Prague (Czech: Praha, prā´hā), Czech Republic, the nation's capital and largest city. It lies on the hilly banks of the Vltava (Moldau) River in central Bohemia, the westernmost region of the Czech Republic. Prague, the commercial and cultural center of the country, is an attractive city with a rich historical heritage.
The heart of Prague lies on both sides of the river and consists of four sections laid out in the Middle Ages. On the Hradčany, a hill on the left bank, stands Hradčany, or Prague, Castle, a complex of palaces, reception halls, and churches that dates from the 10th century. Below the castle is the Lesser Quarter, an area of narrow, winding streets, Baroque palaces and gardens, and medieval houses. The 14th-century Charles Bridge links the Lesser Quarter with the Old Town, across the river. The Old Town is the site of the Old Town Square and contains many Gothic buildings. Adjoining the Old Town on the south is the New Town.
Wenceslaus Square, in the New Town, is in the center of Prague. Once the site of a horse market, it is now a broad avenue, lined by hotels, shops, and other commercial establishments. A statue of Saint Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia, stands at one end of the square. Prague's residential and industrial areas surround the old city center and extend for some distance along the Vltava River.
Most of Prague's historic structures were built between 1300 and 1800 in Gothic or Baroque style. Notable exceptions are the Romanesque Basilica of St. George, in Hradčany Castle, and the Renaissance Belvedere Palace, just outside the castle. Prominent Gothic buildings include St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Town Hall, the New Town Hall, the Powder Tower (part of the old city walls), and the Týn church. Scores of Baroque structures dot the city. Among the most significant are the Waldstein, Sternberg, and Kinsky palaces and St. Nicholas Church.
In addition to being the nation's chief commercial center, Prague is the hub of a diversified industrial area that produces mainly electrical goods, railway cars, automobiles, and machine tools. Light industries in and around the city include food processing, brewing, and the manufacturing of clothing, chemicals, wood products, and glassware. Prague is also the center of the Czech Republic's printing and publishing industry. Numerous railways radiate from the city. It is also served by principal highways, a subway system, and an international airport.
Prague has long been an important center of education and culture. Charles University, founded in 1348, is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Outstanding cultural institutions include the National Gallery, the State Library, the National Museum, and the National Museum of Technology. The National, Smetana, and Tyl theaters offer a wide range of musical performances. Among the city's orchestras are the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Symphony. The annual Prague Spring Music Festival has an international reputation.
Prague dates from at least the ninth century, when Slavic rulers of Bohemia built a castle on the site. After 1200 it grew rapidly as the capital of independent Bohemia and became a prosperous trading center. The city's greatest development came in the 1300's, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV founded the university and made Prague a leading European center of education and culture. During the early 15th century the city was the seat of a religious reform movement led by John Huss.
Prague came under the rule of the Haps-burgs of Austria in 1526 and remained an Austrian city for nearly 400 years. During the 17th and 18th centuries it ranked second only to Vienna as an imperial residence. With the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Prague was made the capital of newly created Czechoslovakia. The city was held by the Germans during World War II. After the war it became the seat of the Communist government of Czechoslovakia. In 1968 Soviet troops occupied Prague briefly in a successful attempt to halt a liberalization program begun by the Czechoslovakian government. In 1969 Czechoslovakia adopted a federal system and Prague, while remaining the national capital, became the capital of one of the constituent states, the Czech Republic.
Demonstrations in Prague, beginning in 1989, helped bring about the fall of the Communist government and the creation of a democratic republic in 1990. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two separate nations, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Prague remained the capital of the Czech Republic.