History of Prague 2
The Borough of Prague 2 encompasses a part of the New Town, Vyšehrad, a part of Royal Vinohrady, and a part of Nusle. This unit was created when Prague was divided into 10 administrative districts in 1960. This reorganisation broke traditional municipal boroughs into often as many as four or five new boroughs and severed numerous historical ties. The history of the territory occupied by Prague 2 extends far back into Czech history.
The New Town of Prague
The New Town of Prague is inherently connected to the greatest ruler of Czech history, Charles IV.
At the beginning of Charles’ rule, Prague comprised three towns – the Castle, the Lesser Town of Prague, and the Old Town of Prague. Charles IV decided to build another, far more extensive town in the bend of the River Vltava, around the walls of the Old Town. And so: “in the year 1348, on the first indiction, on 8 March, in the third year of our rule…” he founded the New Town of Prague.
No other construction project of its kind was built in all of Europe in the 14th century. The belt of walls around the New Town was three-and-a-half kilometres long, the wall was six meters tall and reinforced with four-sided towers. According to the sources from that era, the fortifications grew within a mere two years. Access to the city was through four gates – the Hospital Gate, the Mountain Gate, the Horse Gate, and the Swine Gate.
The city had three major squares. The Cattle Market (today’s Charles Square –Karlovo náměstí) was the largest square in medieval Europe and still is the largest in Prague. The Horse Market (today’s Wenceslas Square) also represented a trunk road three quarters of a kilometre long and 60 meters wide, ending with the Horse Gate. The third square and market was the Hay Market (Senovážné Square).
In the extensive area inside the newly erected town walls, a purposefully designed network of roads was eventually created, with some fifteen hundred houses, a town hall, and a number of churches and monasteries. These included the Na Slovanech monastery, in which the King settled Benedictine monks who held services in the old-Slavic language.
The New Town grew quickly, because the King granted tax relief and numerous advantages to anyone who settled in the town and built a stone house there within 18 months. He had noisy and dirty trades moved to the New Town from the Old Town. The New Town was built according to a precise plan and under the strict supervision of the ruler himself.
After the establishment of the New Town, Prague comprised four towns, each administered by its own administration and holding different privileges and prerogatives, and also its own coats of arms.
The agglomeration of the Prague towns – with 40,000 inhabitants – was one of the largest cities in the Europe of its era.
The subsequent history of the New Town of Prague was closely connected to the fate of Prague as a whole.
In 1419, King Wenceslas IV installed a new, pro-Hussite town council in the New Town. The council soon imprisoned several radical Hussites. On 30 July of the same year, a crowd of Hussites came up to the town hall. The councillors, expecting expeditious aid from the Castle, responded to the demands for the release of the prisoners only by curses and stone-throwing. The people broke through the gate, got into the town hall, and threw the councillors out the windows and onto pikes and swords that they held up. The First Defenestration of Prague ignited the Hussite Revolution.
In 1784, the four towns of Prague were merged – the Old Town, the New Town, the Lesser Quarter, and the Castle – into one unit, the City of Prague. The formerly independent administrations were centred in the hands of the City Hall which sat at the Old Town Hall.
In 1848, the so-called St. Wenceslas (National) Committee was set up in Prague 2. It was elected at a meeting of the no-longer existing St. Wenceslas Spa, on 3 March 1848, and it steered a petition movement for constitutional freedoms. On 2 June of the same year, the Slavic Convention took place in Prague at Žofín – the first gathering of the representatives of Slavic nations in the Habsburg monarchy. The object of the convention was to try to discuss the possibility of transforming Austria into a federative state in which Slavic nations would find a respectable position under Habsburg rule.
In the 1870s, the tearing down of outdated buildings commenced in Prague. For the New Town of Prague, that meant an easier way to merge with neighbouring boroughs, primarily Royal Vinohrady, Nusle, and Žižkov. The Vinohrady part of Prague 2 received an immense impulse for rapid development with the tearing down of the walls. At the end of the 19th century, Prague, after years of stagnation, set out on the path to being a modern European city.
