Prague is an urban architectural ensemble of outstanding quality, in terms of both its individual monuments and its townscape, and one that is deservedly world famous. The historic centre of Prague admirably illustrates the process of continuous urban growth from the Middle Ages to the present day. Its important role in the political, economic, social and cultural evolution of central Europe from the 14th century onwards and the richness of its architectural and artistic traditions meant that it served as a major model for urban development for much of central and eastern Europe.
The role of Prague in the medieval development of Christianity in central Europe was an outstanding one, as was its formative influence in the evolution of towns. By virtue of its political significance in the later Middle Ages and later, it attracted architects and artists from all over Europe, who contributed to its wealth of architectural and artistic treasures. The 15th-century creation of Charles University made it a renowned seat of learning, a reputation that it has preserved to the present day. Since the reign of Charles IV, Prague has also been the intellectual and cultural centre of its region, and is indelibly associated with such world-famous names as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Kafka.
The historic city of Prague comprises three separate cities - the Old Town (Stare Město), the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) and the New Town (Nove Město). In the late 9th century a fortified settlement was built on a hill on the left bank of the river, the site now occupied by Prague Castle. This extended down towards the river; while a second fortress was constructed on the opposite bank (Vyšehrad). During the 10th century the intervening areas were gradually settled and Prague became the capital of the Bohemian state, a bishopric being founded there in 973. Construction of the early Romanesque Cathedral of St Vitus began in the later 11th century.
In 1135 Sobĕslav II began work on a large stone castle, replacing the earlier wooden structure. The 12th century saw considerable expansion of the city, with a Premonstratensian monastery being built at Strahov and the construction of a new stone bridge across the Vltava, which led to the growth of the Stare Město. The mid-14th century saw further growth, with the foundation of the Nove Město, which was encircled by a defensive wall. From the mid-14th century Prague became a major centre of culture, with artists and architects coming from all parts of Europe, notably Italy. The result was a massive programme of rebuilding.
A disastrous fire in 1541 destroyed much of the settlement on the left bank of the Vltava, and in the rebuilding Renaissance styles predominated. The end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 saw Prague declining, and it was not until the end of the century that it recovered, commemorated by the vigorous development of High Baroque. Urban development from 1880 onwards resulted in the demolition of many old buildings, notably in the Jewish Quarter on the right bank of the Vltava. However, the city benefited from the construction of a large number of outstanding buildings in contemporary style.
The city is rich in monuments from all periods of its history. Of particular importance are Prague Castle, the Cathedral of St Vitus, Hradčany Square in front of the castle, and the Valdštejn Palace on the left bank of the river, the Gothic Charles Bridge, the Romanesque Rotunda of the Holy Rood, the Gothic arcaded houses round the Old Town Square, the High Gothic Minorite Church of St James in the Stare Město, and the late 19th-century buildings and town plan of the Nove Město.
Listed among the endangered sites, St Anne's Church in the Old Town district of Prague has been used as a warehouse for the past two centuries; the church has preserved its original structure and most of its genuine fabric. The interior still retains a cycle of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque murals, and its original Gothic roof timbering.
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