City in Central Bohemia, the capital of Czech Republic. One of the most beautiful cities on Earth.

I agree, whizkid.

Prague is often used as a location for shooting European and American costume drama films. Relatively unscathed by bombing in World War II, its many splendid dwellings, buildings, and churches, still show much of the cultural heritage lost in the major wars of the 20th century.

Someone I know once called it the Kyoto of the West. This is high praise indeed.

Of course, as with Kyoto, despite various measures by the civic government, modernization has brought many changes, not all of them felicitous.

[Editor's note, 3/29/2003: Referring to other writeups is now conisdered bad form. But /me misses sensei and I don't have the heart to delete this writeup.]

Prague is Praha in Czech, which means "threshold".

Despite the huge number of tourists it attracts it still manages to be a completely gorgeous city through which to wander. It is made up of a number of districts: Hradcany (The Prague Castle) housing the awe-inspiring gothic architecture of St Vitus Cathederal, The Lesser Town (Mala Strana), and the Old Town (Stare Mesto).

It also contains the Jewish Quarter in which Hitler planned to build a "Museum of an extinct people".

You can stroll for ages through the back streets of the city. It is then that you discover that despite the brightly painted buildings and pretty face Prague presents the casual tourists, Prague still has echoes of its pre-capitalism days. Off the beaten track a bit, the buildings are grey and crumbling and the back streets are dark and gloomy. Perhaps a reminder that despite embracing capitalism and its current prosperity, the Czech Republic wasn't always this way.

It's a remarkably cheap place compared to much of the rest of Europe, which makes a stay in the somewhat primitive hotels and pensions tolerable.

Prague is one of my favorite places on Earth. However if you take the trouble to visit the Czech Republic, make sure you go to other places as well, such as Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora.

There is no excuse for boredom in Prague. You can pack a lot of exploring into a short visit, charging through its compact network of lanes, passages and cul-de-sacs, or spend weeks meandering along and slowly savouring its sights. Prague's prime attraction is its physical face. The city centre is a haphazard museum of 900 years' of architecture - Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, 19th-century revivals of all of them, and Art Nouveau - amazingly undisturbed by the 20th century.
Lonely Planet

History

Prehistoric artefacts demonstrate that the Prague site was already inhabited in the Stone Age. Its central position on the crossroads of key trade routes made the locality expand gradually. According to legends, the origins of Prague were prophesied by Libuse, tribe mother of the Premyslides:

"a city whose glory will rise to the stars..."

The Premyslides established themselves on the hills Vysehrad and Hradcany from the 9th century AD. Between the bastions, the city of Prague matured. Bohemian King Charles IV, also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1355, chose Prague to be the capital of the Empire. In this period of huge economical, cultural and intellectual growth, the city’s Charles University (1348) was the first institution of higher education in Central Europe, while the Ruler also decided to construct the famous Charles Bridge.

The start of the 15th century was a disturbed one. Protestant preacher and University lecturer Jan Hus turned against the power of the Roman Catholic Church, addressed to the Czechs in their own language (instead of the more commonly used German) and fought for more justified national and social conditions. After the Emperor convicted Hus to be burned at the stake for heresy, revolting Prague citizens threw two representatives of the Catholic Emperor out of a window of the Nove Mesto City hall: the Defenestration of Prague (1419).

The current city of Prague actually developed out of six independent districts which were unified in the eighteenth century; Stare Mesto (Old Town), Josefov (Jewish Quarter), Nove Mesto (New Town), Mala Strana (Lesser Town), Hradcany (Prague Castle) and Vysehrad (High Castle).

Czech national consciousness was put to the test under the Austrians as well. Cultural expression played a huge part in Czech nationalism as composers Bedrich Smetana en Antonin Dvorák were inspired by national legends and regional music, while in 1881 and 1891 respectively the National Theatre and the National Museum were erected. Only in 1918 the independent Czechoslovakian Republic was born, with Prague as capital.

World War II was horrid for Jewish Prague. Of the 40,000 Jews, no less than 36,000 died in Auschwitz and Teresienstadt (Terezin). The Russians liberated Prague on May 9, 1945.

When reformer Alexander Dubcek came into power in 1968, this marked the start of the Prague Spring. But the new freedom lasted shortly as the socialist neighbours did not approve and ended Dubcek’s “socialism with a human face”. As protest, Prague student Jan Palach burned himself on Wenceslas Square. In Prague of the seventies, dissident intellectuals put together a manifest named Charta 77, which called for the acknowledgement of human rights. One of them was Vaclav Havel, who was sentenced to jail for his Charta 77 efforts.

Former Prague Spring and Charta 77 personalities were arrested on a Jan Palach memorial in the Czechoslovakian capital in 1989, causing an uprising which eventually led to the Velvet Revolution. Since the divorce of the Czech and Slovak Republic in 1993, Prague is capital of the western part of the former Czechoslovakian nation.

Monuments

Some consider Prague to be the most striking city in Europe. In 1992 the historical centre covering an area of 866 hectares was listed in the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Register.

Other interesting facts

  • Prague is called Praha in Czech. The city is in Bohemia which is mainly plains and plateaux surrounded by low mountains. The Vltava (also called Moldau) river runs for 30.9 km through Prague, being 330m wide at most.
  • The city of Prague covers an area of 496 square kilometres with an official population of 1,213,800 (1997).
  • The average temperature in July is very pleasant (19,0°C), but the winters are cold with an average of -0,9°C in January.
During the last summer (August 2002), Prague fell victim to the floods which occured all over Eastern Europe. I was there at the time, on holiday with two friends. We were only staying 3 days, and arrived on a Monday. That evening, the river level started to rise. We were actually on Charles Bridge, the most famous bridge in the city, taking photos of the rising water, when the police came to close the bridge, and move everybody off it.

We were staying with some friends who lived in Prague, who had a house north of the river. After being moved off Charles Bridge, we were pretty much stranded on this side. Most of the tourist attractions in the City are South of the river, which was a little unfortunate for us. The zoo was closed (several animals drowned there, unforuately), so the only place we could go was the castle. The castle in Prague is fantastic. It is at the very top of a huge hill, so the views from up there are absolutely stunning. The castle itself wasn't huge, but had an amazing Cathedral built into it, as well as a large plot of gardens. All three of us were and are keen photographers, so it was fortunate that the grounds were so beautiful.

Other than visiting the castle, there was very little left to do. The shops were mainly closed, as were the restaurants, as deliveries could not cross the river to get to them. The electricity was turned off on Tuesday, for safety reasons, so we were left trying to see our way round the house by candle light, with very little to eat.

We did manage to find an open supermarket, after a long tram ride and a reasonable walk. The trams in Prague are one of the main tourist attractions. They run almost perfectly on time (which is amazing to someone accustomed to British public transport), and can take you anywhere in the city.

Our journey home was on Thursday, although not from the bus station we expected, which was underwater at the time. We set off on time, and arrived home slightly early. Although it was an interesting experience, it certainly wasn't the one we were expecting! We plan to repeat our visit, this time without the excess of water, to enable us to actually see all the sights to be seen.

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