Vyšehrad is one of the oldest and also historically richest parts of Prague. Legends of old gave it the role as the oldest seat of Czech princes and the place from which the wise Libuše and the first Přemyslids ruled. Who would not know the legend of Horymír and his faithful horse Šemík; about Bivoj, who carried a dangerous wild boar to the ancient Vyšehrad; about Libuše’s messenger, who set out from this very place to Přemysl, the future founder of the Czech ruling family.
The oldest historical records of are relatively late date – from the second half of the 10th century. At that time, coins were minted at the local castle. Vyšehrad is assumed to have been founded by the Přemyslids at some point in the 9th century as a counterweight to Prague Castle, on the right bank of the Vltava. It served as a border castle of the tribe of Czechs whose territory stretched to the west of the Vltava at that time.
In the 10th century, Boleslav II built the stone Rotunda of St. John the Baptist there. In the second half of the 11th century, Vratislav II rebuilt the originally wooden castle, which had earthwork ramparts, into a stone Romanesque castle with a princely palace that he used as the central seat of the ruler. He founded a chapter there and built for it the Church of St. Peter and Paul, Basilica of St. Lawrence, and cemetery-based Rotunda of St. Martin, which stands to this day. In the 12th century, Prince Soběslav had the chapter church expanded and richly decorated. After his death, however, the significance of Vyšehrad declined and the centre of events shifted to Prague Castle.
Its significance was renewed by Charles IV, who greatly respected Czech traditions. He had a strong Gothic castle built there with the main gate in the form of a tower and a new stone palace. He also had the chapter church rebuilt in the Gothic style.
In 1420, the Hussites surrounded Vyšehrad. On 1 November 1420, the Hussites won the memorable battle of Pankrác Plain, defeating the crusader army that had come to raise the siege from around Vyšehrad, and the Vyšehrad troops surrendered. The Hussites then destroyed Vyšehrad, leaving it in ruins.
In subsequent centuries, Vyšehrad and the area around the castle was settled by poor tradesmen and converted into a little town. The Vyšehrad chapter, which also held extensive lands, estates, and villages in the area – in what is today Nusle, Podolí and Braník – maintained a decisive influence there.
In the mid 17th century, the residents of Vyšehrad were moved out and the former medieval castle was turned into a Baroque fortress that formed a part of Prague’s comprehensive fortification. This gave Vyšehrad a completely new face. The only civilian buildings that remained were those of the chapter which started, at the beginning of the 18th century, to renew old residences and build new ones for the canons. The chapter church has been made Baroque.
After the abolition of the fortress in 1866, in connection with the comprehensive demolition of Prague’s walls and the opening of the city to the world around it, nearly all of Vyšehrad became the property of the chapter. The Vyšehrad cemetery became the national burial place. At Slavín, as well as in individual graves around the cemetery, rest the greatest sons and daughters of the Czech nation. The chapter and parish Church of St. Peter and Paul was rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style in 1885 – 1887 (the facade and towers in 1902 - 1903).
The area that is today Vinohrady used to be a quiet stretch of fields, gardens, and above all vineyards. Royal Vinohrady only became an independent municipality in 1849. In 1875, its northern part separated, became independent, and adopted the name Žižkov. Following the separation of Žizkov, the Vinohrady assembly decided to provide for a school, town hall, and other necessary offices. It also decided to retain the name of Royal Vinohrady. On 26 September 1879, Royal Vinohrady was elevated to the status of a town.
From the 1880s until the 1920s, great construction developments took place in Royal Vinohrady. By 1913, over 84,000 people were living in the 1,682 Vinohrady buildings and Royal Vinohrady had become the largest part of the future Greater Prague. Noteworthy achievements were realised in a very short period. By 1882, the Podolí Waterworks were built, which supplied water to Vinohrady households, and in 1897 an electric tramway started to operate, with the track leading throughout the Vinohrady territory. A stone theatre soon also grew up in Vinohrady, the National Building, the Neo-Gothic St. Ludmila’s Church, and a number of showpiece schools, orchards, a modern hospital, and others.
The settlement of Nusle stretched along the Botič valley to the east of Vyšehrad, were vineyards formed an undivided green belt, from the Middle Ages. Shortly thereafter, also the area around St. Pancras’ Church, was settled, where the settlement called Krušina was established, later called Pankrác. New development came in the mid 1800s, when the two municipalities were merged. The place is famous for the fair known as Fidlovačka.
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