A History of Prague, Part 2, The Premyslid Dynasty

Sometime in the 7th century a Princess named Libuse married a humble ploughman named Premysil. Together they founded the great Premyslid dynasty which was to build the city of Prague and reign over Bohemia for almost six centuries.

At Prague Castle
At Prague Castle

Libuse’s royal seat was in central Bohemia and from there the princess, who was famed for her visions, foretold the glorious future city of Prague

“I see a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars! I see a place in the middle of a forest where a steep cliff arises above the Vltava River. There is a man who is chiselling the threshold (prah) for a house. A castle named Prague (prah) will be built there. Just as the princes and the dukes stoop in front of a threshold, they will bow to the castle and to the city around it. It will be favoured, with great repute and praise will be bestowed upon it by the whole world”

In 880, Prince Borivoj Premislovec laid the foundations for the city of Libuse’s vision when he built Prague Castle, on a hill on the left bank of the Vltava. A new town was established below the castle, at the shallow crossing points over the Vltava River, where long trade routes converged. By the early 10th century it had developed into an important multi-cultural trading centre, where merchants from all over Europe gathered. In 863, the evangelists Cyril and Methodius, (aka, the apostles of the Slavs) baptised Borivoj and his wife Ludmila and Bohemia became a Christian country. Filled with religious zeal, Borivoj began a programme of building, beginning with the Church of our Lady and following with the Basilica of St George.

The next great Premyslid ruler was Borivij’s grandson, Wenceslas. In his reign more churches were built, including St Vitus Rotunda, on the site where St Vitus Cathedral now stands. Under Wenceslas Prague began to emerge as the centre of Bohemia. Meanwhile, an alliance with the neighbouring German Saxon dynasty strengthened Bohemia’s position in the region. On September 28, 929, Wenceslas was assassinated by his brother Boreslav, who opposed the German Alliance. Wenceslas was buried in St Vitus Rotunda. He was later canonised and became Bohemia’s most famous and beloved patron Saint.

In 950, after many years of warfare, Otto I of the Saxon Dynasty defeated Boreslav and Bohemia came under the sway of the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1085 King Vratislav I was crowned as the first Czech King. Despite his regal status, he remained subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire and the German king. Vratisalav set up a second principality at Vysehrad across the river and built a road to connect it to an old Romanesque fort further along the right bank. During the 11th century, this old fort, today’s Stare Mesto, or old town, began to expand back from the riverbank and to centre around the large marketplace now known as Staromestske Namesti or the Old Town Square. When Jewish merchants began to set up businesses, Prague’s Jewish quarter was established. The Old New Syngogue was built and the first souls were laid to rest in the Jewish Cemetery.

In 1158, Prince Vladislav II became King of Bohemia. Under his reign, churches and monasteries proliferated. Then, in 1172, the Judith Bridge, the first stone bridge over the Vltava, was built

In 1212 a Papal Bull (the Golden Bull of Sicily) decreed Bohemia a Hereditary Kingdom with Prince Premysil Otakar I as Regent. Under his rule a programme of peaceful colonisation began and the Germans, who were to live harmoniously among the Czechs for over 200 years, arrived. The small settlements which comprised Prague grew apace and, in 1230, Stare Mesto gained the status of a town.

In 1257, Premysl Otakar II took the throne. He founded Prague’s Mala Strana or Lesser Town, on the left bank of the Vltava and invited colonists from Northern Germany to settle there. By the end of the 13th century, he was the most powerful King in the Holy Roman Empire. Known as the Iron and Golden King he ruled in seven other countries and his reign extended form Silesia to the Adriatic coast.

By 1303, the male line of the Premysild rulers had died out but Prague was already a great and beautiful city of majestic castles, grand buildings and magnificent churches. Its settlements had grown into prosperous towns. Merchants and traders came from all over the world to do business here. It was well on the way to becoming the vast, glorious city of Princess Libuse’s vision.

While much of Mediaeval Prague has been demolished or disappeared under subsequent layers of bricks and mortar, much of it still remains. Uncover the Prague of the Premyslid Dynasty with a walk through Stare Mesto, the Jewish Quarter, around the area where the Charles Bridge meets the right bank of the Vltava, through Mala Strana and around Prague Castle.


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