end of Communist rule in the country. Since then, this demonstration has been called the Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution. In 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into two separate states. Prague was made capital of the Czech Republic.
In 1999, the Czech Republic joined NATO and was approved as a member of the European Union in 2002. On 1st May 2004, the Czech Republic was then accepted by the European Union.
In the year 2002 many buildings and underground transport system got damaged due to extensive floods in Prague.
The Prague bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics was an unsuccessful bid. In 2009, due to the global recession, Prague withdrew its name from the bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Prague has been nicknamed the "city of a thousand spires" for good reason, because as you glance over its 1,100 year old skyline, you will be rewarded with splendid views of lovely domed churches and soaring old towers that combine to make Prague one of the world's architectural gems. Everywhere you look, fine examples of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau styles dot the city, providing a dramatic contrast to the sturdy old Prague Castle.
Possessing one of the best preserved historic city centers in Europe, the narrow laneways of Prague's delightful Old Town open up onto spectacular squares, each home to well preserved historical buildings just waiting to be explored. Must sees attractions include the famous Charles Bridge over the Vltava River, the splendid Jewish Quarter with its old synagogues, and, of course, the city's many historic churches.
1. Prague Castle
Located in Prague's Hradcany neighborhood, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), once the home of Bohemia's kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic's President and one of the city's most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around AD 870, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague's most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane.
The largest castle complex in the world, this vast fortress requires considerable time to tour, but it is time well spent, particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its many beautiful spires in the background. Highlights include the Old Royal Palace's main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb old buildings, including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion's Court.
One of the top things to do at night in Prague is to find a good spot from which to enjoy the castle illuminations that light this magnificent structure in a range of hues.
2. Charles Bridge
One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 621meter (2,037 feet) span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength. For added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox.
The bridge is particularly famous for its many fine old statues. Among the most important are those of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and John of Nepomuk, the country's most revered saint, unveiled in 1683 (a more recent superstition involves rubbing the plaque at the base of the statue for the granting of a wish). Other highlights include spectacular views over the River Vltava and the structure's superb Gothic gates. Viewing Charles Bridge at night is also highly recommended with an added benefit of the smaller crowds, particularly after the spectacular sunset.
3. The Old Town Square
The historic center of Prague, the Old Town (Staré Mesto) is where you will find the splendid Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí), one of the best places to begin exploring the city. Here, you will find the Tyn Church and the Clementinum, along with numerous other fine old churches, as well as splendid old architecture dating back as far as the 11th century, while the Jewish Quarter, Josefov, is just a short walk north. A highlight is the Old Town Hall (Staromestská radnice), home to the wonderful early 15th century Astronomical Clock (orloj). Each hour, it springs to life as the 12 Apostles and other figures appear and parade in procession across the clock face. Other Old Town Hall highlights are the Gothic doorway leading to its splendid interior with its art exhibits and displays, a chapel built in 1381, and an old prison. Be sure to make the ascent (by stairs or elevator) to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower for its fine views over Prague.
The Old Town Square
4. The Astronomical Clock
The oldest and most celebrated clock, the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall in Old Town Square. With glittering hands and a complex series of filigreed wheels, this ornamental timepiece does not merely mark the hours of a 24 hour day. Symbols of the zodiac tell the course of the heavens. When the bell tolls, windows fly open and mechanical apostles, skeletons, and "sinners" begin a ritualistic dance of destiny.
The mediaeval tower clock is located at the southern side of the Old Town Hall Tower. When the clock strikes the hour (from 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.), the procession of the Twelve Apostles sets in motion. During the apostles’ parade, other figures placed on the sides of the astronomical clock set in motion too. The skeleton rings, rotates an hourglass in order to show to the Turk that his lifetime is at the end. He shakes his head. The Vain Man and the Miser behave similarly.
The irony of the Prague Astronomical Clock is that for all its mastery at keeping time, it is nearly impossible to place in time. It is believed that the original clock tower in Prague was built in about 1410. The original tower was no doubt modeled after ecclesiastical bell towers that were sweeping the continent's architecture.
