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PRAGUE (Czech Praha ), capital of the *Czech Republic; it has the oldest Jewish community in *Bohemia and one of the oldest communities in Europe, for some time the largest and most revered. Jews may have arrived in Prague in late Roman times, but the first document mentioning them is a report by *Ibrahim ibn Yaʿqūb from about 970. This may be interpreted as showing that Jews had either settled in Prague or carried on business there without necessarily settling permanently. The first definite evidence of the existence of a Jewish community in Prague dates to 1091. From an analysis of medieval commerce in Prague, it is reasonable to assume that its beginnings date from about the middle of the tenth century. Jews arrived in Prague from both the East and West around the same time. It is probably for this reason that two Jewish districts came into being there right at the beginning, one in the suburb of the Prague castle (Suburbium Pragense) and the other close to the second castle, Wissegrad (Vicus Wissegradensis).

The relatively favorable conditions in which the Jews at first lived in Prague were disrupted at the time of the First Crusade in 1096. The Crusaders murdered many of the Jews of Prague, looted Jewish property, and forced many to accept baptism. During the siege of the Prague castle in 1142, the oldest synagogue in Prague and the Jewish quarter below the castle were burned down and the Jews moved to the right bank of the river Moldau (Vltava), which was to become the future Jewish quarter, and founded the Altschul ("Old Synagogue") there.

The importance of Jewish culture in Prague is evidenced by the works of the halakhists there in the 11th to 13th centuries. The most celebrated was *Isaac b. Moses of Vienna (d. c. 1250), author of Or Zaru'a, a native of Bohemia who spent part of his life in Prague. Since the Czech language was spoken by the Jews of Prague in the early Middle Ages, the halakhic writings of that period also contain annotations in Czech. From the 13th to 16th centuries, the Jews of Prague increasingly spoke German.

At the time of persecutions, which began at the end of the 11th century, the Jews of Prague, together with all the other Jews in Europe, lost their status as free people. From the 13th century on, the Jews of Bohemia were considered servants of the Royal Chamber (*servi camerae regis). Their life in Prague was subject to the most humiliating conditions (the wearing of special dress, segregation in the ghetto, etc.). The only occupation that Jews were allowed to adopt was moneylending, since this was forbidden to Christians and considered dishonest. Socially the Jews were in an inferior position, but economically many of them were relatively well off. Against payment of high taxes they were protected by the king by means of special privileges (e.g., the privilege issued by *Přemysl Ottokar ii in 1254).

Protection by the kings made it possible for larger numbers of Jews to settle there, particularly from Germany. In the 13th century a new Jewish settlement was founded in Prague, in the vicinity of the Altneuschul (the "Old-New Synagogue"), construction of which was completed in 1270. The synagogue, which still exists, is the oldest remaining in Europe. By the 13th century the Jewish community of Prague owned a cemetery, which was then situated outside the city walls (on the present Vladislav street), and also served other Jewish communities in Bohemia. It was sold, under pressure, to the citizens of Prague as a building plot in the 15th century.

The community suffered from persecutions accompanied by bloodshed in the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly in 1298 and 1338. Charles iv (1346–78) protected the Jews, but after his death the worst attack occurred in 1389, when nearly all the Jews of Prague fell victims. The rabbi of Prague and noted kabbalist Avigdor *Kara, who witnessed and survived the outbreak, described it in a seliḥah: Et Kol ha-Tela'ah. It was also described in a Christian work Passio Judaeorum Pragensium secundum Joannem rusticum quadratum. Under *Wenceslaus iv the Jews of Prague suffered heavy material losses following an order by the king in 1411 canceling all debts owed to Jews.

At the beginning of the 15th century the Jews of Prague found themselves at the center of the Hussite wars (1419–36; see *Hussites). An analysis of Hussite biblical interpretation shows possible Jewish influence. The attitude of German Jews toward the Hussites reveals a certain sympathy on the part of the Jewish communities for this movement (as expressed, e.g., by Jacob b. Moses *Moellin, the "Maharil" of Cologne). The attitude of the Hussites to the Jews was not entirely friendly. Some Hussite ideologists (e.g., Jacobellus of Stříbro (Mies) in the treatise De usura) demanded that Jewish moneylending be prohibited. However, no such prohibition was ever issued in Prague during the time of the Hussites. The Jews of Prague also suffered from mob violence (1422) in this period. The unstable conditions in Prague compelled many Jews to emigrate. Nevertheless, the Jewish community continued to exist there throughout the Hussite period, and this in itself may be considered proof of the relatively tolerant attitude of the Hussites toward the Jews.

The position of the Jews in Prague in the second half of the 15th century remained insecure. There were also attacks in that period (as in 1448 and 1483). Following the legalization, at the end of the 15th century, of moneylending by non-Jews in Prague, the Jews of Prague lost the economic significance which they had held in the medieval city and had to look for other occupations in commerce and crafts. Thus the Jews began to compete economically with the citizens, at a time when the traditional crafts were in a state of crisis.

The tension between the Jews and the citizens brought about a considerable change in the position of the Jews in Prague. From the beginning of the 16th century the citizens repeatedly attempted to obtain the expulsion of the Jews from the city. Their demands to this effect, in 1501, 1507, 1517, etc., were unsuccessful, however. Despite the growing tension between the Jews and the citizens of Prague, the position of the Jews began to improve at the beginning of the 16th century, mainly owing to the assistance of the king and the nobility. The Jews found greater opportunities in trading commodities and monetary transactions with the nobility. As a consequence, their economic position improved. The number of Jews in Prague increased from the beginning of the 16th century. In 1522 there were about 600 Jews in Prague, but by 1541 they numbered about 1,200. At the same time the Jewish quarters were extended. At the end of the 15th century the Jews of Prague founded new communities in the New Town and on the Kleinseite. At the beginning of the 16th century they left these districts and concentrated on extending the Jewish quarter in the Old Town. At the turn of the 15th and early in the 16th centuries they rebuilt the devastated Altschul and built the Pinkas Synagogue (the construction of which was completed in 1535).

Under pressure of the citizens, King *Ferdinand i was compelled in 1541 to approve the expulsion of the Jews. The elegy Anna Elohei Avraham, composed by *Abraham b. Avigdor, is related to that expulsion. The Jews had to leave Prague by 1543 but were allowed to return in 1545. Following the defeat of the first anti-Hapsburg rebellion in Bohemia in 1547, in which the towns played an important part, the latter lost a great deal of their political importance in the country and were no longer able to threaten the Jews of Prague seriously. However, in 1557 Ferdinand i once again, this time upon his own initiative, ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Prague. They had to leave the city by 1559. Only after the retirement of Ferdinand i from the government of Bohemia were they allowed to return in 1562.

The progress of the Jewish community of Prague had been noticeable also in the cultural sphere even before their expulsion when the Gersonides (successors of Gershom Kohen) founded a Hebrew printing establishment before 1512 (see Hebrew printing in Prague, below). During the reign of Rudolf ii (1576–1611), who transferred his court to Prague, and of his successor Matthias (1611–19), the position of the Jews was particularly favorable. L. *Zunz called that period the golden age of Prague Jewry. Some Jews attained fabulous wealth and became the patrons of the Jewish community, notable among them Marcus Mordecai *Meisel (1528–1601), the Gersonide Mordecai Ẓemaḥ Kohen (d. 1592), and Jacob *Bassevi von Treuenberg (d. 1634).

The favorable position of the Jewish community of Prague during the reign of Rudolf ii is reflected also in the flourishing Jewish culture. Among illustrious rabbis who taught in Prague at that time were *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the "Maharal"); *Ephraim Solomon b. Aaron of Luntschitz; Isaiah b. Abraham ha-Levi *Horowitz, who taught in Prague from 1614 to 1621; and Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller, who became chief rabbi in 1627 but was forced to leave in 1631. The chronicler and astronomer David *Gans also lived there in this period. At the beginning of the 17th century about 6,000 Jews were living in Prague. To extend the Jewish quarter, the community acquired in 1627 the so-called Lichtenstein houses, thus almost doubling the area.

In 1648 the Jews of Prague distinguished themselves in the defense of the city against the invading Swedes. In recognition of their acts of heroism the emperor presented them with a special flag, which is still preserved in the Altneuschul. Its design, with a Swedish cap in the center of the Star of David, became the official emblem of the Prague Jewish community.

After the Thirty Years' War, government policy was influenced by the Church Counter-Reformation, and measures were taken to separate the Jews from the Christian population, to reduce the number of Jews and segregate them in ghettos, to limit their means of earning a livelihood, and to extort larger contributions and higher taxes from them. The ultimate aim of this "antisemitism of the authorities" was to reduce the importance of the Jews in Prague. A number of resolutions and decrees were promulgated; among them, the resolution of the provincial diet of Bohemia passed in 1650, and the *Familiants Law of 1727 were particularly oppressive. According to the latter, only the eldest son of every family was allowed to marry and raise a family, the others having to remain single or leave Bohemia.

In 1680, more than 3,000 Jews in Prague died of the plague. Shortly afterward, in 1689, the Jewish quarter burned down, and more than 300 Jewish houses and 11 synagogues were destroyed. The authorities initiated and partially implemented a project to transfer all the surviving Jews to the village of Lieben (Libén) north of Prague, later a suburb of the capital. The clergy fanned anti-Jewish feelings. Great excitement was aroused in 1694 by the murder trial of the father of Simon Abeles, a 12-year-old boy who, it was alleged, had desired to be baptized and had been killed by his father. Simon was buried in the Tyn (Thein) church, the greatest and most celebrated cathedral of the Old Town of Prague. Concurrent with the religious incitement against the Jews, an economic struggle was waged against them.

The anti-Jewish official policy reached its climax after the accession to the throne of *Maria Theresa (1740–80), who in 1744 issued an order expelling the Jews from Bohemia and Moravia. This was actually carried out against the Jews of Prague, who were banished (1745–48) but were subsequently allowed to return as a result of influential intervention on their behalf and after they promised to pay high taxes. In 1754 a great part of the Jewish quarter burned down. Despite all these persecutions, Jewish culture continued to flourish in Prague. In the Baroque period, noted rabbis were Simon Spira; Elias Spira; David *Oppenheim; and Ezekiel *Landau, chief rabbi and rosh yeshivah (1755–93).

The position of the Jews greatly improved under *Joseph ii (1780–90), who issued the *Toleranzpatent of 1782 and other decrees connected with it. The new policy in regard to the Jews aimed at gradual abolition of the limitations imposed upon them so that they could become more useful to the state in a modernized economic system. At the same time, the new regulations were part of the systematic policy of Germanization pursued by Joseph ii. Jews were compelled to adopt family names and to establish schools for secular studies; they became subject to military service and were required to cease using Hebrew and Yiddish in business transactions. Wealthy and enterprising Jews made good use of the advantages of Joseph's reforms. Jews who established manufacturing enterprises were allowed to settle outside the Jewish quarter. Among the first Jewish industrialists of Prague, who were engaged particularly in the textile industry, were the Porges (later Porges of Portheim), Dormitze, and Epstein families.

Subsequently the limitations imposed upon Jews were gradually removed. In 1841 the prohibition on Jews owning land was rescinded. In 1846 the Jewish tax was abolished. In 1848 Jews were granted equal rights, and by 1867 the process of legal *emancipation had been completed. In 1852 the ghetto of Prague was abolished and united with four other "cities" as the fifth district of Prague, called Josefov (Ger., Josefstadt). Because of the unhygienic conditions in the former Jewish quarter, the Prague municipality decided in 1896 to pull down the old quarter, with the exception of important historical sites. Thus the Altneuschul, the Pinkas and Klaus, Meisel and Hoch synagogues, the famous Radnice, or Rathaus (Jewish town hall), erected by Mordecai Meisel, the larger part of the old cemetery, and some other places of historical and artistic interest remained intact. Many Jews moved out of the old quarter and dispersed throughout the city. Whereas in 1870 more than half of Prague Jewry lived in the old quarter, in 1900 less than one-quarter remained.

In 1848 the community of Prague, numbering over 10,000, was still one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe (Vienna then numbered only 4,000 Jews). In the following period of the emancipation and the post-emancipation era, the Prague community increased considerably in numbers but did not keep pace with the rapidly expanding new Jewish metropolitan centers in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. While an increasing proportion of Bohemian Jewry concentrated in Prague, the importance and size of Bohemian Jewry within world Jewry began to dwindle. In the period 1880 to 1900, Jewish natural increase reached its peak in the world, whereas the number of Jews in Bohemia reached its maximum in 1880 and subsequently decreased. The table "Number of Jews in the Jewish Community in Prague" shows the numerical development of the Jewish population of Prague (including the suburbs incorporated in the city, some only after World War i).

During the revolutionary period of 1848 there were violent anti-Jewish outbreaks in Prague. In consequence, the emigration of Bohemian Jews to America and Western Europe that had begun in the 1840s increased and gained momentum.

