Historic Centre of Prague (1992)
Czech Republic

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Built between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Old Town, the Lesser Town and the New Town speak of the great architectural and cultural influence enjoyed by this city since the Middle Ages. The many magnificent monuments, such as Hradcani Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and numerous churches and palaces, built mostly in the 14th century under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV.   

Czechoslovakia 1981. View of Prague in 1636. Painting by Vaclav Hollar.

When one stands on the hills above Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad) and looks down on town, this wonderful view is exactly what you get!  It is breathtaking and beautiful, and you cannot avoid sensing the wings of history - and "hearing" the beautiful and melancholic music from "The Moldau" ("Ma Vlást") by Bedrich Smetana insisting on you.  You'll feel that life stands still, and yet you'll sense the pulse of a modern metropolis. It is certainly not unjustified that the city is popularly called "The Golden City" [Die Goldene Stadt].

The banks along the Vltava River in what is now Prague were settled by Slavs in the 5th and 6th centuries. Borivoj, an early prince of the Slavs who identified themselves as Czechs, built what became Hradcany on the Vltava River between 870 and 880, and thus Prague itself dates from the 9th century. 

  • Czechoslovakia 1981. View of Prague in 1636 by the Bohemian painter Václav Hollar (1607-1677). Scan by courtesy of Mr. Gerhard Batz (Germany). 

In the 10th century, another castle, Vyšehrad, was built on the other side of the river by the leader of the Premyslid dynasty, which soon became powerful. Under the Premyslids, Bohemia expanded its territory and came under the protection of the German-based Holy Roman Empire. 

Prague began to develop rapidly under the leadership of Charles IV, who became king of Bohemia in 1346 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. Charles began a massive building program in Prague to turn the city into his imperial capital. Under his leadership, the New Town developed. Charles also founded Charles University and ordered construction of the Charles Bridge. 

In the early 1400s Prague became the center of the religious reform movement led by John Huss, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. The Hussite movement and revolt that developed after his death damaged the city considerably. 

  • Czech Republic 1998. Emperor Charles IV, on the background of a city map of Prague, issued in commemoration of the 650th anniversary of The New City of Prague [Nove Mesto Prazske]. The stamp is part of a souvenir sheet, shown immediately below. 

Czech Republic 1998. Emperor Charles IV, founder of Prague.

Czech Republic 1998. Souovenir sheet. 650th anniversary of Prague.

Prague’s importance declined when Ferdinand I became king of Bohemia and the kingdom became part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy in 1526. The city was the site of numerous attempts by the Czech nobility to resist Habsburg control. In 1583 Rudolf II, a patron of the arts, moved to Prague and the city once again began to flourish. In 1618 Czech Protestants threw two Catholic governors out of the windows of Prague Castle. This act, known as the Defenestration of Prague, helped precipitate the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The defeat of the Czech nobility at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 led to the execution of 27 Czechs and the exile of much of the Czech nobility. After the victory of Habsburg forces in 1648, Czechs were forced to convert to Catholicism. 

Czech Republic 1997. Souvenir Sheet. Emperor Rudolph II.

Economic life revived in the 18th century as manufacturing developed. In 1757, during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), Prussian forces under Frederick II briefly took Prague. Prague’s four towns were joined to form one city in 1784 during the reign of Joseph II. In 1848 Austrian forces bombarded the city after the Czechs revolted against Habsburg rule. Prague then began another period of rapid growth. It also became the center of the Czech national movement. In 1866 the Austrians surrendered to Prussian forces at Prague during the Seven Weeks’ War. The Austrian defeat helped establish Prussia as Europe’s dominant power, but the Habsburgs continued to control Prague until World War I (1914-1918).

Czechoslovakia 1967. View of Prague, The Moldau and Charles Bridge.

Czechoslovakia 1953. Charles Bridge.

Prague became the capital of newly created Czechoslovakia in 1918. The city was occupied by German forces during World War II. After the war, a Communist government came to power in Czechoslovakia. 

In 1918 the new state of Czechoslovakia began issuing its own postage stamps, see the reprint on the sheet to the right. This view of Prague shows the Charles Bridge, and the Hradcany (Prague Castle) in the background. 

A very interesting artist and stamp engraver of particularly Prague Motifs was Jiri Svengsbir (1921-1983), who has created the souvenir sheet. 

A very prolific stamp engraver, he has created more than 250 engravings, of which more than 100 feature various views of his native Prague. 

Characteristic for his work is the total lack of perspective. Svengsbir concentrates on the main features of the motif, and abstains consciously from the details. 

  • Czechoslovakia 1968. Souvenir sheet. Issued for the stamp exhibition PRAGA 1968, at the same time serving as a commemorative of 50th anniversary of the first Czechoslovak postage stamp, shown in a reprint at the bottom of the sheet. 

Czechoslovakia 1968. Souvenir sheet. Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first Czechoslovak postage stamp.

Under Communism, Prague’s traditional links to other European cities were broken. The city’s inhabitants were isolated, and Czech culture suffered the negative effects of Communist Party control. In the mid-1960s, the city underwent a cultural reawakening that contributed to the political reform movement led by Alexander Dubcek known as the Prague Spring. 

Czechoslovakia 1950. View of Prague. (engraving Jiri Svengsbir).

In retaliation, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops invaded the country in August 1968 and reform languished for two decades. In November 1989 massive nonviolent demonstrations began in Prague’s Wenceslas Square that led to the downfall of Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime. Since the end of Communism, the city has once again emerged as a major European cultural and tourist center. In January 1993 Prague became the capital of the independent Czech Republic.
  • Czechoslovakia 1950. Prague View by Jiri Svengsbir. This stamp is the first one issued with a Prague motif after World War II, and created after an ancient engraving from 1495. 

This whole page is a partial revival of my first web page about Prague, published in 1999, on my ancient web site "Travelling the World on Art Stamps". The original page was made in close co-operation with Mr. Gerhard Batz (Germany), who is a true expert on Czechoslovak stamps and a specialist on Czech and Slovak Graphic Art. Mr. Batz has kindly approved that I re-use his scans on this page. 

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section of the Czech Republic, for further information on the individual properties. 

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Revised 18 aug 2007  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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