1902 Encyclopedia > Prague


PRAGUE (German, Prag ; Bohemian, Praha), the capi-tal of Bohemia, the seat of an archbishop, and the third largest town of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, lies on both banks of the Moldau in 50° 5' N. lat. and 14° 25' E. long., 150 miles to the north-west of Vienna and 75 miles to the south-south-east of Dresden. Its position, near the centre of the country and at the only point where the valley of the Moldau expands sufficiently to make room for a great city, marks it out as the natural capital of Bohemia, and the picturesque effect of its masses of build-ings and innumerable spires and towers, filling the valley and climbing the hills on either side, is enhanced by their stirring historical background. The heights on the left bank descend somewhat rapidly to the river and are crowned by the venerable Hradschin, or palace of the Bohemian kings, which forms the dominant feature in every view of the town. On the other bank there is a considerable level space between the river and the base of the hills. An additional charm is lent to the scene by the pleasant green islands in the Moldau, which is here 500 to 1500 feet in width. The general features of the situation recall those of Budapest, and the smaller scale is fully compensated for by the greater variety and interest of the buildings.
The town proper consists of four main divisions, the Altstadt and the Neustadt on the right bank of the Moldau, and the Kleinseite and the Hradschin on the left. Immediately beyond the old line of circumvallation are the suburbs of Carolinenthal, Wyscherad, Smichow, and Weinberg, while these in turn are adjoined by various outer suburban districts. Down to 1866 Prague was surrounded with walls and bastions, which, however, had long lost their military importance, and have since been, to a great

Plan of Prague.
1. Imperial Palace. 10. Church of the Knights 17. Nat. Boliem. Museum.
2. St Vitus's Cathedral. of the Cross. 18. Maria Schnee Church.
3. Belvedere Villa. 11. Clementinum. 19. Savings Bank.
4. Palace Waldstein. 12. Count Clam Gallas's 20. Bohemian Theatre.
5. St Nicholas Church. Palace. 21. Neustadt Town-house.
6. Capuchin Monastery. 13. Town-house. 22. Technical College.
7. St Loretto Church. 14. Teyn Church. 23. Einmaus Church.
8. Strahow Monastery. 15. Carolinum. 24. Carlshof Church.
9. Rudolfinum. 16. Civil Courts. 25. Jewish Cemetery.

extent, removed. The two sides of the river are connected by seven bridges, of which the most important are the Kaiser Franz suspension bridge, the new Palacky bridge, and the fine old Carls bridge. This last, erected between 1350 and 1500, is closed at each end by a mediaeval gate-tower, of which that to the east is particularly interesting. The numerous buttresses are adorned with statues of saints, among them that of St John Nepomuk, who earned his title to be regarded as the patron saint of bridges from the fact that he here allowed himself to be thrown into the Moldau at the order of King Wenceslaus rather than divulge the queen's confidences in the confessional (1393). The statue is regarded with great veneration and is visited by thousands of devotees on the saint's anniversary (16th May).

The Altstadt, or old town, is the most densely populated part of Prague and the principal seat of traffic. Most of the streets are narrow and irregular, but the centre of the district is occupied by a spacious square called the Grosser Ring, and the side next the Moldau is bordered by wide quays embellished with handsome monuments to Charles IV. and Francis I. On one side of the Ring stands the town-house, to a great extent rebuilt, but still comprising part of the mediaeval structure that witnessed so many of the stormy scenes of Bohemian history. Opposite is the Teyn church, or old church of the Calixtine Hussites, built in 1407, and containing the tomb of Tycho Brahe, the Danish astronomer. Another interesting structure is the Late Gothic Pulverthurm, a relic of the old wall that once separated the Altstadt from the Neustadt. The Altstadt is also the seat of the university and several other educa-tional establishments. The university, founded by Charles IV. in 1348, was the first in the German empire, and was attended by 10,000 to 15,000 students, until invidious distinctions made between Bohemians and Germans led the latter to secede in a body and found academies for themselves in other parts of Germany. The institution, however, still ranks high among European seats of learning and numbers above 2600 students. Lectures are delivered both in Bohemian and in German, and students may graduate in either language. The faculties of medicine and law occupy the Carolinum near the town-hall, while those of theology and philosophy are established in the Clementinum, a huge old Jesuit college, which also com-prises the university library (180,000 vols.), several chapels, a school, and the archiépiscopal seminary. The most con-spicuous modern buildings are the civil courts, the savings bank, and the Rudolfinum, a large Renaissance edifice on the quay, containing an academy of art, a conservatorium for music, and an industrial museum. The church of the Knights of the Cross (Kreuzherrenkirche) is an imposing building modelled on St Peter's at Rome, and the palace of Count Clam Gallas is a tasteful Renaissance structure of 1701. Enclosed within the Altstadt is the Josephstadt, or Jewish quarter, a labyrinth of crowded and dingy streets, to which the Jews were strictly confined down to 1848. The Jewish colony of Prague is one of the most ancient in Europe ; the Jewish cemetery, with its thousands of closely-packed tombstones interspersed with shrubs and creeping plants, is one of the most curious sights in Prague.