The complexity of gears would have been very high technology back in the early 15th century. It was a simple, unadorned structure back then, and the clock showed only astronomical data. Later, in 1490, the tower facade was decorated with flamboyant Gothic sculptures and a golden astronomical dial. Then, in the 1600s, came the mechanical figure of Death, leering and tolling the great bell. The mid-1800s brought still more additions; wooden carvings of the twelve apostles and a calendar disk with astrological signs. Today's clock is thought to be the only one on earth to keep sidereal time in addition to our regular time, that is the difference between a sidereal and lunar month.
Everything in Prague has a story, and it is also true with the Old Town clock. Natives claim that when the mechanical figures were created, town officials had the clockmaker blinded so that he would never duplicate his masterpiece. In vengeance, the blind man climbed the tower and stopped his creation. The clock remained silent for more than fifty years. Centuries later, during dreary decades of communist domination, the legend of the blinded clockmaker became a metaphor for thwarted creativity. At least that's the way the story goes.
Why do we turn timepieces into architectural monuments? It is suggested builders of early clock towers wanted to show their respect for the heavenly order. Or, perhaps the idea runs even deeper. Was there ever an era when humans did not build great structures to mark the passage of time? Just look at the ancient Stonehenge in Great Britain, now that's an old clock.
The Astronomical Clock
5. St. Vitus Cathedral
Situated within the grounds of Prague Castle, the Roman Catholic St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrala St. Vita) is the Czech Republic's largest and most important Christian church. Seat of the Archbishop of Prague, it is also home to the tombs of numerous saints and three Bohemian kings. Founded on the site of a Romanesque rotunda built in AD 925, the cathedral was started in 1344 and took more than 525 years to complete, resulting in a mix of modern Neo-Gothic and 14th century Gothic styles, along with Baroque and Renaissance influences (be sure to keep an eye out for the impressive gargoyles adorning the exterior of the cathedral).
Interior highlights include stunning stained glass windows depicting the Holy Trinity, a mosaic from 1370 (The Last Judgment), and the St. Wenceslas Chapel (Svatovaclavska kaple) with its spectacular jewel encrusted altar with more than 1,300 precious stones. Also of interest, although rarely displayed, are the Czech crown jewels (on average, they are exhibited just once every eight years). Be sure to make the climb up the cathedral's 97 meter (318 feet) main tower for splendid views over Prague. Visitors are also welcome to attend cathedral mass.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
6. The Church of Our Lady before Tyn
One of Prague's most recognizable buildings is the Church of Our Lady before Týn, often abbreviated to simply Týn Church. Unmistakable for its twin 80 meter (262 feet) tall spires flanking each side of the building, each supporting four smaller spires. Its main entrance is through a narrow passage past the houses obscuring its façade.
Although completed in the 15th century, the church was altered numerous times through the centuries as the city's allegiances changed, and while interior renovations are ongoing, there is still much worth seeing, including numerous fine tombs, the superb Gothic northern portal with its Crucifixion sculpture, early Baroque altarpiece paintings dating from 1649, and one of Europe's finest 17th century pipe organs.
Afterwards, be sure to explore the 11th century Ungelt Courtyard behind the church with its many fine restaurants and cafés. Another splendid old church worth visiting is the Baroque Church of the Virgin Mary with its famous statue of the infant Jesus, said to have been responsible for miracles and still a point of pilgrimage.
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn
7. The National Gallery in Prague
Spread across some of the city's most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague is home to some of Europe's most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzní Palace, a relatively modern structure built in 1925 that holds the 19th to 21st century works. While there is a strong emphasis on Czech artists, foreign artists such as Monet and Picasso are included, as are other art forms such as photography, fashion, applied arts, and sculpture.
Other notable works are held in the Kinsky Palace, home to Asian art, art from the ancient world, and the gallery's Baroque collections, and at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, where you will find European art from the Middle Ages.
Finally, the splendid 17th century Sternberg Palace houses some of the gallery's most famous pieces, focusing on European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque period and including important ancient Greek and Roman pieces; 14th to 16th century Italian masterpieces; and 16th to 18th century works by artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, and van Goyen.