After emancipation had been achieved in 1867, emigration from Prague abroad ceased as a mass phenomenon;

YearNo. of Jews% of Jewish population of Bohemia% of total populationof Prague

movement to Vienna, Germany, and Western Europe continued, but in Prague the loss had been offset by the influx of Jews from the smaller provincial communities. Jews contributed to the economic progress of the city. They were now represented in industry, especially the textile, clothing, leather, shoe, and food industries, in wholesale and retail trade, and in increasing numbers in the professions and as white-collar employees. Some Jewish bankers, industrialists, and merchants achieved considerable wealth. The majority of Jews in Prague belonged to the middle class, but there also remained a substantial number of poor Jews.

Emancipation brought in its wake a quiet process of secularization and assimilation. In the first decades of the 19th century Prague Jewry, which then still led its traditionalist Orthodox way of life, had been disturbed by the activities of the followers of Jacob *Frank. The situation changed in the second half of the century. The chief rabbinate was still occupied by outstanding scholars, such as Solomon Judah *Rapaport (Shir; officiated from 1840 to his death in 1867), the leader of the Haskalah movement; Markus *Hirsch (officiated 1880–89); Nathan *Ehrenfeld (1890–1912); and Heinrich (Ḥayyim) *Brody (1912–30), but the mainstream of Jewish life was no longer dominated by the rabbinate. Many synagogues introduced modernized services, a shortened liturgy, the organ, and a mixed choir, but did not necessarily embrace the principles of the *Reform movement.

Jews availed themselves eagerly of the opportunities to give their children a secular higher education. The table "Number of Jews of Prague among the University Students" shows the participation of Jewish university students at Prague (the famous Charles University, founded in 1348, was split in 1882 into a German and a Czech university).

Emancipation was accompanied by a strong tendency to adopt the German language, and by assimilation to German

% of the Jews of Prague who declared themselves to be:
Year% of Jews among university students
German UniversityCzech University

culture and national consciousness. Jews formed a considerable part of the German minority in Prague, and the majority adhered to liberal movements. David *Kuh founded the German Liberal Party of Bohemia and represented it in the Bohemian Diet (1862–73). Despite strong Germanizing factors, many Jews adhered to the Czech language, and in the last two decades of the 19th century a Czech assimilationist movement (see Čechů-židů, Svaz) developed which gained support from the continuing influx of Jews from the rural areas. Through the influence of German nationalists from the Sudeten districts antisemitism developed within the German population and opposed Jewish assimilation. At the end of the 19th century Zionism struck roots among the Jews of Bohemia, especially in Prague. The table "Number of Jews of Prague who Declared their Nationality other than Jewish," showing the national affiliation of the Jews of Prague, indicates the extent of assimilation there (Jews were entitled to declare their nationality as Jewish from 1920).

Growing secularization and assimilation led to an increase of *mixed marriages and abandonment of Judaism. Whereas under Austrian rule cases of baptism were not very frequent, at the time of the Czechoslovak Republic, established in 1918, many more people registered their dissociation of affiliation to the Jewish faith without adopting another. The proportion of mixed marriages in Bohemia was one of the highest in Europe, amounting to 24.3% in 1927 and 30.73% in 1933 of the marriages of all Jewish males and 22.1% and 25.25% respectively of Jewish females. The proportion in some small communities may have been higher than in Prague, but the difference could not change the overall picture substantially, since almost half of Bohemian Jewry resided in Prague. The consequences of this development are clearly demonstrated in the census of 1939, conducted under the German occupation. Of those classified as Jews in Prague according to the Nazi racial laws, 12.1% did not profess the Jewish faith.

After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, when the suburbs were incorporated in the municipality of Prague, the Jewish communities did not similarly affiliate. The paradoxical situation therefore developed that there were seven Jewish communities in Prague, one covering the inner city (districts i–vii) with approximately one-half of the Jewish population of Prague, and the other six in the various suburbs. These seven communities were federated in the Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Greater Prague, cooperated on many issues, and also established joint institutions; among these the most important was the Institute for Social Welfare, established in 1935. There were many Jewish associations, organizations, and institutions in Prague. Among associations of a religious character the most important was the ḥevra kaddisha existing from the early 16th century. The *Afike Jehuda Society for the Advancement of Jewish Studies was founded in 1869. There were also the Jewish Museum and the Jewish Historical Society of Czechoslovakia. A five-grade elementary school was established with Czech as language of instruction. The many philanthropic institutions and associations included the Jewish Care for the Sick, the Center for Social Welfare, the Aid Committee for Refugees, the Aid Committee for Jews from Carpatho-Russia, orphanages, hostels for apprentices, old-age homes, a home for abandoned children, free-meal associations, associations for children's vacation centers, and funds to aid students. Zionist organizations were well represented. There were three *B'nai B'rith lodges, several other fraternities, women's organizations, youth movements, student clubs, sports organizations, and a community center. Four Jewish weeklies were published in Prague (three Zionist; one Czecho-assimilationist), and several monthlies and quarterlies. Most Jewish organizations in Czechoslovakia had their national headquarters in Prague.

Jews first became politically active, and some of them prominent, within the German orbit. David Kuh and the president of the Jewish community, Arnold Rosenbacher, were among the leaders of the German Liberal Party in the 19th century. Bruno *Kafka and Ludwig *Spiegel represented its successor in the Czechoslovak Republic – the German Democratic Party – in the chamber of deputies and the senate respectively. Many Jews also joined the German Social Democratic Party and some rose to leadership; Emil Strauss represented that party in the 1930s on the Prague municipal council and in the Bohemian Diet. From the end of the 19th century an increasing number of Jews joined Czech parties, especially T.G. *Masaryk's Realists and the Social Democratic Party. In the latter party Alfred Meissner, Lev Winter, and Robert Klein rose to prominence, the first two as ministers of justice and social welfare respectively. Klein, leader of the white-collar employees, participated in the founding of the World Jewish Congress; he was tortured to death in a concentration camp. Meissner (d. 1952) was a member of the last Council of Elders in *Theresienstadt, and survived the Holocaust.

The Zionists, though a minority, soon became the most active element among the Jews of Prague. Before World War i the students' organization *Bar Kochba, under the leadership of Samuel Hugo *Bergman, became one of the centers of cultural Zionism. At the same time Zionism also spurred Jewish political activity. The Prague Zionist Arthur *Mahler was elected to the Austrian Parliament in 1907, though as representative of an electoral district in Galicia. Under the leadership of Ludvik *Singer the Jewish National Council was formed in 1918. Singer was elected in 1929 to the Czechoslovak Parliament, and was succeeded after his death in 1931 by Angelo *Goldstein. Singer, Goldstein, František Friedmann, and Jacob Reiss represented the Zionists on the Prague municipal council also. Some important Zionist conferences took place in Prague, among them the founding conference of *Hitaḥadut in 1920, and the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933.

Jews were prominent in the cultural life of Prague. Their contribution to German literature was most significant. Of the older generation Salomon *Kohn dealt mainly with Bohemian Jewish topics; Friedrich *Adler, Auguste Hauschner, and Hugo *Salus among the most prominent authors; Heinrich Teweles was important as an author, editor, and director of the theater. The group of Prague German-Jewish authors which emerged in the 1880s, known as the "Prague circle" (Der Prager Kreis), achieved international recognition and included Franz *Kafka, Max *Brod, Franz *Werfel, Oskar *Baum, Ludwig Winder, Leo *Perutz, Egon Erwin *Kisch, Otto Klepetar, and Willy *Haas. Among Jews who contributed to Czech literature a pioneer was the poet Siegfried *Kapper; he was later considered the herald of Czech-Jewish assimilation. To this group also belonged at a later time Eduard Lederer *(Leda), Vojtēch *Rakous, celebrated for his novels about Jewish life in the Czech countryside, and Jindřich *Kohn, the philosopher and ideologist of assimilation. Other important authors were Otakar *Fischer, Richard *Weiner, František *Langer, his brother Mordecai Jiří *Langer, Jiří *Weil, František *Gottlieb, and Egon *Hostovský. Important scientists teaching at Prague universities included Arnold Piek, Max Saenger, and Edmund Weil (medicine), Samuel *Steinherz (history), Ludwig *Spiegel (constitutional law), Moritz *Winternitz (Sanskrit), Otakar Fischer (German literature), Oskar Engländer (economics), and Guido *Adler (musicology). Albert *Einstein taught in Prague in 1911–12, and Hans *Kelsen, a native of Prague, taught there in 1936–38. The composer Jaromir *Weinberger was born in Prague and lived there until his emigration in 1937; Gustav *Mahler, a native of Bohemia, spent several years in Prague as a conductor. Among many other noted Jewish conductors and musicians from Prague were Walter Suesskind, Frank *Pelleg, George Singer, and Karel Ančerl. The German theater in Prague knew its most glorious period under the directorships of Angelo Neumann, Heinrich Teweles, and Leopold Kramer. Ernst *Deutsch and Franz Lederer were among the most celebrated actors on the German stage, and Hugo Haas and Jiří Voskovec on the Czech stage. Emil *Orlik and Hugo Steiner-Prag were outstanding artists.

Jewish topics, and particularly the history and legends of Prague Jewry, were a frequent theme in the work of non-Jewish authors and artists, more so in the Czech cultural sphere than in the German. Retrospectively, the Jewish ghetto has been considered part and parcel of Prague's history. The statue of Judah Loew b. Bezalel at the entrance to the new City Hall, and a statue of Moses near the Altneuschul, both works of Czech sculptors commissioned by the Prague municipality, are monuments to this attitude. The Jews of Prague responded with gratitude and pride in their history; but latterly only a minority was still capable of living a meaningful Jewish life, much less of forging a creative Jewish future.

[Jan Herman /

Chaim Yahil]

Holocaust Period

From 1935, two years after Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, a constant influx of refugees arrived in Prague from Germany, followed in 1938 by refugees from Austria and the German-speaking occupied parts of Czechoslovakia. As a result the number of Jews in Prague on March 15, 1939, the day of the Nazi occupation, amounted to about 56,000. On July 22, 1939, Reichsprotektor Constantin von Neurath ordered the establishment of a Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung in Boehmen und Maehren ("Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Bohemia and Moravia"). Its director in fact was Adolf *Eichmann. Initially the office dealt only with Prague's Jews but as of Feb. 16, 1940, it affected all the Jews in the protectorate.

At the outbreak of the war (Sept. 1, 1939), prominent Prague Jews were arrested and deported as hostages to *Buchenwald concentration camp. Various anti-Jewish measures, e.g., deprivation of property rights, prohibition against religious, cultural, or any other form of public activity, expulsion from the professions and from schools, a ban on the use of public transportation and the telephone, affected Prague Jews much more than those still living in the provinces. Jewish organizations provided social welfare and clandestinely continued the education of the youth and the training in languages and new vocations – in preparation for emigration. The *Palestine Office in Prague, directed by Jacob *Edelstein, enabled about 19,000 Jews to emigrate legally or otherwise until the end of 1939. In March 1940, the Prague Zentralstelle extended the area of its jurisdiction to include all of Bohemia and Moravia. In an attempt to avert the deportation of the Jews to "the east," Jewish leaders, headed by Jacob Edelstein, proposed to the Zentralstelle the establishment of a self-administered concentrated Jewish communal body; the Nazis eventually exploited this proposal in the establishment of the ghetto at *Theresienstadt (Terezin). The Prague Jewish community was forced to provide the Nazis with lists of candidates for deportation and to ensure that they showed up at the assembly point and boarded deportation trains. In the period from Oct. 6, 1941, to March 16, 1945, 46,067 Jews were deported from Prague to the east or to Theresienstadt. Two leading officials of the Jewish community, H. Bonn and Emil Kafka (a former president of the community), were dispatched to *Mauthausen concentration camp and put to death after trying to slow down the pace of the deportations. The Nazis set up a Treuhandstelle ("Trustee Office") over evacuated Jewish apartments, furnishings, and possessions. This office sold these goods and forwarded the proceeds to the German Winterhilfe ("Winter Aid"). The Treuhandstelle ran as many as 54 warehouses, including 11 synagogues (as a result, none of the synagogues was destroyed). The Zentralstelle brought Jewish religious articles from 153 Jewish communities to Prague on a proposal by Jewish scholars. This collection, including 5,400 religious objects, 24,500 prayer books, and 6,070 items of historical value, the Nazis intended to utilize for a "Central Museum of the Defunct Jewish Race." Jewish historians engaged in the creation of the museum were deported to extermination camps just before the end of the war. Thus the Jewish Museum had acquired at the end of the war one of the richest collections of Judaica in the world. The Pinkas Synagogue, which is included in the museum complex, contains inscriptions of the names of 77,297 Jewish victims of the Nazi extermination campaign in Bohemia and Moravia.

In April 1945 the Prague representative of the International Red Cross (irc), Paul Dunant, negotiated with Reichsprotektor Karl Hermann Frank for the transfer of the Theresienstadt ghetto to irc auspices. When the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London returned to Prague, a Jewish member of the State Council, Arnošt Frischer, also came back; under his leadership, the Prague Jewish community was reconstituted and a council of Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia established. According to the monthly Věstník, the official Jewish community publication, Prague had a Jewish population of 10,338 in 1946, of whom 1,396 Jews had not been deported (mostly of mixed Jewish-Christian parentage); 227 Jews had gone underground; 4,980 returned from prisons, concentration camps, or Theresienstadt; 883 returned from Czechoslovak army units abroad; 613 were Czechoslovak Jewish émigrés who returned; and 2,233 were Jews from Ruthenia (Carpatho-Ukraine), which had been ceded to the U.S.S.R., who decided to move to Czechoslovakia.

