“This magical city of Prague! No other city is looking at the visitor with such wonderful, humane and intelligent eyes as Prague”- wrote Russian poet Fedor Tyutchev.
No wonder that countless tourists fill the streets of Prague every day: they come to see the astronomical clock on Prague's old Town Hall, which showed the time before Columbus discovered America, but also memorable places such as Prague Castle, the famous Charles Bridge, the Old Town Square and the Jewish Quarter.
According to the legend, Prague was founded by the Princess Libuse, who married the ordinary farmer Premysl and founded the dynasty of the same name. It is believed that the first fortifications of Prague Castle appeared in 880 by order of Prince Bogeemi Borivoj I. He surrounded the existing church with a wall of stones and clay, dug a moat and built a drawbridge.
By the 10th century Prague Castle became the residence of the rulers of Bohemia, not only princes and later kings, but also the highest representatives of the church, the bishops of Prague. In 1041 the castle was besieged and completely destroyed. Prince Bretislav I laid down a new stone wall, but a few years later the castle underwent a siege, and was again destroyed. It was completely rebuilt, but in 1280 torrential rains washed away the northern part of the fortifications.
In 1344 the first stone in the foundation of the Cathedral of St. Vitus was laid. Today, the cathedral is the architecture dominant of Prague Castle and the main cathedral of the city. 1o years later, Charles IV became the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the Prague Castle became his residence. He also founded the Charles University in Prague, the oldest university in Central Europe, and laid the foundation of the Charles Bridge, connecting the two parts of the city. In the 17th century, the bridge was decorated with 30 sculptures, gradually turning into an art gallery under the open air which brought him a worldwide fame.
The first Jewish settlements were formed in the X century near the Prague castle. By the XVI century, the Jewish quarter (called Josefov, in honour of the Austrian Emperor Joseph I) had developed its own political, religious and domestic rules, isolating itself from the rest of the population, and becoming one of the districts of Prague. In the XVI century, during the reign of Rudolf II, Prague Jews were persecuted and lived in constant fear. According to the legend, in order to protect the Jewish population from riots, the Rabbi of Prague’s Jews Leon created a man, molding out his figure with clay from the Vltava river. He then put into the Golem’s mouth a ‘shem’ (the secret name of God, which animates the inanimate), and thereby revived the monster. The Golem became the hope of the Jews, their weapon against their oppressors and one of the most famous figures of Prague. It faithfully served his master by protecting Jews from attacks, but with each passing day the Golem became more aggressive, until the Townsmen, frightened, asked Rabbi Leo to destroy the Golem: he did so by pulling out the ‘shem’ from his month. It is said that Rabbi Leon put the body of the Golem to the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, and forbade anyone under penalty of death to climb up to the attic. Since then no one has ever come up to the attic.
Nowadays, Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic and fourteenth largest city in the European Union. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of nearly 2.0 million. The city has a temperate oceanic climate with warm summers and chilly winters, and is home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of twentieth century Europe. The main attractions include: Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Jewish Quarter, the Lennon Wall, and Petřín hill. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, boasting more than ten major museums, along with countless theatres, galleries, cinemas, and other historical exhibits: it is classified as a Beta+ global city according to GaWCstudies, comparable to Berlin, Rome, or Houston. Its rich history makes it a popular tourist destination, and the city receives more than 4.1 million international visitors annually, as of 2009. In 2011, Prague was the sixth most visited city in Europe.
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