A History of Prague, Part 6, The Eighteenth Century

The aftermath of the Thirty years war was a troubled time for Prague. Although the Peace of Westphalia had officially ended the Thirty Years War, the Holy Roman Empire was weakened and the power of the Habsburghs diminished. Foreign interference dogged Bohemia until the end of the 17th century and well into the 18th. In 1689, a fire, said to have been started by French agents, raged through Prague and destroyed much of it.

The gates of Prague Castle
The gates of Prague Castle

Still, in time, Bohemia began to recover. In Prague, rebuilding and restoration, in the Baroque style, commenced. By the 18th century, merchants and businessmen, attracted by a promising economic climate, flooded into the city..

But still the shadow of war lingered. European Powers vied to gain a foothold in this strategically important territory. From 1741 to 1757 Prague was torn variously  between the French, the Prussians and the Habsburghs. A climate of distrust infected its citizens. The Jewish community was accused of collaboration with the Prussians and 1745 the Empress Maria Theresa banished them from the city.

By 1770 the Habsbughs had triumphed and peace had finally returned to Bohemia. New Baroque gates were installed at Prague Castle. Depicting the battle of the Titans from classical mythology, they symbolised the triumph of the Habsburghs over their enemies.

Despite a century of upheaval, the country prospered and the steady stream of immigrants continued apace. By 1771, the population numbered 80, 000. It included a wealthy business and merchant class, as well as aristocrats, who enriched the city with palaces, churches and gardens in the new style and Prague’s unique Baroque architecture became known throughout the world.

In 1781, the new Emperor, Joseph II, issued the Edict of Tolerance, granting political and religious rights to minorities. The population rose again as many of the descendants of those who had fled or been banished, during the past stormy century, returned. In 1784 Joseph II united the four independent urban areas of Old Town, Malá Strana, Hradčany and New Town into the great city of Prague.

Most importantly, in the same year, the National revival (národní obrození) a Czech Nationalist Movement began. After centuries in the shadow, Czech language, culture and national identity were revived and Czech literature blossomed.

Explore Baroque Prague at the castle, around the old and new towns and in the Jewish Quarter.

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