Contemporary Period

In the three years following the end of the war, the Jewish population of Prague rose to 11,000, after the return of Prague Jews and the settlement of other survivors of the Holocaust. Thus a basis for Jewish life again existed in the city, and Chief Rabbi Gustav Sicher, who had returned from Palestine, sought to establish firm foundations for the further development of Jewish activities. The Communist takeover of 1948, however, put an end to these endeavors and marked the beginning of a period of stagnation. By 1950 about half of the Jewish population had gone to Israel or immigrated to other countries. The Slańský Trials and the officially promoted antisemitism had a destructive effect upon Jewish life. Nazi racism of the previous era was replaced by political and social discrimination. Most of the Jews of Prague were branded as "class enemies of the working people" and suffered from various forms of persecution, including imprisonment, exile, forced labor, and, in some cases, execution. During this period (1951–64) there was also no possibility of Jewish emigration from the country. The assets belonging to the Jewish community – estimated at 100 million Czech crowns – had to be relinquished to the state, the charitable organizations were disbanded, and the budget of the community, provided by the state, was drastically reduced. The general anti-religious policy of the regime resulted in the cessation, for all practical purposes, of such Jewish religious activities as bar mitzvah religious instruction, and wedding ceremonies. Two Prague rabbis – E. Davidovi and E. Farkas – left the country, and in 1964 the office of the chief rabbi also became vacant; only two cantors and two ritual slaughterers were left. Services were held in only two of Prague's nine synagogues, while the other seven were used as exhibition halls and warehouses for the State Jewish Museum. The Hebrew inscription on the wall of the Talmud Torah Synagogue was removed by the museum director. The museum's collection of Jewish art and religious articles were used by the Czechoslovak Travel Bureau as a tourist attraction. Officials of the Jewish communal organizations achieved their positions by manipulated elections.

The social, cultural and, above all, political activity of Jewish communal officials was strictly supervised, and the officials themselves were agents of the authorities – in charge of supervising the members of the congregation, the people who attended prayers and festivities, and clients of the kosher restaurant. The officials participated in propaganda projects such as the World Peace Movement. They abstained, however, as much as they could from attacking the State of Israel and Zionism. The Rada zidovskych nabozenskych obci (Council of Jewish Religious Congregations) cooperated with the central federation of Jewish religious congregations in Slovakia, but the cooperation did not always go smoothly. While Bratislava complained that Prague was monopolizing the representation of Czechoslovak Jewry, Prague charged that Bratislava was getting a disproportionate amount of assistance from abroad. The bulletin Věstník ("The Informer") represented both Czech and Slovak Jewry, both sides supplied material for the publication, and both covered the expenses.

The liberalization of the regime during 1965–68 held out new hope for a renewal of Jewish life in Prague. At the end of March 1967 the president of the *World Jewish Congress, Nahum *Goldmann, was able to visit Prague and give a lecture in the Jewish Town Hall. Among the Jewish youth, many tended to identify with Judaism. In August 1968, however, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia put an end to this trend. The festivities that were to mark the millennium of Jewish life in Prague were canceled four times. A new wave of emigration began, and the Jewish population of Prague was further reduced to about 2,000.

The period of "normalization" after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact forces in August 1968 heralded renewed discrimination and oppression of the Jewish minority. The liberals who led the Prague Spring of 1967 granted the Jewish community freedom. Jewish institutions were free to act as they pleased. These liberals approved the Israeli and Jewish polices of President Novotny and his people. After the occupation on August 21, 1968, Jewish policies and Jewish institutions once again became targets of suspicion and attack. President Husak and the conservatives who surrounded him earmarked the Jews for special treatment. Prague's Jewry and foreign Jewish institutions were under surveillance. After the wave of hasty emigration in 1968–70, the authorities would not permit Jews to leave, particularly to the State of Israel. The close governmental ties with Arab countries had a strong impact on Czechoslovak foreign and domestic policies.

Czech dissent was by and large inclined to understand local Jewry and objected to governmental policies. The anti-Zionist campaign, which increased after 1970 and sometimes turned into overt antisemitism, affected the life of Prague's Jewish community. The conditions improved somewhat when Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the reins of power in Moscow. When the student demonstrations occurred in Prague in the fall of 1989 and the police displayed unusual brutality, numerous Prague organizations protested and the Council published a special communiqué. During the Samet Revolution, Prague Jewry identified with the protesters. After the change of the regime, the council was reorganized, personnel changes took place, and a young rabbi took over the vacant seat of the chief rabbi. Rabbi Karol Sidon, who had studied in Heidelberg and in Jerusalem and was trained there for the rabbinate, was installed in the position. He had cooperated with the dissent in the past and proved to be a prolific and respected writer.

The authorities handed back to the Prague congregation its jurisdiction over the Altneuschul synagogue and the adjacent ancient cemetery, as well as other synagogues and properties. These became a source of considerable income from visitors and tourists. The congregation renewed the regular services in the Altneuschul. There was a certain unrest in the early years when Jews, and youth in particular, wanted to return to Judaism. The veteran Orthodox synagogue goers – some immigrants from Carpatho-Rus – would not recognize the newcomers as Jews. Those not recognized as Jewish according to halakhah had to fight for their rights. In Prague, the younger generation identified with Judaism and the State of Israel and was forced to face the apprehension of the Conservatives.

The social function of the congregation and the desire to enjoy reparation, and indemnity monies from Germany and elsewhere led the elderly in particular to join the congregation. Also, cultural activities sponsored by the congregation and by the Jewish Museum gave the impetus for more extensive Jewish life; and many who had hitherto hidden their Jewish ancestry began to avail themselves of the services provided by the congregation. These included the activities of the Center for Educational and Cultural Activities, organized by the Jewish Museum. Consequently, Jewish life saw a revival. The center organized conferences, hosted exhibitions, and published books and other material. The bulletin Rosh Chodesh serves the Jewish communities in the Czech lands and in Slovakia, as does the annual magazine Zidovsk rocenka. The Czech Jewish communal institutions do not enjoy inner consolidation. Frequent quarrels, resignations, election campaigns, and confrontations disturb the congregation's peace and the communal life. Rabbi Sidon has been unable to remedy the situation. In 2005 around 1,300 Jews were affiliated with the community.

[Erich Kulka /

Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]

Hebrew Printing in Prague

Prague was the first city north of the Alps where Hebrew books were printed. The earliest, printed in 1512, was a book of miscellaneous prayers. Of the early printers Gershom *Kohen emerged as the leading figure; from 1526 he and his sons carried on the printing business which for several generations remained one of the outstanding Hebrew presses in Europe. Gershom Kohen, with his brother Gronim (Jerome), produced independently in 1526 the famous illustrated Passover Haggadah (facsimile edition, 1926). In the following year (under the name of Herman) he obtained from King Ferdinand of Bohemia a printing privilege, which at his death in 1545 was reissued to his son Moses and in 1598 to his great-grandson Gershom b. Bezalel. He and his brother Moses after him were active until the middle of the 17th century. The Gersonides printed mainly liturgical items in this period, but also such important works as Jacob b. Asher's Turim (1540) and Moses Isserles' Torat ha-Olah (1569). Another printing press was founded by Jacob Bak who was printing in Prague by 1605. Jacob died in 1618, and after him eight generations of Baks printed Hebrew books in Prague up to the threshold of the 19th century. Their productions were mostly liturgical and for local use, and they, like other Hebrew printers, suffered much under the Jesuit censorship (from 1528) and occasional book burnings (1715, 1731). Jonathan *Eybeschuetz obtained permission to print the Talmud at Bak's (1728–41).

Besides Kohen and Bak, other Hebrew printers of note in Prague included Abraham Heide-Lemberger and his sons (1610–41). From 1828 Moses Landau printed independently, in particular a Talmud edition (8°, 1830–35).


The standard guide is O. Muneles, Bibliographical Survey of Jewish Prague (Ger. and Czech, 1952); M. Kreutzberger (ed.), Bibliothek und Archiv, 1 (1970), and the bibliographies appended to the Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute (1956– ) offer additional information. New material on Prague appears mainly in the communal journal Vĕstník, the scholarly Judaica Bohemiae (since 1965), and in works commissioned by the Jewish State Museum of Prague. general works: S. Steinherz, Die Juden in Prag (1927); G. Klemperer, in: hj, 12 (1950), 33–66; 13 (1951), 55–82; G. Kisch, Die Prager Universitaet und die Juden (1969); L. Schnitzler, Prager Judendeutsch (1966); Gesher, no. 2–3, 15 (1969); The Jews of Czechoslovakia (1968); Jewish Studies. Essays in Honor of Dr. Gustav Sicher (1955). middle ages: Germ Jud, 1 (1963); 2 (1968); S. Steinherz, in: B'nai B'rith Monatsblaetter, 6 (1927), 433–8; idem, in: jggj, 1 (1929), 1–37; J. Proke, ibid., 41–224; R. Kestenberg, ibid., 8 (1936), 1–25; V. Rynes, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 1 (1965), 9–25; P. Trost, ibid., 4 (1968), 138f. renaissance: M. Wischnitzer, in: jsos, 16 (1955), 335–50; idem, Jewish Crafts and Guilds (1965), index; O. Muneles (ed.), Prague Ghetto in the Renaissance Period (1965); F. Thieberger, The Great Rabbi Loew of Prague (1954). prague expulsion: B. Brilling, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden, 1 (1964), 37–42; A. Newman, in: jhset, 22 (1968), 30–42; B. Mevorah, in: Meḥkarim be-Toledot Am-Yisrael ve-Ereẓ Yisrael (1970), 187–232; idem, in: Zion, 28 (1963), 125–64. modern era: F. Weltsch (ed.), Prag vi-Yrushalayim (1954); H. Tramer, in: ylbi, 9 (1964), 305–39; F. Meissner, German Jews of Prague (1961; = ajhsp, 50 (1960/61), 98–120); R. Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den boehmischen Laendern (1969); idem, in: ylbi, 9 (1964), 295–304; M. Brod, Der Prager Kreis (1966); W. Benda, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden, 2–3 (1966), 85–94; J. Urzidil, in: blbi, 10 (1967), 276–97; G. Kisch, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 3 (1967), 87–100; J. Vyskočil, ibid., 36–55; K. Baum, in: mgwj, 73 (1929), 349–65. hebrew printing: Zunz, Gesch, 261–303; S.H. Lieben, in: Die Juden in Prag… (1927); A. Freimann, in: Soncino-Blaetter, 3 (1929–30), 113–43 (189–219); Ḥ.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri ba-Arim she-be-Eiropah ha-Tikhonah (1935), 1–29 [see also KS, index to vols. 1–40 (1967), nos. 126, 176, 213]. holocaust period: M. Moskowitz, in: jsos, 4 (1942), 17–44; M.Y. Ben-Gavriel, Bayit bi-Prag (1945); O. Kraus and E. Kulka, The Death Factory (1966), index; Juedisches Nachrichtenblatt (Prague, 1939–44); Juedische Kultusgemeinde Prag, Wochen, Monats-und Vierteljahresberichte, 10 vols. (1933–42); H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt 1941–45 (Ger., 1960), passim. contemporary jewry: A. Charim, Die toten Gemeinden (1966), 1321; R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen mit Jubel werden sie ernten (1959). museum, ghetto, and cemetery: Historica Hebraica (1965); H. Volavkov, Story of the Jewish Museum in Prague (1968); idem, The Pinkas Synagogue (1955); J. Lion and J. Lukas, The Prague Ghetto (1960); idem, The Old Prague Jewish Cemetery (1960); I. Herrmann, J. Tege and Z. Winter, Das Prager Ghetto (1903); S. Muenzer, in: jggjလ, 4 (1932), 63–105; A. Deutsch, Die Zigeuner-Grossenhof-und Neusynagoge in Prag (1907); S. Hock and D. Kaufmann, Die Familien Prags (1892); B. Wachstein, in: Jewish Studies… G.A. Kohut (1935), 25–40. add. bibliography: J. Fiedler, Jewish Sights of Bohemia and Moravia (1991).


views updated May 21 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Prague, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic, Europe

Founded: 870
Location: North-central Czech Republic on both sides of the Vltava River, Central Bohemia, Europe
Time Zone: 1 pm = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: Czech, Moravian, Slovak, German, Polish, Gypsy, and Hungarian
Elevation: 300 m (1000 ft) above sea level
Coastline: Vltava River
Climate : Winters are cold, cloudy, and humid, with little snow and ice; summers are warm and sunny.
Annual Mean Temperature: January, high of 0°C (32°F) and a low of 6°C (22°F); July, high of 24°C (76°F) and low of 56°F
Government: Mayor and a city council
Weights and measures: Metric
Monetary Units: The koruna (Kc) equals 100 haleru.
Telephone Area Codes: Country code 420; area code 02 (It is sometimes necessary to dial several times before making a connection because the system is old.)

