Prague: if you’ve heard of it, it’s been nothing but good things, and if you haven’t, this article should certainly entice you to visit. The city finds its way into the hearts of all its visitors, but after five years of residency and several subsequent visits, Prague’s magnificence has left an everlasting handprint on my heart. With a fascinating history that speaks to the city’s impressive resiliency, and a unique beauty that attracts tourists from all over the world, Prague is a place like no other.
The city is synonymous with its history, preserved and remembered thanks to a strong sense of Czech nationalism. Legend tells the city of Prague was founded in the late 9th century by the wise princess Libuše of Vyšehrad. She stood upon the craggy cliff overlooking the Vltava, now home to the Prague’s famous castle grounds, and claimed she foresaw a city whose stateliness would touch the stars.
Even in its earliest days, Prague served as a cultural and political hub to the eastern European region. Shorty after the city was established, it became a slave-trading hub, providing the city with the abundant riches that transformed it into an imperial capital under the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. One of Prague’s most notable and revered rulers, Charles’ influence is visible across the city: whether you’re standing on Karluv Most, studying in the Charles University or gazing in awe at the St. Vitus Cathedral.
Prague’s success continued into the 16th century under the Habsburg empire, attracting some of Europe’s most revolutionary minds, from famed astronomer Johannes Kepler to poet Elizabeth Jane Weston. It’s easy to understand why intellectuals would be attracted to Prague, the stunning buildings, natural surroundings, and archaic feel provide an endless well of inspiration for the hungry mind.
Unfortunately, from the 17th century onward, Prague began to suffer. Between the 30 Years War, a devastating fire, and several outbreaks of the Bubonic plague, the majority of the city’s population was wiped out and Prague was left crippled. The once-great city had found a lull in its snowballing success, but the inhabitants of Prague would not stand defeated. The fire inspired the city’s inhabitants to rebuild and renovate the city, working to restore Prague to its former greatness. Prague’s reconstruction conveniently coincided with the industrial revolution, which helped bring the city back to its feet by stimulating the economy and inviting thousands of workers into the factories scattered around the city’s outskirts.
The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the second world war gave birth to the first Czechoslovak republic, which thrived with success under leader Tomaš Masaryk, until the demise of the second world war. Czechoslovakia’s proximity to Germany, along with a strong Jewish presence in Prague’s old town, led to heavy involvement of the Nazi Regime in Prague. Fortunately, Prague didn’t suffer the same devastation as other cities in Hitler’s hands: the city remained relatively intact during the war since the regime elected to preserve Prague, as a ‘museum’ of a Jewish city and culture once Hitler’s Final Solution had been executed.
After World War II, Prague transitioned from the hands of one unwanted leadership to another. During the downfall of the Nazi regime, the Soviet Red Army liberated the city and Czechoslovakia was forced under dismal Soviet communism. The country was gradually ‘Stalinized’, which caused growing social unrest and political tensions. Prague’s cry for help was finally answered in 1967 by Alexander Dubček. Dubček, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, offered ‘socialism with a human face’ and was revered by his followers due to the series of institutional reforms known as the Prague Spring. Unfortunately these socialistic acts were heavily condemned by the strictly communist Soviet Union, and were promptly halted by a combined effort from members of the Warsaw Pact.
In the late 1980s, the city found itself in a state of unrest once again. One of the most popular artifacts from this period in Czech history is the Lennon Wall. Tucked away in Mala Strana near the Charles Bridge, the wall served as an outlet for creative expression in a time where nationalism, individuality, and art were condemned by the communist regime. The wall still stands today, but none of the original artwork remains: in addition to tourist’s contributions, a group of art students painted the entire wall white. The wall was one of the forms of peaceful protests that freed Czechoslovakia from the clutches of the communism. Led by writer and dissident Vaclav Havel, the Czechoslovak youth dismantled the 41-year-old parliament through a series of demonstrations, protests, and strikes. This became known as the Velvet Revolution, due to its peaceful nature and relatively smooth transition between parties. Prague’s communist period proved incredibly trying and tumultuous for the city, and despite the city’s modern day success, the scars are still very fresh.
In 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into the two countries you’ll see on today’s maps: the Czech Republic, with Prague as its capital, and Slovakia, with Bratislava as its capital. Today, Prague is one of eastern Europe’s busiest tourist hubs. The city is home to countless breathtaking landmarks such as the castle grounds, Charles bridge, astronomical clock tower, and several cathedrals and powder towers. The archaic architecture made of coal-blackened sandstone reminds Prague’s patrons of the rich history, the cobblestone streets radiate with the stories of all those who’ve walked across them in years before. All of Prague’s other buildings are equally beautiful, indicative of the Baroque style that thrived after the reign of the Hapsburg Empire. Everywhere you look, you’ll be stunned by detailing on buildings and authentic feel of the city; Prague’s beauty is unparalleled. Aside from the countless architectural feats that make the city so impressive, the river Vltava flows through the city center adding a beautiful natural element to the bustling city center.
Prague has something for everyone. Aside from the beauty and culture, the unbeatably low prices and fantastic foreign cuisine make a visit to Prague irresistible. Countless enriching tours are offered by day, while rowdy pub-crawls roam the city streets by night. Tourists and residents alike will never regret their time spent in Prague, I know I certainly haven’t. Although my residence visa is expired, my years in the fairytale city will forever live on in my heart.