The Neustadt, or new town, surrounds the old town in the form of a semicircle, reaching the river both to the north and to the south of it. The site of the old wall and moat that formerly separated the two quarters is now occupied by a line of the handsomest and busiest streets in Prague, and the rest of the Neustadt also consists of broad and well-built streets and squares. Conspicuous among the buildings are the numerous hospitals and asylums on the south side, forming a phalanx of charitable institutions that do great credit to the philanthropy of the citizens. The town-house, now used as a criminal court, is interesting as the spot where the Bohemian Hussite war was inaugurated by the hurling of several unpopular councillors from the window. Other noteworthy edifices are the Bohemian museum, the Bohemian technical college (1500 students), the magnificent new Bohemian theatre (erected at a cost of £200,000), and the churches of Carlshof, Emmaus, and Maria Schnee. To the south the Neustadt is adjoined by the Wyscherad, or citadel, the oldest part of Prague. The original fortress was almost entirely destroyed by the Hussites, and the present fortifications are modern.

The Kleinseite, or Little Prague, on the left bank of the Moldau, occupies the slopes of the Laurenzberg and the Hradschin and is the headquarters of the aristocratic and official classes. Like the Altstadt, its centre is formed by a "ring," containing the large and handsome Jesuit church of St Nicholas and a fine monument to Marshal Radetzky. The most generally interesting of the numer-ous palaces of the Bohemian noblesse is the Palace Waldstein or Wallenstein, an extensive edifice built by the hero of the Thirty Years' War and still occupied by his descendants. Kleinseite also contains the hall of the Bohemian diet and the residence of the statthalter or governor of Bohemia. To the north it ends in the plea-sant promenades named after the crown-prince Rudolf, which stretch along the bank of the Moldau.

The Hradschin, or castle hill, rises abruptly behind the Kleinseite to a height of about 240 feet. The imperial palace, a vast and irregular group of buildings crowning the height, is remarkable rather for its situation and extent than for architectural importance. It is said to have been founded by Princess Libussa, and was greatly enlarged by Charles IV. and others, but now offers little of a mediseval character with the exception of two or three towers. Few of the 440 rooms it is said to contain are of any special interest; in the council chamber is still pointed out the window from which the imperial council-lors Martinitz and Slavata were hurled in 1618. Within the large court of the palace stands the cathedral of St Vitus, begun in 1344, in evident imitation of the cathedral of Cologne, but consisting of little more than the extensive Late Gothic choir (1385). Efforts are now being made to bring it to completion. The tower was originally 500 feet high, but lost two-fifths of its height by a fire. The interior enshrines several works of con-siderable interest and value, such as the mausoleum of the Bohemian kings, a fine Renaissance work in alabaster and marble by Alex. Colin of Mechlin (1589); the shrine of St John Nepomuk, said to contain 1 \ tons of solid silver; and the chapel of St Wenceslaus, the walls of which are encrusted with jasper, chalcedony, and amethyst. In the treasury are the Bohemian regalia. The palace precincts also enclose the church of St George, dating from the 12th century, and one of the few Romanesque edifices of which Prague can boast. To the west of the imperial palace is a wide square with three large palaces, one belonging to the archbishop of Prague. Farther on is another square, surrounded by the extensive palace of Count Czernin (now a barrack), a large Capuchin monastery, and the church of St Loretto, an imitation of the wandering Casa Santa. At the extreme west of this quarter, adjoining the wall, is the imposing monastery of Strahow, possessing a good collection of pictures and a large library. To the north of the imperial palace is a picturesque gorge called the Hirschgraben, beyond which are the palace gardens, con-taining the Belvedere, a villa erected by Ferdinand I. in 1536, and considered one of the most tasteful reproductions of Italian architecture to the north of the Alps.