1. Introduction

Often called the "City of a Hundred Spires," Prague is an ancient European city, situated between hill and valley on the banks of the Vltava River. Renowned for its beauty, visitors travel from around the world to see the city's medley of Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, and art nouveau architecture, its bridges, domes, palaces, and especially its spires. However, a great deal of construction in recent years has transformed Prague into a modern city as well, with state-of-the art public buildings, an underground railway, and a newly designed highway system. The capital and the largest city of the Czech Republic, Prague is the nation's leading center of commerce and industry, an economic, social, and cultural hub.

2. Getting There

Although the roadblocks of communism have only recently been lifted, Prague is not hard to access these days. Numerous flights, trains, and buses connect with the city every day, and the roads are getting better as the city strives to forge closer ties with the West.


Prague has been undergoing a major reconstruction project, including a redesigned highway system that will connect this "Eastern" country with the West. The speed limits have been raised to other European standards, 121 kilometers (75 miles) per hour on four-lane freeways, 88 kilometers (55 miles) per hour on open roads, and 48 kilometers (30 miles) per hour in built-up regions. Seatbelts are compulsory on all roads in Prague, a transportation system that covers over 55,557 kilometers (34,524 miles).

Bus and Railroad Service

The city of Prague is connected to most major European centers by rail and bus, especially to locations in the Czech Republic, including Plzen, Kutná Hera, and Brno. Most trains arrive at Praha Hlavmi Nadrczi (Main Station), or Praha Holesovice, Praha Sovichori or Praha Marsarykovo Nadrezi stations. The major bus companies, CAD and the express coach of the CEBUS firm and Czech National Express, have buses running from Prague to Brno and other destinations.


The airport serving Prague and the general vicinity is Ruzyne Airport, located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the city center. Transportation to and from the airport is provided by Cedaz shuttle bus 119, taxis, and Belinda, a private shuttle company. Air France, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Czech Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, Sabena, Swissair, and other airlines operate at this airport.

3. Getting Around

The easiest way to get around Prague is by car, but it is relatively simple to see the city by foot and public transportation. Most guidebooks describe walking tours that allow plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

Prague Population Profile

Population: 1,225,000
Ethnic composition: Czech, Moravian, Slovak, German, Polish, Gypsy, and Hungarian
World population rank 1: 298
Percentage of national population 2: 12.9%
Average yearly growth rate: 0.1%
Nicknames: Golden Prague, City of a Hundred Spires, The Only Medieval City Still Standing in the World, A Town Built of Stone and Mortar

  1. The Prague metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of the Czech Republic's total population living in the Prague metropolitan area.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

There are three metro lines, trams, and buses that traverse Prague. Tickets can be purchased from automats, ticket booth attendants, or local Trafika shops that offer tickets good for three, seven, and 15 days. Transportation information centers are located at Karlovo Namesti, Muzeum, Mustek, and Nadrazi Holecovice metro stops. The underground operates from 5:00 am until midnight.


Prices are not regulated for Prague taxis; therefore, rider and driver usually agree on a price before entering the car. It is necessary to call the taxi company in advance; AAA Taxi and ProfiTaxi are recommended companies.


Parks, public gardens, and a zoo adorn the city of Prague, and weekend excursions to castles and historical cities are popular. The city's many museums are accessible by bus and rail, especially close to the metro stations, and are sometimes located directly inside metro passageways. By train, one may also visit the famous Marianske Lazne spa town, a three-hour journey west from Hlavni Nadrazi train station. The Bohemian Express tour guide company organizes customized itineraries in Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic.

4. People

The population of Prague stands somewhere around 1,225,000, a number that has been declining since the 1980s. Despite a sizable number of immigrants and foreign workers, the city (like most advanced European societies) has an extremely low birthrate. Most Czech citizens are Roman Catholic (43 percent) while the minority are Protestant (15 percent), and a total of 82 percent are Christian. Most of the population consists of Czech nationals, Moravians, Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, and an unknown number of itinerant Gypsies. The official language is Czech, but many know Russian as well, and many more would have known German if, after World War II (193945), around 2.5 million ethnic Germans had not been expelled from the Sudenten region in retaliation for wartime atrocities.

5. Neighborhoods

Prague is divided into sections that are formed directionally and according to the position of historical monuments. To the east lies Zizkov, an old quarter with little tourism and few attractions, but the Letecke Meuseum (Aviation Museum) and Zizkov TV Tower, with a restaurant 63 meters (207 feet) above ground, are worth visiting. In western Prague, the city suburbs take visitors into more rural areas, where the Grand Hvezda (Star) hunting lodge and Brevnov Monastery lie in pastoral solitude. To the north lie Troja Chateau, which is used as lecture, concert, and theater hall, as well as an exhibition space by the Gallery of the Municipality of Prague, and the zoo, known especially for its exhibition of the rare Przewalski horse. The south hosts the famous Velka Chuchle Horse Racing Course. The Old Town, at the very center of Prague, is the showpiece of the city, including Mala Strana (Little Quarter or Lesser Town) with a marketplace in front of the church of St. Nicholas below Castle Hill. This part of town used to hold the Jewish Ghetto, but today the only vestiges are the synagogues and Old Town Hall. Hradcany, Prague Castle, was built in the ninth century, on one of the hills surrounding the community. Its rustic environs invite tourists to visit the ramparts and learn about Prague's history. In contrast, the New Town is the commercial center, or "Golden Cross," consisting of Wenceslas Square and the nearby roads, where in 1989, with the Soviet Union about to crumble, students gathered and demanded free elections in what came to be known as the "Velvet Revolution." Wenceslas Square is crossed by Narodni and Naprikope streets, making it the busiest shopping area with many markets.

City Fact Comparison
(United States)(Egypt)(Italy)(China)
Population of urban area11,233,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded870AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$177$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$61$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$15$14$15$16
Total daily costs$253$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city15132011
Largest newspaperBleskAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper420,0001,159,450754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was establishedn.a.194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

6. History

The erection of Prague Castle by Premyslid Prince Borivoj in 870 marks the first permanent settlement in Prague. Hradcany, or Prague Castle, then becomes the first seat of the Premyslid (Premyslovci) princes who rule the Kingdom of Bohemia after 894 (with the aid of the western Germans against the eastern Hungarian Maygars). During the next three centuries, the city is populated by many Germans and built up around the Vltava River, with Vysehrad Castle, the Gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus, and Judith's stone bridge. The Bohemian Premsylid dynasty ends in 1305 when Vaclav II (r. 12801305) dies from consumption and excess, and his son is murdered, leaving no heirs.

Czech nobles give the throne to John of Luxembourg and his son Charles IV (13461378), who also becomes Holy Roman Emperor. He brings a great time of prosperity to Prague, second only to Rome, by founding Charles University, the first one in Central Europe. This "Golden Age" is followed by a period of unrest as the Hussite Revolution, started by the burning of Jan Hus, brings a reaction against domination of the Germans and the Catholic Church.

Ferdinand of Hapsburg is elected to the Crown of St. Wenceslas. As a result, the next three centuries are marked by the rule of the House of Catholic Hapsburgs, which experiences the opposition of a predominantly Protestant citizenry. There is a fire in 1541 at Prague Castle, Hradcany, and the Lesser Town, and many Bohemians lose property during anti-Hapsburg uprisings. However, this period also is known for its development of the arts under Emperor Rudolph II (15761612). In 1618, two Protestant churches are closed, precipitating the "Defenestration of Prague," when Protestants throw two Imperial Governors out of the windows of Prague Castle. This action, and the execution of 27 Protestant nobles, leads to the Thirty Years War (161848), pitting Catholics against Protestants, ending with the Peace of Westphalia and German-Catholic rule.

Industrialization brings growth to the city, and in 1784 Emperor Joseph II (174190) merges the four towns: Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town, and Hradcany, into the contemporary Capital City of Prague. In 1848, riots in Prague bring about a Pan-Slavic Congress, which emancipates the Czech nation from the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, under Bohemian historian Francis Palacky.

Thomas Masaryk (18501937) becomes the first Czechoslovakian President from 1918 to 1937, ruling Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia, but in 1939 Hitler occupies the Sudetenland, ending independent rule. By 1945, the Communist Party had grown considerably in the Czech nation under Russian influence, allying the government with the Soviet Union until the 1968 Prague Spring and revolution. Under President General Ludwik Svoboda (18951979), the country begins to liberalize, but the U.S.S.R. and the Warsaw Pact allies quell this rebellion by occupying Czechoslovakia with 650,000 troops. By 1989, the Soviet Union is ready to crumble. In what is known as the "Velvet Revolution," students gather on Wenceslas Square and demand free elections. In 1990, Vaclav Havel becomes president of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic. In 1993, Czechoslovakia splits into the more affluent, western, democratic Czech Republic and the eastern, left-leaning Slovakia, making way for Prague, as part of the Czech Republic, to enter the European Union.

7. Government

Prague's city government is administered by a mayor and city council. The mayor and city council members are popularly elected to four-year terms. For administrative purposes, the city is divided into ten districts that possess separate offices. Some major concerns of contemporary politicians include the housing shortage caused by communist neglect, pollution, and a recent rise in crime. Prague is one of eight regions of the Czech Republic, all governed by President Vaclav Havel (b. 1936) and Prime Minister Milos Zeman (b. 1944).

8. Public Safety

The rise in crime in Prague during 1999 is largely a result of the financial collapse of Russia, with Russian gangsters operating in most major central and eastern European cities. This kind of crime will not affect most travelers, but pickpockets and petty thieves abound in Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and near Prague Castle. In case of emergency, citizens and visitors can dial 158 for the police, 155 for an ambulance, and 150 in the event of a fire. Na Homolce Hospital has a foreigner's clinic.

9. Economy

The monetary denomination of the Czech Republic is the Koruna (Kc), which has an exchange rate of about 30.5 Kc to one U.S. dollar, remaining fairly stable since its inception. The city of Prague has a well-diversified, highly industrial economy. Main products are metals and machinery, aircraft engines, automobiles (Volkswagen AG), diesel engines, machine tools, refined oil products, electronics, beer, chemicals, and food. During the communist era, Prague and the surrounding countryside produced approximately 80% of the products it consumed, but recently there has been a boom in the newly privatized service sector as the country strives for free-market, democratic practice. Unemployment holds steady at about three percent, and inflation continues to level out through excellent economic planning, but the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is still below most other industrialized countries, at a purchasing power parity of about $10,000. The collapse of the Russian economy negatively affected the banking system and caused a short recession in 1999, driving away investors. However, eventual entrance to the European Union is expected to balance out the effects. The city still depends on Russia for its oil and gas, but officials are looking for alternatives, such as solar power, nuclear plants, and new sources of oil and gas.

10. Environment

Due to rapid industrialization during the twentieth century, there are serious levels of air, water, and soil pollution in Prague and its surrounding environment. The levels of air pollution are exacerbated during the winter months by the burning of soft coal to provide heat. For this reason, lung cancer is prevalent in the city, and in 1992 the country was measured as having the world's highest industrial carbon dioxide emissions levels. The air is also contaminated by sulfur dioxide emissions, mainly from ore of lignite, also a popular heating fuel, which contributes heavily to the occurrence of acid rain throughout Europe. Acid rain floating over from Poland and Germany has also destroyed a large portion of forest in the northern part of the country. Western nations offered $1 billion to the Czech Republic for environmental reforms in the early 1990s, but economic growth was more important to the government at the time. Rich in natural resources, there are more than 15,000 lakes and ponds in the Czech Republic and 2,000 medicinal mineral springs in 30 spa towns, but unfortunately most of these are polluted. Clay, tin-tungsten, lead, zinc, and uranium mining adds to the agricultural deforestation and soil erosion of the land, and a nuclear power plant at Dukovany adds the danger of radioactive poisoning in the event of a nuclear meltdown. Prague also acts as the country's transportation hub, making pollution from aircraft, trains, and boats prevalent.

11. Shopping

Most stores in Prague are open during the week from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm (some until 9:00 pm. with lunch breaks, closed from noon until 4:00 pm on Saturday and closed all day Sunday. Prague is well known for its beautiful glass works, most notably from Moser glass-works in Karlovy Vary, from Bohemia Podebrady, Crystalex Novy Bor, Lustry Kqmenicky Senov, Zelezny Brod, and Svetla nad Sazavou. Crystal, porcelain, and red garnet stones are also popular items that can be purchased in many tourist shops and city stores, especially near the center of town. The biggest shopping area is located at Wenceslas Square and the surrounding streets, with a number of daily markets. At restaurants, it is normal to tip around ten percent of the total bill, and it is better to tell the waiter how much you are tipping before he takes the payment.