The National Gallery
8. The Municipal House
The Prague Municipal House is widely considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in the city. Built in 1912, this splendid civic building is also home to one of Prague's most important and largest concert venues, Smetana Hall. It boasts numerous striking features, from its sumptuous façade with a large mural on the arch above the second floor balcony, to the large dome that rests behind and above the arch.
The interior is equally impressive and includes many fine stained glass windows and important paintings. While English language guided tours are available, including a chance to see otherwise closed ceremonial rooms. One of the best ways to enjoy this landmark is to take in a concert or sample its café, restaurants, and luxury boutique shops.
The Municipal House
9. The Petrin Lookout Tower
Named after the hill on which it stands, the 63.5 meter (206 feet) high Petrín Lookout Tower (Petrínská rozhledna) is a little like a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower in Paris that offers panoramic views over Prague. Although only a fifth the size of its French counterpart, the tower's elevation creates the illusion that it is bigger than it actually is.
Built in 1891 for the Prague Exhibition from disused railway tracks, it was later moved to Petrín Hill in the 1930s, where it became one of the city's major tourist attractions. Today, visitors can either make the 30 minute climb up the Petrín hill to the base of the tower or take a leisurely trip aboard the funicular railway before tackling the structure's 299 steps to the top. There is also an elevator, as well as a café.
The Petrin Lookout Tower
10. The Lennon Wall
Perhaps one of the city's most unlikely attractions, Prague's Lennon Wall has stood since the 1980s as a tribute to former Beatle and peace campaigner John Lennon. Things got started almost immediately after the singer's murder in 1980, when this otherwise unassuming wall near the Charles Bridge became a place for fans to demonstrate their grief, painting pictures, lyrics, and slogans attributed to the star.
Despite police efforts to erase the graffiti when it was still Czechoslovakia, under communist rule, the memorial wall kept reappearing. The site became a symbol of hope and peace for the city's population. The tradition continues to this day, and along with gatherings on the anniversary of Lennon's death, tourists can frequently be observed adding their sentiments to the wall.
The Prague Lennon Wall
11. The National Theatre
Idyllically perched on the banks of the River Vltava, Prague's National Theatre is a must visit for lovers of the performing arts. Home to the country's top opera, ballet, and drama performances, the National Theater was opened in 1881 as a symbol of Czech national identity and to promote the Czech language and culture. Despite a somewhat checkered past that saw the building destroyed by fire and even closed by the communists, this stunning theater has undergone extensive renovations and stands as a monument to the city's rich talent and cultural significance.
English language guided tours are available.
The National Theatre
The National Theatre
12. The Dancing House
The Dancing House, Prague's most outstanding modern architectural creation, was built between 1992 and 1996 to designs by Frank Gehry. Consisting of two adjoining towers, this splendid structure features unique curves that resemble two dancing figures, an effect heightened by the fact one of the towers is shaped like a woman wearing a skirt, hence the nickname "Fred and Ginger" after famous American dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
While the building consists largely of offices and a hotel, great views can be enjoyed from the top floor restaurant, a café is also located on the main level.
The Dancing House
13. The Hilltop Fortress
Looking like something out of a fairy tale, the Vyšehrad fortress, literally translated as the "Upper Castle," or the "Castle on the Heights", stands high above the Vltava River overlooking Prague. Known to have been in existence as far back as the 10th century, it has long been the subject of myth and legend, including the foretelling of an ancient princess of the rising of a great city around it. Once the royal residence of Vratislav II, Vyšehrad also played a role as part of the original Royal Route taken by kings about to be crowned, who would have to stop here to pay tribute to their predecessors.
Although now largely ruins, the fortress is a wonderful place for a stroll or picnic and offers superb views of the surrounding city. During the summer months, the attraction's open air theater hosts musical and theatrical performances. English language guided tours can be arranged.
14. Powder Tower
This monumental entrance by which the coronation processions of Czech kings entered the Old Town is one of the most significant monuments of Late Gothic Prague. Completed in 1475, the Powder Tower, which formerly served as a gunpowder store, is still the starting point for the Coronation or Royal Route to Prague Castle. The viewing gallery is located at a height of 44 m.