Prague History – Origins & The Prague Spring

 

Early Origins & History

Some historians and archaeologists believe that the Prague area was first populated in the Stone Age. The first known inhabitants of the area were the Boli tribe in 500BC who named the region Bohemia, and Prague’s river the Vltava. In the 6th century AD a Slavic the area was occupied by a Slavic tribe. The leaders of the tribe lived in a fortified settlement Levý Hradec. In 863 the then leader moved from the hilly settlement to the flat land below known as Praha – today’s Prague.

By the 10th century this area became a trading market frequented by merchants from all over Europe. Later in the century the fortified settlement on the hill known as Prague Catle. It was the home of the first Bishop of Bohemia and subsequently all of the Czech rulers and today it is the official residence of the Czech President.

The first bridge to built over the River Vltava was the Judith Bridge in 1170. It did not weather well and collapsed in 1342. After Prague University was opened in 1348 a new bridge was built – the Charles Bridge which opened in 1357. In the 16th century Prague was governed by the Habsburg Dynasty and under the rule of Emperor Rudolf 11 the city became wealthy. These fortunes were interrupted when the city was thrown into social political and religious turmoil by the Thirty Years War in 1618. At the end of the war, in 1648, the Jewish community were allowed back into the city and the Jewish quarter established. In 1689 the city was devastated by fire and much of the following century was devoted to rebuilding it. A great number of these buildings have survived until today.

 

Prague Recent History – Prague After WW1

After WW1 Prague became the capital of Czechoslovakia and gain it was an important industrial & trading centre.

This prosperity ceased when the Nazis occupied the city in 1938. During WW2 Prague was one of a few Eastern European cities (Krakow being another) not damaged. Some people believe Hitler ordered his troops not to destroy the city because of its great beauty. The citizens of Prague were not so fortunate Prague had for centuries been a cosmopolitan city and whilst the Nazis rounded up most of its 50,000 Jewish community others fled. The Nazis persecution of Prague’s remaining citizens is well documented.

On May 9th 1945, the the Red Army defeated the Nazis and entered Prague. For the next two decades the Czechs & Slovaks were ruled oppressively from Moscow.

 

The Prague Spring & Soviet Invasion Of Prague  

In the late 1960′s Soviet domination eased and by 1968 the communist government in Czechoslovakia became more altruistic towards its nationals and distanced itself from Moscow. This liberalisation which became known as ‘the Prague Spring‘ angered the Communist Party in Moscow who on August 21st sent troops into Czechoslovakia and Prague to evict the reforming Czechoslovakian Government. It was replaced by a pro-soviet regime. The new Czechoslovak authorities withdrew the reforms introduced during the Prague Spring and the country returned to the post ww2 climate of Soviet dictatorship. The new status quo was not well received and sporadic protests against it some very subtle for fear of reprisal occurred.

The most memorable of these protests within Czechoslovakia and also witnessed by the free world was public suicide in Wenceslas Square of Charles University student Jan Palach.

On January 16th 1969, five months after the Soviet led invasion Jan Palach went at dusk to Wenceslas Square. He stood on the incline leading up to the National Museum, poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire. He collapsed in the road and was taken to hospital with 85% burns where he lived for three days. Before this happened he left letters stating that he was doing this as a protest against the recent Soviet invasion. He died on January 19th and was buried on 25th. 750,000 people attended the funeral. See also  Life & death of Jan Palach.

Soviet control over the then Czechoslovakia Republic continued for over two decades until November 24th 1989 when finally and the grip of Moscow faltered. Prague and the citizens of the modern day Czech and Slovak republics peacefully reclaimed their sovereignty in what is now referred to as the Velvet Revolution.

 

 

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