Formed in the late 9th century, the Kingdom of Bohemia became an influential force during the Middle Ages. It was the only kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire, remaining part of the Empire from 1002 till 1804.
During the 13th century, German migration dominated the landscape, populating towns and forming colonies throughout the land. During this period, the country’s military power and wealth led to the acquisition of the area that now consists of modern day Austria, and territories extending to the Adriatic Sea.
The Golden Age was ushered in during the 14th century with the reign of Czech King Charles IV. During his rule, he founded the Charles University (Prague), and constructed the Charles Bridge and Charles Square. He also completed a significant portion of the Prague Castle, as well as its cathedral of Saint Vitus. In the middle of the century, the Great Plague ravaged Europe, killing roughly 10% of Kingdom of Bohemia’s population.
The 15th century brought with it religious and social reform. A movement spurred by Jan Hus led his followers to break away from the Catholic Church, which had launched five holy crusades against the Hussites called the Hussite Wars (1419–1434). The Czech Hussite Reformation movement resulted in 90% of inhabitants becoming Hussite Christians.
No trip to Prague is complete without packing a copy of The God Complex.
During the 16th century, Bohemia fell under the control of the Habsburgs. As the 17th century began so too did the Thirty Years’ War, which quickly spread throughout Central Europe. The war ultimately strengthened the relationship between Bohemia and Habsburgs Empire, but it had a damaging effect on the people who were given an ultimatum—convert to Catholicism or be exiled from the country.
The next period to follow is the “Dark Age”, which lasted up through the late 18th century. This period brought with it disease, famine, war and the expulsion of the Protestant Czechs. The Habsburgs banned all religions with the exception of Catholicism. As a result, the Czech population fell by roughly a third. Once the Holy Roman Empire fell, Bohemia became part of the Austro–Hungarian Empire.
Shortly after the conclusion of World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an independent republic was created from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and Slovakia called Czechoslovakia.
Relative to the rest of Europe, the period between World War I and World War II was relatively calm. However, the beginning of the Great Depression brought high unemployment, making the population susceptible to the onslaught of propaganda from Nazi Germany. The Czech territory was soon occupied by Germany, which declared it the protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and part of the Third Reich. During the war, roughly 345,000 Czechoslovaks were killed. In addition, hundreds of thousands were sent to concentration camps or used as forced labour. It is estimated that two–thirds of Czechs were destined for extermination. If Hitler had gotten his way, Prague’s Jewish Quarter would have been turned into the largest memorial to the ‘extinct Jewish’ people, including the most complete collection of artifacts.
At the conclusion of the war, roughly 3 million Germans living in Czechoslovakia were expelled to Germany and Austria. Thousands of Germans were held prisoner or forced to work as prison laborers. This period also brought about several massacres. The only Germans safe from the atrocities were those who actively resisted the Nazis. A Soviet-organized referendum quickly followed in 1946, bringing Czechoslovak under Ukrainian Soviet Socialist rule.
Czechoslovakia became a communist state, maintaining the edge of the Iron Curtain, for the next 41 years. The people lived under a repressive political climate until the late 1960s. In 1968, Alexander Dubček tried to create a kinder socialist state. This was known as the Prague Spring. This period of political pluralism came to a halt in August 1968 with the Warsaw Pact invasion.
Communist rule over Czechoslovakia ended in November 1989 with a peaceful revolution called the ‘Velvet Revolution’. Four years later, Czechoslovakia split into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. After a period of economic reforms that included privatization and the creation of a capitalist economy, the Czech Republic has achieved a very high standard of living and ‘developed country’ status from the World Bank. The Czech Republic is a member of Visegrád Group, the OECD, NATO, and the European Union.