12. Education

In Prague, children generally attend school from ages six to 11; they then have eight years of secondary schooling in the academic and technical tracks and for teaching careers. Twenty-three universities operate in the Czech Republic, and students must pay only one-quarter of the fees. Charles University, founded in 1348, is one of the oldest and best-known institutions of higher learning in Europe. The Czech Academy of Sciences and a large technical university also reside in Prague. For centuries, education in Prague has been heavily influenced, first by the Hapsburgs, who forced the German language on Czech natives, and then by the Communists, who forced socialist principals and the Russian language and banned religion. Now, education in Prague is notably free of religious and political persuasion. The International School of Prague, founded in 1948 for foreign students, teaches pre-kindergarten through eleventh grade, and the French Cultural Center teaches in French to nursery and kindergartenaged children. With 100 percent literacy levels since the early twentieth century, Prague's educational system is more successful than those of many countries.

13. Health Care

Health care in Prague under communist control was under strict state administration. Standards were not high, and equipment was outdated in clinics and hospitals. Since 1990, privatization has improved services under the guidance of the Ministry of Health through the National Health Service. Factories and offices often still have on-site facilities for employees, but the government is encouraging private medical practices. Life expectancy is between 69 and 77 years, which is rising due to new medicines and inoculations, while the birthrate is falling. One interesting facet of Prague health care is that insurance companies are required by law to pay doctors within five days of treatment. Citizens and visitors can dial 155 for emergency medical service.

14. Media

The Prague Post puts out a weekly paper for English speakers; Prague Guide comes out monthly; and What, Where, When is also published monthly. Czech publications from Prague include Lidove Noviny, Mlada Fronta, Rude Pravo, SvobodneSlovo, Prace Revolutionary Trade Union Movement, and ZN Noviny. Radio Prague broadcasts daily in five languages. Nova TV is the most popular television station but is also known for its low-brow programming.

15. Sports

Skiing and ice skating are popular winter sports in Prague, and most skiing hills are close enough for a one-day outing. Indoor and outdoor skating rinks are open to the public. Prague inhabitants also enjoy their natural surroundings by hunting, hiking, fishing, and camping, while water sports are enjoyed on the many lakes. There are three golf courses, Marianske Lazne, Lis-nice, and Karlovy Vary. Tennis has become very popular because of Czech greats Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, and Jana Novotna. Soccer, hockey, volleyball, and basketball are also played in Prague.

16. Parks and Recreation

Some of the most relaxing places to go in and near Prague are the spas and mineral springs whose waters boast medicinal properties. The well-known ones are Karlovy Vary spa, which is said to help disorders of the digestive system and which hosts the International Film Festival; Janske Lazne, which treats nervous diseases; and Luhacovice which offers unspecified treatment for the whole body. At Marianske Lazne, one can stroll through gardens, drink from the hot springs, walk in the nearby woods with waterfalls, and view the gorgeous architecture. Other places to go are the Prague Zoo, Botanical Gardens (among the finest in Europe), Prague Castle, and the famous steeplechase at Pardubice. Walking through the city to see the historical sites and municipal parks is a recreational activity as well. There are 147 castles and mansions and 41 protected urban reservations in the Czech Republic. Most of Prague survived World War II relatively intact, so its palaces and churches from the Renaissance (14501600) and Baroque (16001750) periods still stand as they have for centuries.

17. Performing Arts

The National Theater company, also producer of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (c. 1896), offers three types of ensemble: opera, ballet, and drama. These companies alternate performances at the National Theater, Theater of the Estates (Stavovske divadlo, which premiered Mozart's Don Giovanni and the Clemency of Titus ), and Kolowrat Theater, performing both classical and contemporary pieces. The Theater of the Estates is one of the only eighteenth-century theaters still in existence in Bohemia. The State Opera (c. 1783) has boasted such famous conductors as Maria von Weber, Gustav Mahler, and Carl Muck. The Spring International Music Festival holds a world-class competition in May. Smaller but still well-known theaters include Archa, Celetna Theater, Cerne Divaldo Jiriho Srnce, Labyrinth, Laterna Magika, Original Music Theater Prague, Theater Ta Fantastika, and Theater Image. Many perform in English and often provide experimental "Black Theater," combining dance, music, and pantomime to tell a story. There are also marionette shows for children.

18. Libraries and Museums

The Prague National Library is one of the largest and best libraries in the world. Established in 1958, it is an amalgamation of six Prague libraries and holds a collection of Mozart's papers and manuscripts. The National Museum of Prague holds permanent exhibitions on the prehistory of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Minerology and Petrology, Paleontology, Zoology, and Anthropology. Lubkowitz's Palace, located at Prague Castle, is open to the public for a nominal fee. Naprstek's Museum contains pieces from Australian and Oceanic Cultures, Indian Cultures of North and South America, and Asian Cultures. At Tyrs's Museum of Physical Culture and Sport, the history of the Sokol physical education movement (18621992) is documented. There is also a Museum of Czech History and literature, as well as the fascinating Prague Wax Museum, featuring Prague's celebrities through history. Many galleries and castles are closed on Mondays, and the National Museum is closed the first Tuesday of each month.

19. Tourism

There are many housing options for the holiday traveler visiting Prague, including hotels which are more expensive near the center of town, but which are closer to the major sights. Bed-and-breakfast inns offer a glimpse into the private lives of Czech citizens, as do private homes that rent rooms, but apartments near the city center afford more privacy. For the more adventurous, Youth Hostels are available in Prague, but there are very few. Camping sites are very cheap, and "Botels" float on the Vltava River not far from the city center. As for the food, Czech cuisine is a bit fattening, consisting mostly of meat and potatoes. The most popular dishes are roast pork, sauerkraut and dumplings, and goulash, usually accompanied by a hearty Czech beer, like Pilsner Urquell or Budweiser Budvar. If visitors are lucky enough to be invited into a Prague native's home for a meal, the hospitality should be overwhelming and the food more than ample.

20. Holidays and Festivals

Paleni Crodejnic (the Burning of the Witches)

The Spring International Music Festival
Labor Day

Celebration of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius (Byzantine priests who brought Christianity to Prague)
Anniversary of Jan Hus's death

Czech Independence Day

Commemoration of the Velvet Revolution

St. Nicholas Day
St. Stephen's Day

21. Famous Citizens

Eduard Benes (18841948), statesman.

Karel Capek (18901938), author.

John Amos Comenius (15921670), educational reformer and theologian.

Antonin Dvorak (18411904), composer.

Vaclav Havel (b. 1936), dramatist, statesman, and president.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky (18901967), chemist and Nobel Prize laureate for polarography.

Jan Hus (c. 13691415), religious reformer.

Franz Kafka (18831924), writer.

Ivan Klima (b. 1931), author.

Oskar Kokoschka (18861980), artist and writer.

Milan Kundera (b. 1929), writer.

Thomas Garrique Masaryk (18501937), founder-president of Czechoslovakia.

22. For Further Study


Office of the Government of the Czech Republic. [Online] Available (accessed January 7, 2000).

Official site of the Czech Republic. [Online] Available (accessed January 7, 2000).

Prague cybercafe. [Online] Available (accessed January 7, 2000).

Prague Post. [Online] Available (accessed January 7, 2000).

Government Offices

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic
Consular Department
125 10 Prague 1
tel.: (12) 2418 2125
fax: (12) 2431 0018

U.S. Embassy
Trziste 15
Mala Strana
tel.: (12) 2451-0847)

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

CKM: Zitna (Student Travelers)
Tel.: (12) 2491-5767
Fax: (12) 2435-1297

Prague Informtion Service (in Czech only)
Staromestske nam 22, Napikoke 20er
Betlemske nanesti 2
Tel.: (12) 264022
e-mail: [email protected].

Salvatorska 10
110 000 Praha 1
Tel.: (12) 2481-4020
Fax: (12) 2481-4021
e-mail: [email protected].


The Prague Post
Tel.: (2487-5016)
Fax: (2487-5050)
e-mail: [email protected].

What, Where, When
Tel.: (691-0905)
Fax: (691-1497)


The Czech Republic and Economic Transition in Eastern Europe. San Diego, Calif.: University Press.

Holy, Ladislav. The Little Czech and the Great Czech Nation: National Identity and the Post-Communist Transformation of Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

King, John and Richard Nebesky. Lonely Planet Prague. Hawthorne, Aus.: Lonely Planet, 1999.

Skalnik, Carol. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic: Nation vs. State. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.


views updated Jun 08 2018


PRAGUE. Prague was one of the largest and most influential cities in the Holy Roman Empire and central Europe in the early modern period. It was remarkable for its bilingual and multireligious population of Czech- and German-speaking Catholics, Protestants, and Jews; its distinctive geographic and political landscape; and its Reformation and cultural achievements. It was also the site of events of central importance in the histories of both the Bohemian kingdom and the empire. In reality, Prague was a complex of four legally and politically independent though socially and economically linked cities. The Old and New Cities, on the right bank of the Vltava River, were the center of artisanal and commercial activities. The Castle Hill (autonomous since 1592) and the Small Side, on the left bank, were home to royal and estate governments and were the seat of an archbishopric.

In 1346 Charles IV (ruled 13551378), king of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperor, chose Prague as his imperial residence. In 1348 he founded the University of Prague, the first university in central Europe, and he expanded and renovated the city. The new construction included the first stone bridge across the Vltava River and the monumental Saint Vitus Cathedral, which became the seat of a newly established archbishopric. Fifty years later Prague became the birthplace of the religious reform movement centered around Jan Hus (c. 13721415), rector of the Bethlehem Chapel in the Old City. In 1419 the reform movement turned into a revolution when a mob threw anti-Hussite councillors out of windows of the New City government building (an event known as the first Prague defenestration). During the Hussite Revolution religious orders and German speakers were forced to flee the city, and churches, monasteries, and other structures were destroyed in direct attacks and battles between competing forces. In the wake of the revolution Prague came into the hands of an Utraquist elite, a religiously and socially moderate group descended from the Hussites. Prague's population began to grow again, and schools and literary brotherhoods flourished in parish churches. Under the reign of King Vladislav II Jagiellon (ruled 14711516) Catholic religious orders began to return to the city, and Renaissance architecture first appeared in Bohemia at the Prague Castle. In 1483 the installation of new councillors sympathetic to the king's policies led to a revolt that culminated in a second defenestration of city councillors, this time from both the Old City and the New City government buildings. This revolt paved the way for the 1485 Peace of Kuttenberg, which established legal parity between Roman Catholics and Utraquists (though it forbade other religious groups).

By the beginning of the sixteenth century Prague had a population of about twenty thousand. The arrival of Lutheran ideas in the 1520s assisted in the ongoing development of Utraquism. In 1526 Ferdinand I (ruled Bohemia 15261564; ruled the Holy Roman Empire 15581564) was elected king of Bohemia. The first years of his reign were marked by maintenance of the status quo in religion and politics. However, in 1547, when the Prague cities refused to send troops to support the Catholic imperial army in the Schmalkaldic War, Ferdinand punished them with sanctions and sent his son, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, to reside in Prague as his viceroy. The residence of the viceroy helped draw Bohemian nobles, artisans, and some foreigners to the city. The mid-sixteenth century also witnessed a flowering of printing houses and literary societies and the spread of Renaissance innovations to noble palaces and burgher houses. In 1555 the first Jesuit college in Bohemia was founded, and in 1561 a new archbishop, who established the foundations of Catholic reform, was installed. In 1583 Rudolf II (ruled 15761612), Bohemian king and Holy Roman emperor, moved the imperial court from Vienna to Prague, making the city an imperial capital for a second time. At the Prague court Rudolf assembled a large array of foreign artists, artisans, and scientists. Among these notables were the astronomers Johannes Kepler (15711630) and Tycho Brahe (15461601), the painters Bartholomeus Spranger (15461611) and Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c. 15301593), and the sculptor Adriaan de Vries (c. 15601626). Rudolf's Kunstkammer, located in the Prague Castle, was the largest art collection in the Europe of that day.

By 1600 Prague had become a major European center of late Renaissance culture and, with a population of about sixty thousand people, the largest city in the empire and in central Europe. Growing tension between Catholics and Protestants within the ruling elite led in 1618 to an Estates revolt, which culminated in a third defenestration. This time Protestant noblemen tossed two Catholic imperial governors from a window in the Prague Castle. Although the men were not badly hurt, this action was the catalyst for the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War (16181648). In 1620 the Bohemian Estates and their Protestant allies were defeated by Catholic imperial troops at the Battle of White Mountain, just outside of Prague. A year later twenty-one leaders of the revolt were executed on Old Town Square, and their heads were displayed on the bridge, an event publicized throughout the empire. The Edict of Restitution in 1629 firmly entrenched Habsburg rule and the Counter-Reformation and resulted in property confiscations and the exile of Protestants from the city. At the same time Prague's baroque culture flowered, which continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (ruled 17401780) a new wing was added to the Prague Castle. In 1781 the Edict of Toleration of Emperor Joseph II (ruled 17651790) brought with it the dissolution of cloisters and monasteries. In 1787 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came to Prague for the premiere of Don Giovanni, which was widely acclaimed and affirmed Prague's importance as a major cultural center.

See also Bohemia ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Holy Roman Empire ; Hussites ; Jagiellon Dynasty (Poland-Lithuania) ; Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus ; Reformation, Protestant ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Demetz, Peter. Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City. New York, 1997.

Fučíková, Eliška, et al., eds. Rudolf II and Prague: The Court and the City. Prague, London, and New York, 1997.

