By the beginning of the 14th century Prague was already a hub of European commerce, a centre of rich and diverse cultures and Bohemia was the most powerful state in the Holy Roman Empire. With the renaissance sweeping through Europe and an enlightened and visionary king in the making, Prague was poised for its first “Golden Age”.
The last male in the Premyslid line died in 1306, bringing and end to the rule of Bohemia’s founding dynasty. A new era began and a new dynasty was founded when Eliska Premyslova, sister of the last Premyslid, ruler married John of Luxembourg. King John was a modest and humble man, a quiet achiever who, during his brief and unspectacular reign, continued the work of the Premyslids. The legal status of the towns of Mala Strana and Stare Mesto were strengthened and in 1320 a new town, Hradcany, was created from the settlement around Prague Castle Square. The cornerstone of Prague’s cathedral was laid and in 1344 Pope Clement VI promoted Prague’s bishopric to an archbishopric. However, John of Luxembourg’s greatest work and the one into which he poured the most vision and wisdom, was the education and the preparation of his eldest son, Charles, for his role as sovereign.
Charles acceded to the throne on the death of his father in 1346. He was thirty years old, and set for a spectacular reign in a rich and powerful kingdom. He wasted no time.
It had been John of Luxembourg’s ambition to transform Prague into a second Rome and Charles dutifully carried out his father’s programme. On April 7, 1348, he established the region’s first university. Known today as the Charles University, it is the oldest in the Czech Republic. In the same year he founded Nove Mesto, the New Town, a modern town of over 360 hectares, surrounding the Old Town. He rebuilt Prague Castle and Vysehrad and erected the beautiful Charles Bridge, today almost an emblem of the city of Prague, to replace the old Judith Bridge. Construction was begun on St Vitus Cathedral and many new churches were completed.
In 1355 Charles was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome and Prague became its capital. By now Charles had his own ambitions for the city. He wanted it to be the most beautiful in the world, with Prague Castle as its centrepiece and St Vitus Cathedral dominating the skyline. Construction boomed. Grand, elaborate Gothic architecture replaced the relatively simple Romanesque style and a unique, new Bohemian kind of decoration evolved. Art, culture and commerce flourished. These were golden days for Prague and the Czech lands were among the most powerful in Europe.
Even today, there is little of the city which does not bear King Charles’ stamp. Explore the masterpieces of the era with a walk across the Charles Bridge, around Prague Castle and through the New Town.