Brief Czech History

Since moving to Prague in January, I have attended many museums, cathedrals, and historic places with my architecture class and study abroad program. Each of these experiences has been a great hands-on opportunity to learn the history of the Czech Republic and the city of Prague. Today I want to share some of that information with you.

Have you ever heard the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslaus”? It is based off of Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia who lived in the early 900s. I was very suprised that 1) Wenceslaus (later canonized a Saint) was never actually a king and that 2) his life ended over 600 years before America was even discovered. Saint Wenceslaus was murdered by a group of his brothers friends, and his brother drove the last stab through his body. They killed him due to a political disagreement about paying money to other monarchies in the region. Today, St. Wencelsaus is still a popular figure of Czech culture and has “Wenceslaus Square” named after him in the New Town of Prague. In addition, he is buried in St. Vitus Cathedral, the same location where he founded a Romanesque Rotunda during his rule.

By fast-forwarding 400 years, we are brought to the time of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. During his time as King, Charles IV founded New Town in Prague, decorated the main bridge (now called Charles Bridge) with beautiful statues, created Charles University, and funded the construction of multiple churches and monasteries. When he sponsored a project, he often requested that his face be incorporated into the piece of art.

If we skip on to the late 1800s and early 1900s, we can talk about Franz Kafka, a German-speaking, Czech-born, and Jewish lawyer/writer. You may have read some of Kafka’s famous works, such as The Metamorphosis, The Judgement, Before the Law, etc. My study abroad program offered a “Walk with Kafka” in which we learned about his life, read some of his works, and visited places he grew up in Prague, as well as his two monuments in the city. I am fascinated by Kafka’s life and even learned that Kafka requested from his deathbed that his unpublished works be burned. His publisher did not listen to him and published them anyway. After a few decades and some translations into English, Kafka became famous in the world of literature.

Last week, my study abroad program also offered a trip to a Czech concentration camp in Terezín, Czech Republic. It was sombering to learn of the atrocities committed towards people during the second world war. The experience was very educational, and we got to see a couple of memorials to those murdered at the camp.

The last part of major history I will touch on today is the communist era of the Czech Republic, which lasted from 1948 to 1989. I attended the Museum of Communism in Prague about a month ago, where I learned about the supressed life under Soviet rule. As a student studying supply chain management, it was crazy for me to think of the mass production of goods that took place under communism. It is also insane to think about how little freedom people had to make decisions or to travel outside of the country. At the end of the museum, we watched footage from the Velvet Revolution, which was started by student protests in 1989 and led to the Czechoslovakia’s freedom from the Soviets. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split and the Czech Republic became the country that it is today.

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