Pešek, Jiří. Měšťanská vzdělanost a kultura v předbělohorských Čechách 15471620. Prague, 1993.

Vlk, Jan, and Jaroslav Láník, eds. Dějiny Prahy (The history of Prague). 2 vols. Prague and Litomyšl, 19971998.

James R. Palmitessa


views updated May 14 2018



For many centuries the metropolis of the kingdom of Bohemia, Prague (in Czech, Praha) became the capital of the Czechoslovak (now Czech) Republic on 28 October 1918. In 2005 the city had 1.2 million inhabitants living in an area of 192 square miles on both sides of the Vltava River, spanned by eighteen bridges. Prague has an ancient historical core, but it is also a robust industrial agglomeration that produces nearly 12 percent of the entire output of the Czech Republic (heavy machinery and tools, steel and cars, chemicals, paper, and textile and leather goods) and continues to assert itself as the center of the Czech publishing and film industries. Prague is the seat of the central Czech institutions of higher learning, including Charles University, founded in 1348, the Technical University, the Academies of Arts and Sciences, and the National Library. In the early twenty-first century it has become a powerful magnet to international tourists (about three million each year) attracted to its profusion of Romanesque, gothic, Renaissance, baroque, and modern architecture and art, relatively untouched by the devastations of World War II.


At the end of the nineteenth century Prague was a city in the Habsburg provinces with 167,178 inhabitants, but their number more than tripled by 1921 (676,178) and, by the incorporation of suburban communes and villages, rapidly increased to 962,200 (1938). World War II caused tragic losses of Jewish and Czech lives, and after the expulsion of most Germans in 1945, the number of citizens decreased to 931,525 (1950). Through intensive industrialization planned by the state during the communist period, Prague reached the one million mark in 1961 and went beyond that later. In 2005 numbers are stagnant, though informed estimates suggest the presence of tens of thousands of undocumented workers from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. The presence of perhaps fifteen thousand Americans in the "Paris of the Nineties" has been reduced, by an official count, to three thousand. The acute problem of affordable living space for the younger Czech generation, at least in the central districts, has not been solved. The birthrate is falling and the population is aging, the average age being 42.5 years. The technological and architectural modernization of the city was launched with the demolition, beginning in 1895, of the fortifications and the impoverished medieval ghetto, which most Jewish inhabitants had left long before. In the early years of the century, Prague architecture, close to the Vienna Secession, was dominated by art nouveau (Jan Kotěra, František Bílek, and the famous 1911 Municipal House by Karel Osvald Polívka and Antonín Balšánek, with some interior decorations by Alphonse Mucha). Not much later, cubist buildings were constructed in the city center, including the House of the Black Madonna (Josef Gocǎr, 1912) and Josef Chochol's surprising apartment houses. Modernist steel- and-glass palaces were built on Wenceslas Square (the Bat'a House and the Hotel Juliš, 1931), and the Slovene Josip Plecnik, much liked by the Czechoslovak president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, remodeled some parts of Prague Castle and built the modernist Church of the Sacred Heart (1933) in Vinohrady. The communist city planners, eager to make Prague the bastion of the "working masses," made the quick construction of mass housing their prime concern and by 1957 began to use the Soviet method of building with prefabricated panels; from 1961 to 1971 nearly sixty thousand small apartments were built in entire satellite towns to be reached by new subway lines (the housing units were called paneláky by the people but more often termed králíkárny, or rabbit warrens). After 1989 it was the first task of the building industry to rescue and to gentrify the deteriorating older buildings in the city core, but it was the American architect Frank O. Gehry's ultramodern National Dutch Insurance Company Building, popularly called the "Dancing House" (or "Fred and Ginger"), on the Vltava embankment that demonstrated the city's unbroken capability to seek rejuvenation once again.


Inevitably, Prague as the capital of the First Republic had to cope with the problems of its different ethnicities and their political expectations. In the earlier nineteenth century, German speakers predominated, but industrialization and immigration from the Czech countryside changed the proportions of ethnicities and classes. In 1861 the Germans lost control of the city council, and while the number of Czech speakers doubled, the number of German-speaking citizens (mostly middle-class, and often Jewish) dwindled to thirty-two thousand, or 7.3 percent (1910). Prague German speakers were divided in their political allegiance between the activists, meaning those who were willing to be full-fledged citizens of the liberal republic, and the nationalists, who rejected republican institutions and in the 1930s turned to the Sudeten Party and Adolf Hitler. In the 1927 Prague municipal elections the German activists still mobilized twelve thousand votes (the nationalists four thousand), but the elections of 1938 demonstrated a catastrophic change (4,849 activist votes versus 15,423 for the nationalists).


Preparing his expansion eastward, Hitler ordered his Wehrmacht to occupy Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939. Hitler himself did not stay overnight and left the newly established "protectorate" to the military and Konstanin von Neurath, a conservative diplomat of international experience who settled at the Palais Czernin, while the Gestapo, acting independently, resided at Bredovská Street. Prague citizens spontaneously demonstrated against the occupiers on 28 October 1939, commemorating the birthday of the republic, and after students rallied in the Prague streets in mid-November to participate in the burial of their colleague Jan Opletal, fatally wounded in October, all institutions of higher learning were closed by order from Berlin, many student functionaries were shot without trial, and twelve hundred students were transported to concentration camps. After Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, acts of resistance and sabotage continued to increase, and Hitler replaced the diplomat von Neurath with Reinhard Heydrich, SS chief of the Reich Security Office, who arrived in Prague on 21 September 1940. He immediately declared martial law. Within two months four hundred people, mostly of the intelligentsia, were executed; transport of Prague and Bohemian Jews to Terezín (Theresienstadt) and farther east was initiated; and workers in the factories were systematically wooed with better food rations, extra shoes, and an increase in wages. Heydrich was ambushed on a Prague suburban road on 27 May 1941 by a Czechoslovak commando unit flown in from England and died on 4 June. His death triggered new waves of terror in Prague and the entire country (including the destruction of Lidice and Ležáky).The commandos and their helpers were, through an informer's tip, discovered in the cellar of the Orthodox church in the center of Prague, where they all perished. In the later years of the occupation, power rested with K. H. Frank (once propaganda chief of the Sudeten Party) who continued to rely on Czech collaborators and to favor the working people at a time when the Allies drew nearer and Soviet, Slovak, and Czech partisans fought in the mountains and forests. On 5 May the citizens of Prague, guided by a National Council, rose up against the occupiers. Initially they were successful, but strong SS regiments made their way into the city and fierce fighting on the barricades erupted. For a short while Russian soldiers under General Andrei Vlasov, who had originally joined the Germans to fight the Soviets, switched sides and attacked the SS, but the National Council told them that their help was not wanted (they left for the west) and the hard-pressed Czechs had to fight alone. On the morning of 9 May 1945 the first Soviet tanks appeared to liberate the jubilant city, precisely according to the agreement between Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alexei Antonov that reserved the liberation of Prague for Soviet troops. The Jewish population of Prague numbered more than 55,000 when the city was occupied (the original number had increased due to refugees from Germany, Austria, and, after Munich, from the Sudeten region), and the Prague Palestine Office succeeded in sending 19,000 Jews to Israel before it was too late. Transports to Terezín/Theresienstadt began in the fall of 1941 and continued until mid-March 1945, with 45,067 Jews deported from Prague alone. Oddly, Nazi ideologues during the war had wanted to establish a "Central Museum" of the Jewish race, with the result that collected ritual objects and entire libraries in dozens of Prague warehouses and synagogues were saved from destruction. When the war ended only 4,986 of the Prague deportees returned, and on the wall of the Pinkas synagogue the names of 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian Jews who perished in the Shoah are inscribed. In 2005 the Jewish community of Prague consisted of approximately 1,600 people, including a few young Czechs who converted for ethical reasons.


In May 1945 President Eduard Beneš returned to Prague Castle, unfortunately via Moscow, to an uneven conflict with the Communist Party and its new mass organizations. He accepted a new government of Communists and fellow travelers on 25 February 1948 and resigned on 6 June, making way for Klement Gottwald, longtime chairman of the Communist Party. The new regime, late-Stalinist in orientation, radically changed the shape of Prague life; all private enterprises, even small barbershops, were collectivized, and many members of the former middle classes were "relocated" to the countryside. In 1951 the party turned against itself, and in a series of show trials accused Rudolf Slánský and thirteen other leading functionaries (most of them of Jewish origins) of an "imperialist and Zionist" conspiracy against the people. Eleven of the accused, including Slánský, were executed on 2 December 1952. Destalinization was slower than in Poland and elsewhere, but over time new clubs and organizations formed, such as those of the wrongly arrested and the Club of Committed Non-Party Members; Ludvík Vaculík's courageous reform manifesto Two Thousand Words (1968) was published; and the Slovak Alexander Dubček, as newly named first secretary of the party, became the figurehead of the "Prague Spring" (winter to summer 1968). The Soviet Union and the communist neighbors of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, as it was called after 1960, did not tolerate efficient reform, however, and the members of the Warsaw Pact occupied not only Prague but the entire country, sending in troops and tanks and destroying what was called "socialism with a human face." The student Jan Palach protested by public self-immolation, and the state imposed a "normalization" of political and cultural life which was but a neo-Stalinist regime without Stalin. A new wave of emigration began (for example, the writer Milan Kundera and the critic and Franz Kafka defender Eduard Goldstücker). The "normalization" deprived many citizens of their jobs, and it was increasingly difficult to silence the dissidents and the opposition. On 1 January 1977 a Charter was signed by hundreds of citizens declaring "a free, informal, and open civic community," which (relying on the Helsinki Accords) insisted on its right peacefully to discuss political change with the authorities. Ultimately the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 set in motion radical transformations in Prague, and within a few weeks a "velvet" revolution ended the forty-one-year-long communist monopoly of power. A student demonstration on 17 November 1989, commemorating events in Prague fifty years before, was answered by police brutality in the streets; opposition and dissident groups resolved to work together, and on 19 November students and actors went on a university and theater strike in preparation for a general strike later. On 20 November and the days that followed, hundred of thousands of Prague citizens demonstrated in Wenceslas Square against the government. The Forum of Citizens decided to guide the mass protests, and the playwright Václav Havel, once a political prisoner and now chairman of the Forum, discussed political change with members of the communist government. In late December he was elected president of the republic, and when, on 8–9 June 1990, elections to the National Assembly were held, nearly 50 percent voted for the Forum, while the Communist Party polled 13 percent. In the Prague municipal elections of 1994, the Citizens' Democratic Party polled 40.89 percent of the votes, the Social Democrats 8.34 percent, and the Communist Party 7.26 percent.


At the turn of the twentieth century Prague, with its many newspapers, theaters, and literary cafés, (among them the Slavia, the Unionka, and the Deminka) was the principal scene of Czech writing, though many "ruralist" authors preferred the quiet provinces. The founding of the Moderni Revue (1895) signaled the emergence of intellectuals of neoromantic vision (Julius Zeyer, Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic) and a "decadent" view of human relationships, often imported from European fin-de-siècle literature. Within ten years, however, younger writers (among them Stanislav Kostka Neumann and Fráňa Šrámek) felt far more attracted by the collective demands of anarchism or communism than by erotic refinements. Jaroslav Hašek, one of the most famous Prague writers of the twentieth century, invented the character of Švejk, the (seemingly) dumb soldier eager to survive, in 1912. During World War I, Hašek served in Russia as a Czech legionnaire and Bolshevik commissar, and after returning to Prague he expanded his character's exploits into Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka zǎtovéválky (1920; The adventures of the good soldier Švejk), the first of four satirical Švejk novels. The writers that were to represent the spirit of the independent republic published a literary Almanach for the Year 1914 as early as 1914, and in the conflicts of the 1920s and 1930s they did not hide their indifference to empty aestheticism and the rigid demands of class warfare. Karel Čapek published translations of new French poetry (to be used by the Czech avant-garde), plays about the future fate of mankind, including R.U.R. (1920), and many charming books about animals, gardens, and travels in Europe. His brother Josef, an eminent artist who died in a concentration camp, published a book of philosophical ruminations; František Langer, after his return from Russia, wrote plays about his World War I experiences and about picaresque characters in the Prague suburbs; and Karel Poláček, who died in Terezín, liked to portray "little people" in small towns. Shortly after the founding of the republic, poets, artists, and musicians of the Czech avant-garde formed the group Devětsil (The Magic Root) in 1920, their hectic admiration moving between the Soviet revolution and the powers of art. Vítzěslav Nezval, in his rich and melodious poems and his ideas about "poetism," celebrated the magic and seductive life of big cities (Pražský chodec, 1938; Walking in Prague). Vladislav Vančura, originally a member of the avant-garde, turned to a stringent prose exploring the Czech past, as in his Obrazy z dějiňeského (1939–1940; Pictures from the history of the Czech nation). He was executed in Prague in 1942. The musical avant-garde of Prague, occasionally in close proximity to Devětsil, developed its own factions. Alois Hába, in charge of his own composition class at the conservatory since 1923, wrote atonal and microtonal music, while others, including Bohuslav Martinů and Erwin Schulhoff, a German-Jewish contemporary of Kafka, experimented with fusions of classical music and jazz (Schulhoff later turned to agitprop music). Jaroslav Ježek, in-house composer of the Jan Werich and Jiři Voskovec theater (originally close to the Devětsil group) became the true genius of Czech jazz in the 1930s and died in exile (New York, 1942).


