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The first inhabitants arrived here during the early Stone Age. Permanent communities with possibly Germanic and Slavic roots settled in the hills over the Vltava in 4000 BC. According to myth, Prague was founded in the 7th century by Libuše, the mother of the Přemysl dynasty. With the founding of Prague Castle and its ideal position at the crossroads of European trading routes, Prague rose to power.
A period of great prosperity came under the rule of Charles (Karel) IV (1346-78) – both King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor ‑ who made Prague an imperial capital. Charles Bridge, Charles University ‑ the first in Central Europe ‑ and St Vitus Cathedral were all built during his reign. He also ordered the building of New Town, thus making Prague the third-largest city in Europe at the time. Prague was the second Christian metropolis in Europe deserving the title “Rome of the North”.
Prague was the epicenter of political turmoil when, for the next five centuries, the Czechs struggled to define themselves as an independent nation. They rebelled against the Catholics in the 15th century, were defeated by the Hapsburgs’ military forces in 1620 in the battle of White Mountain (Bila Hora), the first battle of the Thirty Years’ War, and were invaded and looted by the Swedes at the end of the war (1648).
In 1689, Prague underwent Baroque rebuilding after a widespread fire in the city. In 1784, the four towns of Prague ‑ Stare and Nove Mesto, Hradcany and Mala Strana ‑ were officially unified into one municipality.
Classicism, and the Romantic and Neo-Renaissance periods each added to the modern appearance of Prague followed by the Art Nouveau style, which prevailed at the turn of the 20th century.
Toward the end of WWI, Prague became a capital of the independent republic of Czechoslovakia. By the beginning of WWII, Prague had grown to a huge metropolis with a population of one million.
After the political betrayal of Great Britain, Germany annexed first the northern part of the country (Sudetenland), and then all of Czechoslovakia. The country was under Nazi occupation until the Soviets marched in “to bring freedom” in 1945. Luckily, Prague suffered little damage during the war.
Prague slowly declined during five decades of communist rule. Totalitarianism in the country was re-established after the dramatic events of 1968 – the Prague Spring and the following infamous invasion of Soviet tanks. After the historic fall of the Berlin War in 1989, Prague witnessed the “Velvet Revolution” and Havel was elected president of the Republic.
Great flooding in 2002 marked the beginning of the new millenium. The waters submerged Kampa, Karlin and other parts of the city, causing a great deal of damage to many historic buildings. Charles Bridge was at the risk of collapsing but survived; however, many museum art collections were destroyed.
For the pictures, how Prague looked like in the past in comparison with nowadays, follow article: Prague in the past and today