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|ČESKÁ REPUBLIKA||CZECH REPUBLIC|
|Hlavní mìsto PRAHA||Prague|
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated on the Vltava river in central Bohemia, it is home to approximately 1.2 million people. Nicknames for Prague have included "city of a hundred spires" or "the golden city". Since 1992, the historic center of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites (see also list of other UNESCO heritage sites).
The area on which Prague was founded has been settled since the Paleolithic Age. According to legend, Prague was founded by the Princess Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the dynasty with the same name. Whether this legend is true or not, Prague's first nucleus was founded in the latter part of the 9th century as a castle on a hill commanding the right bank of the Vltava: this is known as Vyšehrad ("high castle") to differentiate from the castle which was later erected on the opposite bank, the future Hradčany. Soon the city became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia. In 1257, under King Otakar II, Malá Strana ("Lesser Side") was founded in Prague in the future Hradčany area as the district of the Germans, who had the right to administer the law autonomously, referring to the Magdeburg legislation. The new district was on the opposite bank to the Staré Město ("Old Town"), which had then borough status and was defended by a line of walls on fortifications. The city flourished during the 14th century reign of Charles IV, of the new Luxembourg dynasty. He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town. The Charles Bridge was erected to connect the new district to Malá Strana. In the following two centuries Prague strengthened its role as a merchant city. In 1526 the Kingdom of Bohemia came in possession of the House of Habsburg. The fervent Catholicism of its members was to have grevious consequences in Bohemia, and then in Prague, where Protestant ideas instead had increasing popularity. These problems were not preeminent under Emperor Rudolf II, elected King of Bohemia in 1576, who chose Prague as his home. In 1618 the famous Defenestration of Prague provoked the Thirty Years' War (16181648). Ferdinand II moved the court to Vienna, and Prague began a steady decline. In 1689 a great fire devastated Prague, but this spurred a renovation and a rebuilding of the city. In 1784, under Joseph II, the four municipalities of Malá Strana, Nové Město, Staré Město and Hradčany were merged into a single entity. The Jewish district, Josefov, was included only in 1850.
World War I ended with the defeat of Austria-Hungary and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital. For most of its history Prague had been a multiethnic city with important Czech, German, and (a mostly Yiddish- and/or German-speaking) Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews either were forced to flee the city or were killed in the Holocaust. The German population, which had formed the majority of the city's inhabitants until the 19th century, was expelled or fled in the aftermath of the war. Prague was thenceforth the capital of a Communist Republic under the military and political control of Soviet Union, and in 1955 it entered the Warsaw Pact. It was the Prague Spring, which aimed at democratic reform of institutions. The Soviet Union and the rest of the Warsaw Pact reacted, occupying Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall had fallen, and the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague, Czechoslovakia finally freed itself from communism and Soviet influence. In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became capital city of the new Czech Republic. Together with Avignon, Bergen, Bologna, Brussels, Helsinki, Kraków, Reykjavik and Santiago de Compostela, Prague was selected as European Capital of Culture for the year 2000.
The Church of St. Nicholas (chrám sv. Mikuláše) in the Lesser Side (not to be confused with the church of the same name in the Old Town) is one of the most valuable buildings of the "Prague Baroque" period. It was built in 17041756 by the architects Christoph Dienzenhofer, Kilian Ignaz Dienzenhofer and Anselmo Lurago. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ here during his stay in Prague.
The so-called Straka Academy (Strakova akademie)
today is the seat of the Czech Parliament. The neo-Baroque palace on the left bank of the Vltava river
was built in 1896 to finally fulfill the will of Baron Jan Petr Straka who in 1720 had left finances for a school for
young Czech nobles. It was under German occupation that Straka's Academy became the seat of government. Only in 1945 did
the Czech government definitively chose the former school as its offices.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (Týnský chrám) dominates one side of the Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí) in Prague. The church was founded in 1385 during the tumultuous periodwhen the 'heretic' Hussites were opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Jesuits then made the church their own by recasting the bell and replacing the Hussites symbolic chalice with a ten-foot figure of the Virgin Mary.
The Column of Our Lady [foreground right]
was pledged in 1648 as an expression of gratitude of the inhabitants of Prague for their success in defending the
city against the Swedish troops in the Thirty Years' War (16181648). The foundation was laid in 1650 and in the
same year the column was completed. However, the official unveiling in the presence of Emperor Ferdinand III
only took place in 1652. The column was demolished in 1918. In 1989 a society was founded which intends to rebuild
the historic column.
Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice)
which is situated on the southwest corner of the Square, is actually a fusion of buildings, each with a slightly different
architectural style. The earliest dates from the 14th century when King John of Luxembourg agreed to a modest dwelling
for the town clerk. As Prague developed into a wealthy trading city the Town Hall gradually expanded, incorporating Gothic
and Renaissance elements over later centuries. Probably the most interesting feature of the building is the astronomical
clock, which was incorporated into the structure in 1490.
The Powder Tower (Mihulka)
was built in the late 15th century as a part of the new bulwarks designed by Benedikt Ried. The name "Mihulka" came in use
in the 19th century. Previously the structure had been successively called the New Tower, the Round Bastion, the Laboratory
or the Swedish Laboratory, and the Powder Tower. The Powder Tower was the largest of the cannon towers, but its defence
qualities were never put to the test. Up to the 20th century the dwelling quarters of the sacristans of St. Vitus
Cathedral were situated in Mihulka.