In the first years of the century and during the First Republic, Prague produced world-famous writers in German including Rainer Maria Rilke (who left Prague early), Franz Kafka, and Franz Werfel. Many of these writers came from Jewish families (who earlier in the nineteenth century had used Yiddish), sympathized with the Czech struggle for independence, and often translated Czech literature (Rudolf Fuchs, Pavel Eisner). The poet, novelist, and critic Max Brod liked to gather his writing colleagues around himself to organize their lives and publications; in his early novels (e.g., Ein tschechisches Dienstmädchen, 1909; A Czech servant girl) he finely probed what was called the Czech-German erotic symbiosis, but his later novels tend to be of a philosophical if not didactic kind. His closest friend was Franz Kafka, who worked in insurance offices most of his life and wrote long letters to women he loved, among them his first translator, Milena Jesenská. His stories and novels, such as Die Verwandlung (1915; The metamorphosis), Der Prozess (1925; The trial), and Das Schloss (1926; The castle), have attracted generations of dedicated readers trying to unravel their political, metaphysical, and existential meanings. Franz Werfel published exemplary expressionist poems (Der Weltfreund, 1911), wrote a famous novel, Das Lied von Bernadette (1941; The song of Bernadette), and lived with his wife, Alma Mahler, in Hollywood. Other Prague writers include Egon Erwin Kisch, untiring reporter in the service of the Communist International; Paul Leppin, charmed if not obsessed with the red-light corners of the old city; and Gustav Meyrink (not a native), who wrote the famous Der Golem (1915), repeatedly made into movies. It was the German occupation that dispersed, imprisoned, or killed the Prague German writers; among the few survivors were the novelist and sociologist H. G. Adler (who later died in England), Franz Wurm (now at Ascona), and the writer Lenka Reinerová, who, as of 2005, continued to live in Prague.


Republican Prague, in spite of the later economic and political crises, was productive in literature and the arts, and while men dominated the poetic genres, women (such as Marie Majerová or Marie Pujmanová) importantly contributed to the development of the social and psychological novel. Modern poetry constitutes one of the glorious secrets of Czech literature. Josef Hora looked to Romantic tradition; František Halas forced language to articulate his tragic vision of life;Vladimír Holan, alone in the midst of Prague, cultivated the most difficult forms; and Jaroslav Seifert, in the days of Munich, published moving verse recited by old and young and, to the consternation of the communist functionaries, received the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1984. After the change of government in 1948 the communists used many sticks and a few carrots to keep the writers (many of them old party members) in line, but the official prescription for a Soviet type of socialist realism was embraced by few, and dogmatic critics like Ladislav Štoll ruled without mercy. Yet in the late 1950s and 1960s, concurrent with the stirring of the thaw, ironic and imaginative writing strongly reemerged: J. V. Škvorecký's Zbabělci (1958, written in 1949; The cowards) celebrates jazz and mocks heroic slogans; Bohumil Hrabal enlisted the many virtues of a surrealist Czech idiom, and Milan Kundera, in his first (and best) novel, Žert (1967; The joke), wrote with grim melancholy about love, revenge, and the changes of political life. As early as 1963 Kafka was publicly discussed by scholars and critics, and small theaters produced many plays, called "absurd," by little-known playwrights like Václav Havel (Zahradní Slavnost, 1963; The garden party). However, the "normalization" was unable totally to suppress the independent writing that was published in clandestine samizdat editions, and after the Velvet Revolution, continuities of writing—as in the prose of Philip Roth's Prague friend and ally Ivan Klíma or of Daniela Hodrová, Kafka's true Prague heiress—were as important as the new books by Michal Ajvaz, Jáchym Topol, Michal Viewegh, and Edgar Dutka.

See alsoBeneš, Eduard; Charter 77; Czech Republic; Czechoslovakia; Destalinization; Dubček, Alexander; Havel, Václav; Prague Spring; SlánskýTrial;Velvet Revolution.


Czech Modernism: 1900–1945. Boston and Toronto, 1989. Exhibition curated by Jaroslav Anděl et al. with contributions by Peter C. Marzio, Jiří Kotalík, et al.

Demetz, Peter. Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City. New York, 1997. A history, from the first Slavic settlements to T. G. Masaryk, considering the creative presence of Czechs, Jews, Germans, and Italians.

Eggers, Wilma. Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the 18th Century to the Present. Providence, R. I., 1995.

Eyal, Gil. Origins of Postcommunist Elites: From "Prague Spring" to the Break-Up of Czechoslovakia. Minneapolis, Minn., 2003.

Lützow, Count Francis. The Story of Prague. Illustrated by Nelly Erichsen. London, 1902. Much read in earlier generations.

Mamatey, Victor S., and Luža Radomír, eds. A History of the Czechoslovak Republic, 1918–1948. Princeton, N.J., 1973. Inclusive and precise.

Novák, Arne. Czech Literature. Translated by Peter Kussi and edited with a supplement (1946–1974) by William E. Harkins. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1976. A classic, though a little on the conservative side.

Rothkirchen, Livia. The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust. Lincoln, Neb., and Jerusalem, 2005. Inclusive and precise.

Sayer, Derek. The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History. Princeton, N.J., 1998. The best book about the modern Prague arts.

Peter Demetz


views updated May 29 2018


constructing czech prague
nationality conflict in prague

Prague (Czech, Praha; German, Prag), the capital of Bohemia, the largest of the three provinces comprising the Bohemian lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, sits in a valley formed by the Vltava/Moldau River, which runs northeast-ward through the city. One of the largest cities in the Habsburg Monarchy, modern Prague was founded by imperial decree in 1784 during the centralizing and modernizing reign of the en light en ed absolutist emperor Joseph II (r. 1765–1790). The decree created a single administrative unit from four historic wards, Old Town (Staré Město) and New town (Nové Město) on the east side of the Vltava, and Lesser Side (Malá strana) and Hradčany on the west. The newly united city had semi-independent governing bodies, including a municipal administration (Magistrát) and a city council (Městský výbor), as well as a mayor and two vice mayors. The gubernium, the highest level of state administration, acting as Vienna's agent, limited municipal activities and determined qualifications for and approved elected and appointed members. The gubernium was responsible for many of the modernizing improvements in Prague before 1848, including public parks and road works. Prague's early administration was a step toward nineteenth-century self-government. The municipal statute of Prague, of 1 May 1850, by which Prague was governed in the second half of the nineteenth century, was initially planned as a temporary measure, but it remained in effect with minor revisions until the dissolution of the Monarchy. The statute added a fifth ward to the city, Josefov (Josefstadt), whose boundaries coincided with Judenstadt, the former Jewish ghetto. It was named for Emperor Joseph II, who had reduced limitations on the Jews of the Monarchy with his Edicts of Toleration beginning in 1782. Three more wards were incorporated into Prague before 1914: Vyšehrad (1883), Holešovice-Bubna (1884), and Libeň (1901). The last two were among the industrial suburbs that grew up around Prague during the nineteenth century, expanding first through textile production and then machine industries. The other industrial suburbs were not united with the city until 1920, following the foundation of the First Czechoslovak Republic.

Prague's population grew rapidly during the nineteenth century, rising from 75,000 in 1800 to 118,000 in 1850. According to the last census of the Monarchy in 1910, Prague's population was 218,573, while the population of the metropolitan area had reached 600,000. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Prague was predominantly Czech, with a small, but influential, German minority and an even smaller, but also influential, and primarily German-speaking, Jewish minority. As elsewhere in the Bohemian lands, the Czech residents of Prague considered the Jews to be "German." Many Czechs conflated the Jews with their "national enemies," the Germans. According to the decennial censuses that the Monarchy began conducting in 1880, the declining percentage of Prague residents who employed German as their language of everyday use (obcovacířeč/Umgangssprache) was 17.5 percent in 1880, 14.7 percent in 1890, 8.6 percent in 1900, and 8.2 percent in 1910. Jews (identified by religion), constituted 9.27 percent of Prague's population in 1880, 9.19 percent in 1890, 8.62 percent in 1900, and 8.2 percent in 1910.

constructing czech prague

During the Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg Monarchy the municipalities received significant autonomy. Suspended in the 1850s during the semi-absolutist era of the minister of the interior Alexander von Bach, autonomy was reinstated in 1861. Like the limited male franchise of the Bohemian Provincial Diet (Český sněm/Böhmischer Landtag), the franchise that elected representatives to Prague's municipal government was based on education and property. Also like the provincial franchise but unlike the imperial franchise, which became increasingly democratic after the turn of the century, the municipal franchise remained restricted until the end of the Monarchy. Predominantly Czech Prague elected its first Czech mayor in 1861. From 8 October 1882, when the newly elected mayor spoke of "golden, Slavic Prague," and the city's five German aldermen first walked out, then demonstratively resigned their seats, Prague had only two German (-Jewish) aldermen, and from 1885, only one. After 1888 until the end of the Monarchy, Prague had no German aldermen at all. Czechs alone governed the mixed-nationality provincial capital.

The center of Czech artistic and intellectual life, Prague was also the center of Czech national life. It was home to the so-called Czech national revival (národní obrození) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Initially a linguistic-cultural movement, affecting mainly the nascent Czech intellectual elite, by the Revolutions of 1848, the national revival had become a political force. During the nineteenth century, many national organizations, among them the voluntary associations that were also a legacy of the Revolutions of 1848, were founded in the Bohemian capital. The most significant was the Sokol (Falcon), the Prague Gymnastics Association that two Czech patriots of German descent, Miroslav Tyrš (Friedrich Emanuel Tirsch) and Jindřich (Heinrich Fügner) established in 1862. With the slogan, "Every Czech a Sokol," this organization rapidly spread throughout the Bohemian lands. In contrast to many of its elite national predecessors, the Sokol, which promoted moral and physical health, was open to all Czechs. Sokol members soon became fixtures at Czech national ceremonies in the capital and elsewhere.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Prague was home to the Máj School (after Karel Hynek Mácha's epic poem of the same name), which sought to create a new Czech literature. Exponents shared with the older generation of Czech writers the assumption that literature and nationality could not be separated. The authors Jan Neruda and Karolína Světlá were among its best-known adherents. While during the 1870s the almanac Ruch maintained the traditional Czech view of literature in service to the nation, those around the more cosmopolitan journal Lumír sought to introduce influences from world literature into Czech.

The development of urban infrastructure in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the form of telegraphs, telephones, expansion of tramlines, public lighting, and the installation of electricity, paralleled the growth of the capital. Between 1896 and 1912, the Prague city hall, in order to demonstrate that the Czech nation was not backward, but part of advanced civilization, undertook its most ambitious urban renewal project: the thoroughgoing demolition and reconstruction of the city's former Jewish ghetto, located next to the Old Town in the center of the city. The poorest district in the capital, its population was by then majority Christian. Hundreds of buildings in Josefov and adjacent Old Town were demolished to make way for wider, straighter streets and luxury apartments and offices. Only six of nine public synagogues, the Jewish city hall, and part of the Jewish cemetery remained after its completion.

The Czechs of Prague also embarked on an energetic program of national building that provided the city with important new landmarks to complement the panoply of existing Gothic and baroque buildings that marked the city's skyline. Among the most important was the neo-renaissance National Theater (Národní divadlo), whose foundation stone was laid in March 1868. The building was funded with donations from Czechs throughout Bohemia. The motto on the proscenium, "The Nation to Itself " (Národ k sobě), reflected the broad Czech national support that made the theater possible. Czech composer Bedřich Smetana's opera, Libuše, about the legendary female founder of Prague, was specially written for the theater and premiered at its opening in 1881. The building burned down shortly afterward, a new collection was taken, and the theater reopened in 1883, again with a performance of Libuše.

Another important effort of the Czech national revivalists was the foundation of the national cemetery, Vyšehrad, which opened on the grounds of the castle by the same name in 1869. The Prague architect Antonín Wiehl, the preeminent exponent of Czech neo-renaissance style, designed the cemetery's centerpiece, the famous Slavín monument, which was unveiled in 1893. This monument, crowned by a sarcophagus and a figure representing genius, stands above the communal grave of more than fifty famous Czech artists, including the painter-illustrator Alfons Mucha.

In 1893, street signs solely in the Czech language superseded bilingual ones, with the Czech colors white and red replacing the Austrian black-on-yellow on the signs. In the last decades of the Monarchy, other symbols of the Czech nation became part of the built environment. Construction of the art nouveau Municipal House (Obecní dům), paid for by the city government, began in 1905 and was completed in 1912. It was decorated with murals and stained glass windows by well-known Czech artists, among them Mucha. The Municipal House, located next to the Powder Tower (Prašná brána/Pulver Turm) at one end of na Přikopech/Am Graben, the most prestigious commercial street in the capital, constituted a national challenge, because the Germans' community building, the Deutsches Haus, better known as the German Casino, was located close to the middle of the six-hundred-foot-long street, which ended at Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí/Wenzelsplatz, formerly the horse market). Shortly after the turn of the century, the Czech-language Charles University (founded in 1348 and the oldest university in central Europe north of the Alps, it was divided into independent Czech and German entities in 1882), which also attracted Ruthenian, Slovak, and South Slavic students, was almost twice as large as its German counterpart. The Czech Charles University, together with the Municipal House and the National Theater, were among the most important built symbols of Czech Prague.

