1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prague

PRAGUE (Ger. Prag; Bohemian Praha), the ancient capital of the Bohemian kingdom, residence of an archbishop and an Imperial governor, and the meeting-place of the Bohemian Diet. The population of the town, including the suburbs that have not yet been incorporated with it, was 460,849 in 1906. Somewhat under a fifth of the population are Germans, the rest belong to the Bohemian (Czech) nationality. Prague is situated on both banks of the river Vltava (Ger. Moldau) in 50° 5′ N., 14° 25′ E., 150 m. N.W. of Vienna and 75 S.S.E. of Dresden. The city is divided into eight districts, which are numbered thus: I. Staré město (the old town), II. Nové město (the new town); III. Malá strana (the small side “quarter”); IV. Hradčany; V. Josefské město (Joseph’s, formerly the Jewish, town); VI. Vyšehrad; VII. Holešovic-Bubna; VIII. the suburbs Karlín (Ger. Karolinenthal), Vinohrady and Smíchov are not yet incorporated with the city. Prague was by its geographical situation naturally destined to become the capital of Bohemia, as it lies in the centre of the country. The origin of Prague goes back to a very early date, though, as is the case with most very ancient cities, the tales connected with its origin are no doubt legendary. The earliest inhabited spot within the precincts of the present city was the hill named Vyšehrad (higher castle, acropolis) on the right bank of the Vltava. Here the semi-mythical prince Krok, his daughter Libusa, and her husband the peasant Přemysl are stated to have resided. To Libusa is attributed also the foundation of a settlement on the opposite bank of the Vltava on the Hradčany hill. The ancient Bohemian chronicler Cosmas of Prague gives a very picturesque account of this semi-mythical occurrence.

It is probable that at an early period buildings sprang up in those parts of the present Staré město and Malá strana that are situated nearest to the banks of the river. These banks were from a very remote period connected by a bridge. This bridge was probably situated very near the spot where Charles IV. afterwards built the famed “bridge of Prague.” It is probable that independently of the Hradčany and Vyšehrad settlements a certain number of buildings existed as early as 993 on the site of the present Pořič Street (near the station of the state railway). The city continued to increase, and during the reign of King Vratislav (1061–1092) many Germans were attracted to Prague.

In 1235 King Wenceslaus I. surrounded the old town—that is to say, the buildings on the right bank of the Vltava—with a wall and ditch. These fortifications, starting from the river, followed the line of the present Elisabeth Street, the Příkopy or Graben—which therefrom derives its name, signifying ditch or trench—and then that of the Ovocná and Ferdinandova Streets. The Jewish quarter was included in the fortifications, but it was divided by gates and a wall from the old town. King Ottakar II. also contributed greatly to the enlargement of Prague. The still extant fortified towers of the Hradčany belong to his reign. The sovereign, however, to whom Prague is most indebted is the emperor Charles IV. (Charles I., as king of Bohemia). He has rightly been called the second founder of Prague. He founded the university, one of the oldest on the Continent. It immediately became famous all over Europe and students flocked to it from all countries. The town soon became too small, and it is probably in consequence of this that Charles determined to found the “new town." This, which includes the greater part of the modern city, was surrounded by walls, which starting from the foot of the Vyšehrad included the small already-existing settlement of Poříč and then adjoined the borders of the old town from the beginning of the present Příkopy Street up to the river. During the Hussite wars Prague suffered greatly. Two of the greatest battles of the Hussite wars, that of the Žižkov and that of the Vyšehrad (both 1420), were fought on the outskirts of Prague, and after the last-named battle the ancient Vyšehrad castle was entirely destroyed. The Bohemian nobles in alliance with the citizens of the old town attacked and conquered the new town, which for a time lost its privileges and became subject to the old town. Prague gradually recovered during the reign of King George of Poděbrad, and became yet more prosperous during that of King Vladislav.