Prague is unusually well supplied with public parks and gardens, as, in addition to those already mentioned, pleasure-grounds have been laid out on the islands in the Moldau, on the slopes of the Laurenzberg, and on part of the ground occupied by the old fortifications. Among the most popular resorts are the charming grounds of the Baumgarten, a mile to the north of the Kleinseite. Both the industry and the commerce of Bohemia have their focus in Prague, the chief seats of the former being the large manufacturing suburbs of Smichow (21,000 inhabitants) and Carolinenthal (20,000 inhabitants), the one to the south of the Kleinseite and the other to the northeast of the Neustadt. The most prominent items in a very miscellaneous list of industrial products are linen, cotton, calico, and leather goods, gloves, machinery, con-fectionery, beer, and chemicals. Garnet wares also form a specialty. Trade is facilitated by an extensive system of roads and railways, but the river navigation is unimportant owing to the numerous weirs and the insufficient depth. In 1880 Prague proper contained 162,323 inhabitants, or including the suburban districts about 250,000; and at the beginning of 1885 the total popula-tion was officially stated at 272,333. Nearly five-sevenths of these are of Slavonic race, while all are Roman Catholics with the exception of 20,000 Jews and 5000 Protestants. The Germans, however, though diminishing in relative numbers, still claim to represent the bulk of the capital and culture of the city. The garrison consists of from 8000 to 10,000 men.

The foundation of Prague is ascribed to the princess Libussa, who appears at the beginning of the 8th century of our era as ruling the Bohemians from her stronghold of Wyscherad on the right bank of the Moldau. It is at least certain that the town made rapid progress under the fostering care of the early Bohemian sovereigns, and in the 13th century it was able to bid defiance to the Tatar hordes that then overran the country. Its chief period of prosperity was the reign of Charles IV. (1346-1378), who by found- ing the university, establishing fairs, and investing the town with valuable privileges attracted to it numerous strangers. At this time Prague was perhaps the most important town in Germany, and could even boast of an independent school of art. Afterwards, however, Prague became the centre of the agitation that culmi- nated in the Hussite wars, and thus brought upon itself a long train of misfortunes. The Hussites took possession of the city soon after defeating the emperor Sigismund, and allowed their re- ligious zeal to carry them so far as to destroy many of the most interesting old churches in the city—a fact that accounts for the want of venerable ecclesiastical edifices in Prague. The town was, however, afterwards rebuilt by the imperialists upon an improved scale. Under Rudolf II. (1576-1612) a second season of prosperity was enjoyed ; Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and other men eminent in science, art, or letters nocked to the court of this enlightened monarch and contributed to the importance of his capital. Prague suffered its full share of the evils of the Thirty Years' War, which may be said to have begun here with the precipitation of the councillors from the window of the Hradschin (1618), and to have ended here with the occupation of the Kleinseite by the Swedes in 1648. The town was occupied by the imperialists after the defeat of the Protestants at the White Hill in 1620, and its Protestant sympathies caused it to find scant grace in the eyes of the victors. It was taken by the Swedes in 1631, by Wallenstein in 1632, by the French and Bavarians in 1741, and by Frederick the Great in 1744. In 1757 it narrowly escaped a second capture by Frederick, who held it closely invested after defeating the Austrians at the battle of Prague, but was compelled to raise the siege by the disaster of Kolin. This was the last time Prague underwent a siege, though it was occupied by the Prussians in 1866. During the present century its material advance has been unbroken, but its harmonious social development has been hampered by the disunion between the Czechish and German elements of its population. The revolu- tionary ideas of 1848 found a warm response in the nationalist party of Bohemia, and a Pan-Slavonic congress was opened at Prague in May of that year. Unfortunately, however, a collision took place between the military and the populace, and Prince Windischgratz forcibly dissolved the congress and bombarded the town for two days. In 1862 a new impetus was given to the Slavonic agitation by the formation of a Bohemian diet, and since then the fissure between the warring races has grown wider rather than diminished. The Slavs seem to be steadily gaining ground at the expense of the Germans both in numbers and influence. Among the celebrated natives of Prague the most eminent in public interest are John Huss (1369-1415) and Jerome of Prague (c. 1365-1416). A fragment of the house of the former is still shown in the Altstadt. (J. F. M.)

The above article was written by: J. F. Muirhead.

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