The earliest inhabitants of the area that we know about lived in the valley of the Vltava river around 500 BC. Slavonic tribes came to Bohemia in about 500 AD. There is a legend about how the town of Prague started. Princess Libuše, the leader of a Slavonic tribe, chose a simple peasant Přemysl to be her husband. She told him to go and find a village on the banks of the Vltava and to start a town there. The town became Prague, ruled by the Přemyslid family.
In the second half of the 9th century the castle’s original fortifications were built. During the reign of Wenceslas I (Václav in Czech) in the 10th century the church of St Vitus was built at Prague castle. Wenceslas was murdered by his brother when he was going to church. He was later made a saint. In the early 11th century the Přemyslid family got power in Moravia, too. Vratislav II was the first monarch to be called King of Bohemia.
Another ruler, also called Wenceslas I, ruled as King of Bohemia from 1230. He encouraged the arts. A lot of Germans came to live in Prague. In 1257 King Otakar II founded the area of Prague called the Lesser Quarter for the Germans to live in. The last of the Přemyslid kings was King Wenceslas III. He was murdered in Moravia.
During the Middle Ages Prague became very important as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by
Charles IV (1316-1378) who was the most powerful ruler in Europe at the time. Charles made Prague a great city, building St Vitus Cathedral, a university, and a famous bridge called Charles Bridge which still exists.
After Charles IV there were many arguments and fights in Prague. A priest called Jan Hus said that the Catholic Church had become too powerful. He was arrested and burned at the
stake in 1415. A lot of people agreed with what Hus had been saying. These people were called Hussites. They threw a lot of important Catholic people out of the window (called "defenestration"). A lot more fighting followed, and for many years Bohemia was ruled by kings who lived in other countries.
Packed with tourists on a busy summer day in Malá Strana. (Lesser Quarter), Prague
From 1526 the Habsburg family ruled Bohemia. They were Catholics and ruled the Holy Roman Empire. In 1576 the Emperor Rudolph II moved the capital from Vienna to Prague. Prague became a rich town again, and people were free to worship as Catholics or Protestants. After Rudolph II there were a lot of religious fighting and more people were thrown out of windows. Eventually the fighting became part of the
Thirty Years’ War. When Ferdinand II won the fighting a lot of Protestants left the country. New buildings in Prague were built in the Baroque style. The German language, not Czech, was spoken at court. Maria Theresa was the only queen to reign over Prague. One of her 16 children was Marie Antoinette who became queen of France. When her son Joseph II ruled, people stopped fighting about religion. The people were free to speak what they thought, and there was no more serfdom. Prague now had three parts: the Old Town, the Lesser Quarter and the New Town. Famous people such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the town often.
In the 19th century industry came to Prague. Factories were built, a railway was built between Prague and Vienna. The Czech nationalist movement became very strong after 1848. They wanted to use their own language instead of German. The composers Smetana and Dvořák wrote music about their country, often using Czech folksongs. The National Theatre was opened in 1881.
In June 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, was murdered. This led to World War I. After the war an independent republic called Czechoslovakia was formed with Prague as its capital. Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia were part of it. In 1938 Hitler invaded the country. It was liberated by Soviet troops in May 1945. However, the communists soon seized power and the country was ruled by communists who had to obey the Soviet Union. The prime minister Alexander Dubček gradually tried to make reforms. This period of time is called the "Prague Spring". In 1968 the Soviet Union sent tanks into Prague to
Wenceslas Square to restore their power.
Democracy gradually came to Prague in 1989 when the Velvet Revolution happened. In 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into two countries. Today both these countries are part of the European Union.