Here, I’m going to post quite a few pictures, as a mini snapshot summary of many of the City’s main buildings and architecture—what a pleasure it was to just wander around, absorbing all the beauty and the different architectural styles. You’ll have gathered by now that we really enjoyed visiting Prague!
What is Prague, capital of the Czech Republic?
It’s medieval meets modern; Art nouveau, a sense of timelessness and survival, where buildings remind people of their past; a wonderful labyrinth of streets with shops and old architecture, some of which dates back to the 12th century. It’s views from the Strahov Monastery and from Prague Castle hill.
Prague’s cobblestone streets, lined with baroque, Gothic and renaissance architecture, are some of the most picturesque on the continent, and fortunately this city was one of the few that escaped widespread damage in WW2.
Tourism thrives here because of its history—the old towers, bridges and churches all tell a story. Wherever you walk in Prague there are history’s markers: iconic cathedrals, churches, civic halls, castles, bridges, clocks, buildings once monasteries and convents now chateaux, or renaissance buildings now hotels. Wandering around is really like walking through a textbook of architectural styles that reflect the different historical eras.
Prague means “threshold” in Czech and it’s always been a natural entry point to Eastern Europe, with its prominent position on a major river, the Vlatava. It’s also been the heart for the Czech people ever since the rule of Bohemian duke Wenceslas (906-935), who is buried in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle complex; through a vibrant culture under Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV; to the devastating Catholics-versus-Protestants warfare of the 17th century.
As with much of Eastern Europe, Prague (and the Czech land) had a period under the Hapsburg monarchy, as part of the extended Austro-Hungarian Empire. For a while it was like a lower-cost mini-Vienna, even hosting well-known people via Vienna, such as Mozart.
As with all of Europe, Prague was affected in many ways by both WW1 and WW2, and the subsequent imposed Germanic/Nazi ways (including persecution of Jewish people), followed by 4 decades of Communism. When the Hapsburg monarchy collapsed after WWI, the Czechs and the Slovaks were united into a new country, called Czechoslovakia, which was only dissolved in 1993.
This was a difficult century for all Eastern European countries and towards the end of the century, Prague had become a hot-bed of Czech national revival and many people looked to the city as the region’s cultural capital and a leader of resistance. In 1969, Jan Palach, a student, set himself on fire for the cause of Czech independence from the Communists. This was after the unsuccessful 1968 revolt, called the Prague Spring, led by Alexander Dubcek. Rumblings continued for many years and culminated in the so-called Velvet Revolution of November 1989, the spark that would topple the Communist regime.
Earlier that year students gathered to commemorate the death of Jan Palach, 20 years before, in 1969. The Velvet Revolution was ignited on the afternoon of November 17, 1989, when 30,000 students gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the suppression of student protests by the Nazis but, from protesting about the Nazis, they turned against the communists. The demonstration was peaceful, but still the “Red Hats” brutalized many students. Other students throughout Czechoslovakia went on strike, actors joined the students, and parents marched into Prague’s Wenceslas Square. The wave of peaceful demonstrations ended on December 29, 1989, when Vaclav Havel was elected as the president of a free Czechoslovakia.
This fairly recent history is documented in the Museum of Communism, which I’ll cover next.