During the reign of Ferdinand I. of Habsburg (1526–1564) Prague played a considerable part in the opposition to that prince caused in Bohemia by his endeavour to reduce both the political and religious liberty of the country. When the antagonism between the Romanist dynasty and the Bohemian Protestants culminated in the troubles of 1546 and 1547 and the Bohemians, after a weak and unsuccessful attempt to assert their liberties, were obliged to submit unconditionally to the house of Habsburg, Prague was deprived of many of its liberties and privileges. The burgomaster of the old town was one of those who were decapitated in the Hradčany Square (Aug. 20, 1547). Ferdinand had summoned a meeting of the estates on that day at the adjoining Hradčany palace, and it became known as the “bloody diet” (Krvavý sněm).

The importance of the city of Prague greatly increased during the reign of Rudolph II. That sovereign chose Prague as his permanent residence and it thus became—as Rudolph, besides being king of Bohemia, was also German emperor, king of Hungary and ruler of the hereditary Habsburg lands—the centre of his vast domains. It was in Prague that the Thirty Years’ War broke out. On the 23rd of May 1618 the Protestant nobles of Bohemia threw from the windows of the council chamber of the Hradčany palace two of the Imperial councillors who were accused of having influenced in a manner unfavourable to the Bohemians the emperor Matthias, who was also king of Bohemia. War broke out and continued when in 1619 Matthias was succeeded by Ferdinand. In the same year the Bohemians elected as their king Frederick of the Palatinate, and both he and his wife Elizabeth of England were crowned in St Vitus's Cathedral. On the 8th of November 1620 the Bohemian forces were decisively defeated by the Imperialists on the White Mountain at the outskirts of Prague. The town submitted on the following day and the whole country was quickly subdued by the Imperialist armies. On the 21st of June 1621 the principal leaders of the rising against the house of Habsburg were beheaded in the market of the old town near the town hall. In 1631 Prague was occupied for a short time by the Saxon allies of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, but the Imperial army led by Wallenstein soon obliged them to retire. In 1648 a Swedish army stormed the Malá strana and Hradčany. The citizens, now entirely Romanists, bravely defended the bridge, and the Swedes were unable to obtain possession of the part of Prague situated on the right bank of the Vltava. In November the news of the conclusion of the peace of Westphalia reached Prague and put a stop to hostilities.

Henceforth the history of Prague continues uneventful for a considerable period. During the Austrian War of Succession it again became the scene of important events. On the 26th of November 1741 Prague was stormed by an army consisting of Bavarians, French and Saxons which upheld the cause of Charles, elector of Bavaria, who claimed the succession to the Bohemian throne and to the other domains of the house of Habsburg. A large part of the Bohemian nobility did homage to Charles, and he was crowned king of Bohemia in St Vitus's Cathedral on the 17th of December 1741. The rule of the Bavarian prince lasted, however, but a very short time. On the 27th of June 1742 the armies of the empress Maria Theresa began to besiege the French army of Marshal Belle-Isle in Prague, and the French commander was obliged to evacuate the city in December 1742. In the spring of the following year Maria Theresa arrived at Prague and was crowned there, but in 1744 the city was again the scene of warfare. In that year Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded Bohemia and obtained possession of Prague after a severe and prolonged bombardment, in the course of which a large part of the town was destroyed. The Prussian occupation was, however, of short duration. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War Prague was - in 1757- again besieged by Frederick the Great after he had defeated the Austrians in a battle between the Žižkov and Počernice (commonly called the battle of Prague, see Seven Years' War). In June of the same year the Austrian victory at Kolín obliged the Prussians to raise the siege. Prague, which had suffered even more during the second bombardment, now enjoyed a long period of quiet.

In the beginning of the 19th century Prague, which had become almost a German city, became the centre of a movement that endeavoured to revive the almost extinct Bohemian nationality. This movement was greatly aided by the foundation of the “Society of the Bohemian Museum” in 1822. Several patriotic Bohemian noblemen founded this association. The collections belonging to it and its library were at first housed in the Malá strana, then in a somewhat larger building in the Příkopy. They are now in a large handsome building at the top of the Václavské Náměstí. In connexion with the Bohemian museum a society named Matice (treasury) was founded, which published editions of the ancient Bohemian works as well as writings of modern Bohemian authors.

