Prague is often referred to as the jewel of central Europe. It is surrounded by Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland and is located in the western part of the Czech Republic called Bohemia. It is also the capital of the Czech Republic with over 1 million citizens. These numbers swell considerably during the summer months with a large influx of tourists, keen to take in the historical splendor and culture that is Prague.
Prague is situated on the picturesque Vltava River. It was here, on one of the river crossings, that Prague was first established. It is fondly referred to as the 'city of a hundred spires' and the 'golden city'.
The actual history of the site of Prague can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age when Celts occupied the land. They were replaced by a Germanic people, who later were displaced by the Slavic race. Legend states that the actual city was founded by Ibuse and her husband Premysl, who began the Premysl dynasty.
The old city is very well preserved with a multitude of different architectural designs to see and admire. Romanesque, gothic, renaissance, neo-classical and art deco are all represented somewhere is this beautiful city.
Ruins date back before the 10th century when the first structure was built on a hill rising up from the right bank of the Vltava, called Vysehrad Castle. Records, dating back to this time, show it already was a very important trading center.
During the 14th century, Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, instigated a period of intense construction. It was during his reign that the New Town, Charles Bridge, Saint Vitus Cathedral and Charles University, which is the oldest university in Europe were built. It also became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire under his rule.
During the 16th century, under the reign of the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II, the city again underwent a transformation. He established many spectacular art collections and encouraged artists and scholars to the capital. It became a great place for learning and creative thinking.
Prague has had a turbulent, colorful history, playing host to many significant events. During King Wenceslas IV reign (1378-1419), it was the center of the reformist movement led by Jan Hus.
In 1689, an extensive fire destroyed much of Prague after which many of the old buildings were renovated or rebuilt. The city has also experienced several outbreaks of the plague, the last outbreak ended in 1714.
When the Republic of Czechoslovakia was declared after World War 1, Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle was home to the new President. During World War II, the Germans occupied Prague and the city was bombarded with bombs. Fortunately, it was not as badly hit as other historical places and many of its landmarks were saved or underwent restoration and rebuilding.
After the war, it remained under Communist rule for forty years, closed to the Western World. This ended in 1993 when the new Czech Republic was founded and, once again, Prague became its capital.
So unique is Prague that, in 1992, the historical center of the city was added by UNESCO to the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Register.
Its people are warm and welcoming and embrace the visitor wholeheartedly, making up for over 40 years of isolation during the Communist era.
Although Prague is very old, it offers the tourist every modern convenience including a well designed and efficient public transport service, accommodation ranging from backpacker hostels to five star hotels, a lively nightlife and a wide choice of things to do.
Many large modern shopping centers are also located within easy reach of the city center, stocking a wide range of both local and international brands. Prices are generally cheaper than in other major centers of Europe, which further encourages tourists to visit.
Cultural activities abound and include a wide selection of concert halls, galleries, and movies. Several internationally renowned festivals including the Spring and Autumn Music Festivals and the Literacy and Film Festivals are held here, as well as exhibitions and fashion shows.
Many sporting events take place here including the Prague International Marathon, popular football games, international Ice Hockey tournaments and the World Cup of Skateboarding and Skating competitions. It is also home to the second largest stadium in the world, Strahov Stadium.
In summer, the weather is generally good, with temperatures in the mid to high twenties. Winter can be cold and many of the attractions close down or reduce their opening times during this time of the year. One highlight during the winter is the Christmas markets, which attract large numbers of visitors.
Prague is a beautiful city and, as Richard Wagner commented in 1826, "The ancient splendor and beauty of Prague, a city that is beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade." After visiting Prague, you will be left with a similar impression as Wagner.