The Municipal House (Obecní dům) [near left],
right next to the Powder Tower,
was built in 1905–1912 on a site that had been occupied by the royal court palace where the kings of Bohemia
had lived between 1383 and 1485. The building was designed in Art Nouveau style by Osvald Polívka and
Antonín Balšánek. On 28 October 1918 this was the site where the Czechoslovak Republic was proclaimed.
The Municipal Hall also houses Smetana Hall, one of the celebrate concert venues of Prague.
The Charles Bridge (Karlův most) connects the Old Town with the Lesser Side (Malá Strana). The construction of the bridge began in 1354 under Charles IV and was finished at the beginning of the 15th century. As the only means of crossing the river in Prague, the Charles Bridge used to be the most important connection between the Old Town, Prague Castle and adjacent areas till 1841. The bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) or the Prague Bridge (Pražský most) but has been the "Charles Bridge" since 1870. The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards, and is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, erected around 1700.
The bridge is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Side side and the third one on the Old Town side.
The Rudolfinum was designed by architect Josef Zítek and his student Josef Schulz, and was opened 8 February 1885.
It is named in honour of Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, who presided over the opening.
The Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe and is noted for its excellent acoustics. On 4 January 1896
Antonín Dvořák himself conducted the Czech Philharmonic in the hall in its first ever concert.
The Rudolfinum has been the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946 and is one of the main venues of the Prague Spring International Music Festival
held each year in May and June. The building also contains the Galerie Rudolfinum, an art gallery that focuses mainly on contemporary art.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) is one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague. Wenceslas Square has a shape of a very long (750 m, total area 45,000 m²) rectangle, in a northwestsoutheast direction. In 1348, Charles IV founded the New Town of Prague. The plan included several open areas for markets, of which the second largest was the Koňský trh, or Horse Market, which we know today as Wenceslas Square. The street-like square is dominated by a mounted statue of St. Wenceslas, made by Josef Václav Myslbek in 18871924 and located in front of the National Museum. The image of St. Wenceslas (Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia) is accompanied by other Czech patron saints carved into the ornate statue base: Saint Ludmila, Saint Agnes of Bohemia, Saint Prokop, and Saint Adalbert of Prague.
The National Museum (Národní Muzeum)
was founded 1818.
It was not until the end of the century that a truly distinguished and appropriate home for the museum collections was
constructed at the upper end of Wenceslas Square. Following the design of prominent Czech neo-Rennaisance architect
Josef Schulz, the new museum was built on the foundation of the Czech parliament from 18851891 at a cost of
approximately two million gold crowns. The beautiful palace became the dominant structure on Wenceslas Square and one of
the largest and prominent buildings in Prague.
At present the National Museum shelters almost 14 million of items from the area of natural history,
history, arts, music and librarianship, located in tens of buildings.
The National Theatre (Národní divadlo)
belongs to the most important Czech cultural institutions with a rich artistic tradition.
Collections of money among the broad masses of the people facilitated its construction and so the ceremonious laying of
the foundation stone on May 16, 1868 was tantamount to an all-state political demonstration.
Architect Josef Zítek came out on top in an open competition and in 1867 construction work began.
In 1875 the new building reached the full height and in 1877 the theatre was roofed over.
The National Theatre was opened for the first time on June 11, 1881 to honour the visit of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria.
Another eleven performances were presented after that. Then the theatre was closed down to enable the completion of the
finishing touches. While this work was under way a fire broke out on August 12, 1881 which destroyed the copper dome,
the auditorium and stage of the theatre. The fire was seen as a national catastrophe and met with a mighty wave of
determination to set up a new collection: within 47 days a million guldens were collected.
The building of the National Theatre was then inaugurated on November 18, 1883 with a performance of Smetana's festive
opera Libuše composed for this occasion.
The Battle of Vyšehrad was a series of engagements at the start of the Hussite War between Hussite forces and Catholic crusaders sent by Emperor Sigismund. The battle took place at the castle of Vyšehrad from August 16, 1419, to c. November 1, 1420.
The basilica of St. Peter and Paul (kostel svatého Petra a Pavla) within the fortress of Vyšehrad was built in neo-Gothic style in the 19th century.
Vyšehrad cemetery behind the church was established in 1869. It is the final resting place of many
famous Czechs, including the playwright Karel Čapek (18901938),
the composers Bedřich Smetana (18241884) and Antonín Dvořák (18411904),
the poets Karel Hynek Mácha (18101836) and Jan Nepomuk Neruda (18341891),
the painter Alfons Mucha (18601939),
and the conductor Rafael Kubelik (19141996).
The church gained the status of a Basilica minor in 2003.
The church of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church community
was founded in 1920 by former Czech catholic priest Karel Farský.
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church (Církev československá husitská CCH) is a Christian Church which separated from
Roman Catholic Church after World War I in former Czechoslovakia. It traces its tradition back to the Hussite reformers
and acknowledges Jan Hus (see Husinec) as its predecessor. Membership is estimated at between
100,000 and 180,000 adherents, mostly in the Czech Republic and some in Slovakia. There are 307 congregations divided
into five dioceses situated in Prague, Plzeň, Hradec Králové,
Brno, and Olomouc.
[Texts adapted from