This movement was at first purely literary, and only in 1848 assumed a political character. It was determined to hold at Prague a “Slavic congress” at which all Slavic countries were to be represented. During the sittings of the congress troubles broke out which originated in an insignificant conflict between students and soldiers of the garrison. Barricades were erected and the town finally surrendered unconditionally after a severe bombardment (June 1848). In 1866 the Prussians, who had invaded Bohemia, occupied Prague (July 8) without encountering any resistance. At the “Blue Star” hotel in Prague also was signed the treaty which ended the war between Austria and Prussia (Aug. 23).

In the years of peace that followed, the development of Prague was constant and vast. The removal of the fortifications greatly assisted this development. The communities of Vyšehrad (1883), Holešovic-Bubna (1884) and Libeň (1901) were consecutively included in the city. Occasional riots, such as in 1897, when the Bohemians were exasperated by the action of the Vienna government which restricted the use of the national language in the law courts; and in 1905, when the people demanded an extension of the suffrage, have not interfered with the increasing prosperity of the city, and their importance has been greatly exaggerated.

Though numerous ancient monuments at Prague have been destroyed in consequence of intestine strife and foreign warfare, the city still contains many of great value and may be considered one of the most interesting cities of central Europe. The natural situation of the town has also at all periods been greatly admired. The centre of the old town and indeed of the entire community of Prague is the town hall (staroměstská radnice), which is surrounded by the market-place, the scene of the execution of the Bohemian patriots in 1621. The buildings of the town hall date from various periods. Its oldest parts are the tower and the chapel of St Lawrence, built in 1381. The adjoining ancient council chamber dates from the reign of King Vladislav (1471-1516). The modern hall that is now used for the meetings of the town council is decorated by two paintings of the Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Brožík, which represent Hus before the council of Constance, and the election of George of Poděbrad as king of Bohemia. In the market-place opposite the town hall is situated the ancient Týn church, memorable as having been the religious centre of the Hussite movement. A chapel connected with the so-called Týn or market-place of the German traders stood here from the earliest times, but the present building was begun in the 14th century, and completed in the 15th during the reign of George of Poděbrad. The fine facade built by that king was formerly adorned with a statue of King George, who was represented as holding a sword pointing upward to a representation of the chalice, the emblem of the Hussite Church. Both statue and chalice were removed by the lesuits in 1623. In the interior of the church the tomb of the astronomer Tycho Brahe is notable, as is the very ancient pulpit from which the Hussite archbishop John of Rokycan preached. In earlier days the Church reformers Milíč and Hus also preached here. Close to the town hall is the Joseph-Stadt, the ancient ghetto of Prague. The synagogue is one of the oldest in Europe, and the adjoining cemetery - part of which has unfortunately been destroyed in the course of the modern sanitary improvement of this art of Prague - has great historical interest. The university founded by Charles IV. in 1348 played a great part in the history of Bohemia during the Hussite wars. The lecture-rooms and other institutions connected with the two universities - in 1881 and 1882 a Bohemian university was founded though the German one continued to exist - are now housed in two vast buildings known as the Carolinum and the Clementinum. The Carolinum, first built about the year 1383 but frequently altered, has a closer connexion with Hus and the Hussite movement than any other building at Prague. It was the scene of many religious discussions, and it was here also that the Bohemian nobles met before the uprising of 1618. The large part of the lecture-rooms, the observatory and the very valuable library are in the Clementinum. This building was formerly a college of the Jesuits, who established themselves in Prague in 1556 and erected these extensive buildings at various periods between 1578 and 1715. The Celetná ulice, which leads from the town hall to the limits of the old town contains at its extremity the so-called powder tower (prašná brána). It occupies the spot where one of the old town gates was situated, and was built by King Vladislav in that elaborate style of architecture which is known as the style of Vladislav. The building was very skilfully restored in 1880-1883. The powder tower stands at the corner of the Příkopy (in Ger. Graben) which with its continuations, the Ovocná ulice and the Ferdinandova ulice, is the most animated part of modern Prague. At the extreme end of the Ferdinandova ulice is the modern Bohemian national theatre.