In addition, monuments to Czech national heroes were constructed. The most important was Ladislav Šaloun's art nouveau statue of the reforming Bohemian priest and Czech national hero Jan Hus, who was martyred in 1415. It shared the center of Old Town Square with the baroque Marian Column that the Habsburgs had unveiled in 1650 to commemorate their victory over the Swedes in the Thirty Years' War. The cornerstone of the Hus monument was laid amid much fanfare in 1903, and the completed monument was unveiled in 1915 on the four hundredth anniversary of Hus's death at the stake in Constance. Two more important national monuments in the center of Prague were Stanislav Sucharda's art nouveau monument of František Palacký, the leader of the Czech national revival, and Josef Václav Myslbek's equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas at the top of the square that bore his name. Both were unveiled in 1912. The Palacký monument was among the largest in Prague. In addition to a huge granite statue of the great nineteenth-century Czech "national awakener" himself, it incorporated an allegory of the spiritual life of the Czech nation. The bronze figures around the base personified various phases of national life, including the physical and spiritual servitude of the Czech people. The equestrian statue stood before the neo-renaissance National Museum building that had been constructed between 1885 and 1890. These important symbols and institutions for nationhood that Czech leaders established in Prague's major public spaces during the second half of the nineteenth century both signaled the formation of the modern Czech nation and distanced the Czechs from the Germans.

The Bohemian capital, Prague, was host to a number of exhibitions and congresses at the turn of the century. The most important was the long-planned Provincial Jubilee Exhibition. Commemorating the centenary of the first industrial exhibition held in Bohemia (in honor of the coronation of the Habsburg emperor Leopold II [r. 1790–1792]), indeed in continental Europe, it opened in May 1891. Although it was originally conceived as a joint Czech-German project, the Germans had withdrawn the previous summer to protest Young

Czech opposition to the Bohemian Compromise in the imperial Parliament. Thus, the wildly successful exhibition became a display of Czech economic progress and the site of Slavic manifestations that highlighted Czech national cultural, economic, and political claims and achievements.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, predominantly Czech-speaking but cosmopolitan Prague was home to a circle of German-Jewish writers, the most famous of whom was Franz Kafka. Other important German-Jewish writers of that generation included Max Brod, Willy Haas, Egon Erwin Kisch, and Franz Werfel. They were part of a larger world of writers in German-speaking central Europe, and Brod especially played an important mediating role in helping make Czech literature better known in western Europe through translation into German.

nationality conflict in prague

The establishment of a republic in France in March 1848 had repercussions throughout the Habsburg Monarchy. Before 1848 Prague may have appeared to be a German city, but the revolutions that year demonstrated otherwise. Although Czech and German liberals made joint demands in March and April 1848, the language of the Slavic Congress, and the first open expression of Bohemian state rights (české státní právo/Staatsrecht) demonstrated the incompatibility of their aims. The question of German unification was the largest issue dividing the Czechs and Germans during the revolutionary year, a division underscored by Palacký's refusal to participate in the planned Frankfurt Parliament to discuss that very subject. The Prague Slav Congress, to which all Slavic peoples of Austria were invited, was to be a symbolic counterpart to the Frankfurt Parliament. It opened on 31 May, the day the Frankfurt Parliament was meant to convene. Its 341 delegates from the Habsburg Monarchy sought to promote political cooperation among the Slavs, an idea that became known as Austro-Slavism. The revolution in Prague had national, political, and social aspects, as demonstrated by the worker unrest of April and May, which sometimes took an anti-Semitic character, as had earlier Czech worker protests in 1844. The return of Czech students from revolutionary Vienna in late May, together with increased military activity in Prague, increased tension until a student-led rebellion erupted on 12 June. The rebellion lasted five days, ending only when the rebels capitulated to the Austrian field marshal Prince Alfred Windischgrätz. This uprising was essentially a social one and separate from the Slavic Congress, although the Congress in Prague was precipitously closed in June when Windischgrätz declared martial law, which lasted until 1853.

Martial law would be declared in Prague four times after the revolutions of 1848: in 1868, 1893, 1897, and 1908. Residents of Prague supported the Monarchy during the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, sending declarations of support as well as the coronation jewels to Vienna. The war was a disaster for Austria, and shortly after its victory in the Battle of Königgrätz/Sadowa in northeastern Bohemia, the Prussian army occupied Prague, easily breaching the city's baroque fortifications. One result of Austria's defeat was the decision to reach a compromise (Ausgleich) with Hungary in February 1867, restoring the Magyars' historic rights. The failure of the Czechs to reach a similar agreement, despite their loyalty to Vienna in 1859 and 1866, resulted in both Czech political parties, the Young and the Old Czechs, boycotting the diet and the imperial parliament and led to demonstrations in Prague during 1867 and 1868. There were protests on 28 August 1867, when the Bohemian coronation jewels were returned from Vienna; in January 1868, when imperial ministers visited the city; on 14 June, the seventieth birthday of the historian-politician Palacký; and on 21 June, when Emperor Francis Joseph (r. 1848–1916) visited. The largest demonstration occurred on 14 May 1868, when the foundation stone was laid for the Czech National Theater. Paralleling the demonstrations in Prague were encampments (tábory, recalling the Czechs' Hussite legacy) at Czech historical sites throughout the Bohemian lands, in which thousands of Czechs participated. The imperial government declared martial law in Prague on 11 October 1868. It lasted for six months, during which time hundreds of Czechs were arrested, some patriotic associations were banned, and members of the Czech press—still headquartered mainly in Prague—were hounded.

Class-based demonstrations and protests in Prague, especially May Day celebrations, increased in size and intensity in concert with the growth of the organized working class. Although in November 1905 demonstrations for universal suffrage reached revolutionary proportions in Prague as well as in Vienna, bringing almost one hundred thousand workers into the streets of the Bohemian capital, there was no declaration of martial law. It was national conflict, sometimes containing a class component, that resulted in the declaration of martial law twice in the 1890s and once again in 1908. Beginning in 1891 there were street demonstrations in the capital in favor of universal suffrage. By 1893 they had taken on an antidynastic character, and the imperial government declared martial law. In its wake came the mass trial of the so-called Omladina (youth), in which Czechs were convicted of an alleged secret conspiracy against the state. The trial became a Czech national cause célèbre.

The 1897 and 1908 demonstrations, which included Czech attacks on both Germans and "Jew-Germans," reflecting persistent anti-Semitism in Prague, occurred within the context of Bohemia-wide, indeed, Cisleithania-wide national tensions. In April 1897 the imperial prime minister, the Polish count Kazimierz Badeni, proposed language ordinances calling for the equality of Czech and German in official usage among civil servants of Bohemia and Moravia, who would be required to demonstrate proficiency in both languages by June 1901. The proposal was met with eight months of protest throughout the Bohemian lands. Badeni's resulting resignation on 28 November precipitated violent clashes in Prague and its suburbs, after brawling erupted between Czech and German university students. Members of the Czech majority attacked German and Jewish property for four days, damaging German communal buildings and looting businesses and homes identified as German or Jewish in the city and its suburbs. A decade later, ongoing Czech-German tension throughout the Bohemian lands coalesced around the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Habsburg emperor Francis Joseph's rule on 2 December 1908. They resulted in one more round of anti-German, anti-Semitic violence and the last declaration of martial law in Prague before 1914.

Following the outbreak of World War I, restrictions on the civilian population in Prague—political newspapers, many of which had their offices in the capital were censored or suspended; food and other commodities were rationed, and, increasingly unavailable—met little overt opposition prior to the abortive strike of Czech workers in Prague on 14 October 1918. When news that the Austrians had sued for an armistice on 27 October reached Prague the next day, hundreds of thousands of Czechs filled Wenceslas Square, and Czechoslovak independence was declared in Prague on 28 October 1918. Democratic interwar Czechoslovakia would provide ground as fertile for Czech-German national tension in Prague as had the Habsburg Monarchy, both because it was in fact a multinational state governed as a nation-state and because its legal system permitted a differently contoured, even an expanded, space for national opposition.

See alsoAustria-Hungary; Austro-Prussian War; Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; Cities and Towns; Kafka, Franz; Nationalism; Palacký, František; Prague Slav Congress; Young Czechs and Old Czechs.


Demetz, Peter. Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City. New York, 1997. A thousand years of Prague cultural history.

Giustino, Cathleen M. Tearing Down Prague's Jewish Town: Ghetto Clearance and the Legacy of Middle-Class Ethnic Politics around 1900. Boulder, Colo., 2003. A pioneering study of middle-class politics in the Bohemian capital at the fin-de-siècle.

Hojda, Zdeněk, and Jiří Pokorní. Pomníky a zapomníky. 2nd ed. Prague, 1996. A fascinating, well-illustrated series of essays on the politics of national sculpture in Prague and elsewhere in Bohemia.

Ripellino, Angelo Maria. Magic Prague. Berkeley, Calif., 1994. The volume employs a blend of fact and fiction to examine the commingling of three peoples—Czech, German, and Jewish—who produced a city that continues to fascinate.

Vlcek, Toma. Praha 1900. Prague, 1986. This art and architectural history contains spectacular illustrations of the city.

Nancy M. Wingfield


views updated May 14 2018


During the Renaissance, Prague was the capital of the kingdom of Bohemia and a leading city of the Holy Roman Empire*. At various times, the city served as an imperial power base, a stronghold for certain religious groups, and a center of intellectual and cultural activity.

Early Renaissance. The city of Prague rose to prominence in the middle of the 1300s. It engaged in an extensive building program. In 1344, the pope raised the diocese* of Prague from a bishopric to an archbishopric. Four years later, the University of Prague, the first university in central Europe, was founded.

In the early 1400s, a religious movement inspired by the teaching of reformer Jan Hus developed in Prague. In 1419 supporters of the movement, known as Hussites, led an uprising and seized control of the city. The rebels of Prague defied the authority of the emperor, the nobles, and the Roman Catholic Church. By 1421 they controlled most of Bohemia, but they fell from power in 1434. This period of turmoil took a toll on the city's economy.

Rise to Prominence. In the mid- to late 1400s, Prague gradually regained economic and political power. Under kings George Podebrady (ruled 1458–1471) and Vladislav II (ruled 1471–1516), foreign trade improved and various public buildings went through major renovations. This process continued during the reign of Ferdinand I (ruled 1526–1564), who made the city a powerful financial and political center. Ferdinand established a glittering royal residence in Prague, adding a summer palace and splendid gardens to the castle.

Under Rudolf II (ruled 1575–1612), Prague reached a peak of cultural development. Both the court and the university attracted writers and scientists from throughout the empire. Rudolf took a serious interest in the arts, amassing one of the largest art collections in Europe. He hired Italian masons and artisans* to transform Prague Castle into a magnificent Renaissance palace. Following his example, local nobles also supported the arts and commissioned architects to build stately homes.

Throughout the 1500s, religious conflicts continued to surface around Prague. The city became a center for the Counter-Reformation*, which created opposition from Protestants. In 1618 a group of Protestant noblemen threw two ministers of the Catholic king out of a window in Prague Castle. This event helped spark the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), a series of battles fought across much of central Europe. During the war, invading armies attacked Prague repeatedly, looting many of its treasures. The city did not fully recover until the end of the 1600s.

(See alsoArt in Central Europe; Catholic Reformation and Counter-Reformation; Holy Roman Empire; Protestant Reformation. )

* Holy Roman Empire

political body in central Europe composed of several states; existed until 1806

* diocese

geographical area under the authority of a bishop

see color plate 15, vol. 3

* artisan

skilled worker or craftsperson

* Counter-Reformation

actions taken by the Roman Catholic Church after 1540 to oppose Protestantism


views updated May 29 2018

Prague the capital of the Czech Republic, which was the capital of Bohemia from the 14th century, and the scene of much religious conflict.
Prague School the name of a group of linguists established in Prague in 1926 who developed distinctive feature theory in phonology and communicative dynamism in language teaching. Leading members were Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890–1938) and Roman Jakobson.
Prague Spring a brief period of liberalization in Czechoslovakia, ending in August 1968, during which a programme of political, economic, and cultural reform was initiated.


views updated May 23 2018

Prague (Praha) Capital of the Czech Republic, on the River Vltava. Founded in the 9th century, it grew rapidly after Wenceslaus I established a German settlement in 1232. In the 14th century it was the capital of Bohemia. It was the capital of the Czechoslovak republic (1918–93). It was occupied in World War II by the Germans and liberated by Soviet troops in 1945. Prague was the centre of Czech resistance to the Soviet invasion of the country in 1968. Sights include Hradčany Castle and Charles Bridge. It is an important commercial centre. Industries: engineering, iron and steel. Pop. (1999) 1,178,576.