Prague (Czech, Praha; German, Prag), city in west centralCzech Republic, the capital of the country. Prague is located in the central Bohemia region, situated on both sides of the Vltava (Ger., Moldau) River. The largest city in the Czech Republic, Prague is the commercial and industrial centre and the cultural capital of the country. Primary manufactured goods here are machine tools, electrical machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, textiles, clothing, leather goods, food and alcoholic beverages, and glassware. The city is also the centre of book publishing in the country. Educational institutions in Prague include Charles University (1348), the oldest university in central Europe, and the Technical University of Prague (1707). The city also has many art, music, and professional schools, as well as museums, libraries, and theatres. With the fall of Communism, Prague has become a popular tourist destination, bolstering the city's economy.
One of the most picturesque cities in Europe, Prague is sometimes called The City of One Hundred Spires. It was built in a broad valley paralleling the banks of the Vltava River and on the surrounding hills. The river is spanned by many bridges, of which the most famous is the Karlsbrücke (Charles Bridge), built in the 14th century and later embellished with statues of saints. The east bank of the river is the site of the Old Town, dating from the 13th century, and the New Town, built about a century later. In the Old Town, traversed by crooked streets and containing architectural relics of Bohemian grandeur, is the 14th-century Tyn Cathedral, a centre of the religious revolt of theHussites. The district also contains the University of Prague; Staromčstská Radnice, the 14th-century town hall; and the Municipal House. The New Town, primarily a commercial and industrial quarter, encompasses many public buildings, museums, and banks. On the western side of the river is the part of the city called the Lesser Town, with a number of Baroque palaces. Above this district and dominating the entire city is Hradcany Castle; formerly the home of the kings of Bohemia, it is now the residence of the President of the Czech Republic. Next to this vast structure is the Gothic-style Cathedral of St Vitus, which contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings.
The settlement of Prague dates from the 9th century, when it was the site of several Bohemian castles. The city began to grow in the 13th century with the establishment of German communities by Wenceslas I, king of Bohemia. The German colonists developed the city rapidly, building the Altstadt (Old Town) as a trading centre in 1232 and, expanding to the south-east, establishing the Neustadt (New Town) a century later. Prague prospered as the capital of the powerful province of Bohemia and during the 14th century became the largest European city after Paris. In 1442 it was conquered by the Hussites yet continued to grow in wealth and power. It was severely damaged during several wars, notably in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). In 1744 the city surrendered to Frederick II, king of Prussia, who, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), defeated the Austrian forces at Prague. In 1848, Prague was bombarded by Austrian troops used to quell a Czech revolution, and in 1866 the city surrendered to Prussian forces during the Seven Weeks' War. Upon the establishment of the republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Prague became its capital. During World War II the city was occupied by German forces from March 1939 until May 1945 but escaped major damage. The city was again the scene of turmoil when, in August 1968, Soviet troops invaded Prague and massive demonstrations ensued (SeeCzechoslovakia: The Prague Spring). Prague also was the site of massive nonviolent demonstrations that led to the downfall of Czechoslovakia's Communist regime in 1989. When the country divided into two republics on January 1, 1993, the city became capital of the independent Czech Republic. Population (1992 estimate) 1,217,315.