The "new town" of Prague, though not equal in interest to the "old town," is also well worth notice. At the extremity of the place of Wenceslaus (Václavské Náměstí) is situated the handsome building that contains the collections and library of the Bohemian museum. The museum was opened by the Archduke Charles Louis of Austria on the 18th of May 1891. Of the many interesting churches in the “new town” the Karlov deserves special mention. It was built by Charles IV. in 1350 in the Gothic style, but was restored in the 18th century. The monastery that formerly adjoined this church has been suppressed and its buildings are now used as a hospital. Near the Karlov church is the Karlovo Náměstí (place of Charles), in which is situated the former town hall of the “new town," from the windows of which the councillors were thrown at the beginning of the Hussite wars. The Vyšehrad, now a part of Prague, adjoins the “new town." It has preserved but slight traces of its ancient splendour. It contains, however, the

chapel of S Martin, the Church of SS Peter and Paul, and the adjoining cemetery where many of the leaders of the Bohemian national movement are buried.

The districts of Prague situated on the left bank of the Vltava are connected with the other parts of the city by bridges, of which the oldest is the Karlovo most (bridge of Charles). The present structure was begun by Charles IV. in 1357, but in consequence of frequent storms and inundations it was only completed in 1503. The statues on the bridge are of an even later date. Not far from the bridge in the centre of the Malá strana is the monument to Radetzky, erected in 1858 out of captured Piedmontese cannon. Near here are the palaces of the governor of Bohemia and that in which the Bohemian diet (sněm) now meets. At the extreme end of the Malá strana is the extensive Strahov monastery, from the terraces of which the finest view of the city of Prague can be obtained. The monastery possesses one of the most valuable libraries in Prague and a small picture gallery. The church of the monastery contains the tomb of the famous General Pappenheim. In the Malá strana and the adjoining Hradčany are situated the winter residences of the wealthy Bohemian nobility. Of the many palaces, the Waldstein, Schwarzenberg—formerly Rosenberg—palaces, the two palaces of the counts Thun and that of Prince Lobkowitz are the most interesting. On the summit of the Hradčany is the vast palace of the ancient kings of Bohemia, which also contains the hall where the estates of Bohemia formerly met. During the Hussite wars most of the buildings on the Hradčany hill were destroyed, and a large part of the castle still known as the halls of Vladislav was rebuilt by the kings of that name. The handsome halls known as the Spanish and German halls were erected by Ferdinand I., and additions were made by other sovereigns also. The Hradčany was for a time the residence of Rudolph, crown prince of Austria, and it is also occupied by the emperor of Austria during his visits to Prague. Adjoining the Hradčany palace is the famed Cathedral of St Vitus, where the kings of Bohemia were crowned. The earliest church on this spot was built by St Wenceslaus, and the present building was begun by Charles IV. and has as yet remained unfinished. The cathedral contains the chapel of St Wenceslaus, where the insignia of the Bohemian kings are preserved, the tomb of St John of Nepomuk, and a monument to the Bohemian sovereigns who are buried here, the work of Colin of Malines. On the slope of the Hradčany hill are the ancient towers named Mikulka, Daliborka, the white tower and the black tower, which formed part of the fortified works erected by Ottakar II. (1253-1278).

The suburbs of Prague contain few objects of interest, but they are centres of the rapidly increasing trade and industry of Prague.

See Count Lützow, Prague, in “Mediaeval Towns" Series (London, 1902); Tomek, Dějepis Města Prahy (History of the town of Prague), the standard work on Prague, which the author only continued up to the year 1608.