A Brief History of the City of Prague

Although everyone knows Prague as a mega tourist destination these days, we sometimes forget to remember where it came from. How did this beautiful city with modern and medieval elements come to be?

We will go over a brief history of the city of Prague, from the days of just a settlement in Vysehrad to one of the brightest, busiest, and most beautiful cities in all of Europe. 

4000 BC


The mythological princess Libuse prophesies the glory of Prague – By By Josef Mathauser – ΑΩ institut, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5677214

Before Slavs came to inhabit the area of Prague, certain regions were inhabited by Celtic and Germanic tribes. The name ‘Bohemia,’ which is a way of life for Czech people today, came from a Celtic tribe called ‘Boii.’

6th Century

Vltava River, Church of Saint Nicholas at Mala Strana, Mala Strana Bridge Tower, Basilica of the Assumption in the Strahov Monastery – Ввласенко [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

During the 6th century, two Slav tribes settled on either side of the flowing Vltava River – the River that nowadays cuts the capital in half, with the Prague Castle on one side and the Old Town on the other side.

The Czechs and the Zlicanis built various fortresses on either side of the river, trying to coexist for a period – but this period soon came to an end. Eventually, both the Slav tribes and the newly-moved-in Avars were at odds with one another.

Their feud suddenly ended when Frankish trader, Samo, united the Slav tribes and kicked out the Avars.

9th century – 13th century

Prague Castle at Dusk – By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29032210

In the late 9th century, Prince Borivoj built the infamous Prague Castle on a hill high above the city. Soon after the construction of this extensive complex, the area around the Castle became an important trading center where merchants from all over the continent came together to do business.

In 1085, Vratislav II became the first Czech king to rule over the country and the city of Prague. Nearly 100 years later, the first stone was built over the Vltava. Although this structure collapsed in the mid-14th century, Charles Bridge was constructed in 1357, creating a ‘bridge’ between both sides of the capital city. 

14th century – Golden Age

The Bohemian Crown Jewels are the fourth oldest in Europe – By By K. Pacovsky – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48912958

In 1310, John of Luxembourg became the King of Bohemia. Under his rule, the territory bloomed in economic status, political stability, and social and cultural events. Prague became one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest cities, with Hradcany and the Old Town Hall established during this time period. 

In 1348, Nove Mesto, also known in English as the ‘New Town,’ was founded, and Charles University was established. 

15th Century – Hussite Revolution

Prague panorama in 1650 – By By Martin Zeiller – digitized by: UB Düsseldorf, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5768465

The 15th century was unfortunately not as prosperous and positive as the previous one hundred years. This century was marked by religious conflicts between the Hussites and Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. A reform movement provoked the then-Hussite preacher, Zelivsky, to rebel against the Bohemian state – a previously peaceful culture.

During this revolution, Hussite committees took over the city and destroyed various buildings, defamed religious artifacts, and killed Catholic councilors in control and living in the area around New Town Hall.

16th Century – Habsburg

Monument to Frantisek Palacky, a significant member of the Czech National Revival – By By Rémi Diligent – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1379012

In the mid-16th century, the Habsburg dynasty was in control of Prague. Prague Castle was reconstructed, reestablishing its former glory before the Hussite revolution. During the 16th century, Prague became a wealthy and innovative powerhouse in terms of science and creation.

17th Century – Dark Age

Thirty Years’ War – By By Jacques Callot – from Hello world (talk · contribs), 11 October 2015, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12008472

The Dark Ages began in the early 17th century with uprising protests from the citizens around Prague and Czechia. Revolts and unrest led to the infamous Thirty Years’ War, a destructive time period that harmed much of Europe, Bohemia, and Prague.

In 1620, the turmoil increased when Prague lost its’ independence when the Protestants could not defend their city against the Saxons. When the Saxons moved into Prague, chaos ensued, and the city’s population declined by a whopping 50%. 

18th Century

Prague Collage – By Collage by Concus Cretus based on work of Moyan Brenn from Anzio, Italy (1); Jirka.h23 (2); Massimo Catarinella (3, 5); A.Savin (4); VitVit (6) – Own work; derivative work of:File:Prague (6365119737).jpg (1)File:Mrakodrapy v Praze 2018.jpg (2)File:PragueCzechRepublicMalaStranaMostecka.jpg (3)File:Prague 07-2016 View from Old Town Hall Tower img3.jpg (4)File:CharlesBridgeMalaStranaPragueCzechRepublic.jpg (5)File:Národní divadlo od jihu 4.jpg (6), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74795682

At this point, Prague was divided into four different areas – Stare Mesto/Old Town, Lesser Town/Mala Strana, Hradcany, and Nove Mesto/New Town. Joseph II, the leader in charge, began the Czech nationalist movement to bring confidence back to the citizens, inspire change, and reignite the Czech people’s culture and identity. 

19th Century – Industrial Revolution

National Theater view from Petrinska – By By A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54173956

The Industrial Revolution was crucial for the lifespan and lifeblood of Prague. Many industries were created and established during this period, with a railway constructed from Vienna to Prague, the National Theatre opening in 1868, and the National Museum established in 1890.

20th Century

Prague Liberation 1945 – By By Karel Hájek – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5678800

Prague became the capital of Czechoslovakia after the Austro-Hungarian empire fell in 1918. After Nazi-Germany controlled Prague during World War II from 1939-1945, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state, with Germans returning to their homeland.

One year after the war ended, the communists became the dominant party in the country. Political unrest ensued, with the communists seizing power in 1948, causing democrats to flee the country to find personal and political freedom. 

Over forty years later, the Velvet Revolution began in Prague, ending communism and making Czechoslovakia a Democratic country. Without this revolution, who knows where Prague would be today! 

In early 1990, Czechoslovakia was officially split into two countries – Slovakia and Czech Republic. Prague, as we know it today, became the official capital of the Czech Republic, while Bratislava became the capital of Slovakia.