Before my river cruise last summer, I spent a few days in Prague. This is a beautiful, well restored city with a rich history.
To understand how Prague has become a successful, industrialized city that is one of the most visited by tourists, you need to start with the history of the country.
Jewish merchants settled in this area over 1,000 years ago. By the mid 14th century, King Charles IV was the Holy Roman Emperor. The Jews became servants to the King, and lived in ghettos. At this time what is now known as the Czech Republic was in Austria and Prague was the capital of Bohemia; Slovakia was part of Hungary.
After World War I, the countries were joined as Czechoslovakia. Nazi occupation began in 1939, and under German rule, 80,000 of the 120,000 Jews were killed and buried in layers in one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, located in Prague.
In 1948, the Communist Party was in full control and remained so until 1991. In 1967, an attempt at reform, “Prague Spring,” failed and in 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviets, who cement their power.
After 41 years of Communist rule, the Velvet Revolution, a gentle revolution led mostly by student groups, succeeded in ending Communism, and by 1993 they voted to split the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as it is today.
They joined the European Union in 2004, and are now one of the strongest economies in Europe. There is only seven per cent unemployment in the country. The number 1 industry is automobile building — Skoda has 25,000 employees. The city of Prague has 1.3 million people and 900,000 cars!
Today, you can visit the Prague Castle, largest in the world, built in the 9th century. Or the Cathedral, which was started in 1344 and finished in the 20th century. Walk over the Charles Bridge, named after King Charles IV and built in the mid 14th century.
One of the most famous tourist attractions is the Astronomical Clock, built in 1410, and the oldest clock in the world still working. It was invented before Copernicus discovered that planets revolved around the sun, so this clock has Praha (Prague) in the center and the sun revolving around it. At 10 am each day, there is a 30-second show, where the doors of the clock open and the apostles appear, and it ends with a skeleton emerging depicting the message that ‘death is coming’.
Prague is also known for great classical music. I happened to stumble upon a performance of Ave Maria at St. Francis Church, complete with pipe organ, which was impressive! There are many other concert halls offering wonderful classical performances, usually complete with period costumes.
And you cannot forget beer! Czechs are the number 1 beer consumers in the world — 155 litres per person per year! So it’s not uncommon to find many places offering beer tastings, like the Prague Beer Museum – Nastrovi! (Cheers!).
For more information about the Czech Republic, contact Carla Nelson, Branch Manager, Maritime Travel, 250-489-4788.