Imagine Prague:
City History & Historical Attractions

Take a glimpse of Prague. After learning about the latest science in advanced heart and lung failure and transplantation and their therapies at ISHLT2024, take some time to venture into this fascinating city. Take the subway to the “Staroměstská” (Old Town) station to visit Charles University, the oldest university in Central Europe. Head to Old Town Square to see the intricate facades of the City Hall, the bell towers of the imposing Church of Our Lady before Týn, and the ornate St. Nicholas Church.

Check out the medieval Astronomical Clock (Orloj), the oldest working astronomical clock in the world, made in 1410, and stick around to witness the hourly Orloj ritual. See the Vltava river, also known as the Moldau, and the astounding views of towers and buildings on the waterfront. Find artisans, traders, and painters that sell trinkets, jewelry, souvenirs, and paintings of Prague on Charles Bridge. There's the Prague castle, St. Vitus cathedral, the quaint Golden Lane, churches, and theaters. There is so much artwork and history to explore in Prague.

"I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars," proclaimed Slavic prophetess Libuše, first princess of the Přemysl dynasty in the 7th century. She was looking at the future site of Prague (Praha in Czech). She was standing on a cliff at Vyšehrad castle overlooking the Vltava river, a site you can get to via the Prague subway system Metro.

In the 7th century, Prague was just a small settlement. A man was supposedly building his house on that site, but Libuše ordered her people to build a castle right in that spot and called it “Praha" for threshold. Other theories of the origin of the word “Praha” exist: “prah” is also the word for artificial cascades made in the river and the Vltava river may have been considered as the threshold to the castle itself. The Prague castle later became the seat of the Přemysl dynasty, which unified the current Czech lands into the kingdom of Bohemia.

The relationship between Bohemia, Czech Republic, and Czechoslovakia can be confusing. The Czech Republic is really made up of three regions. The largest one is Bohemia with Prague at its center, called “Čechy” in Czech. Then there is the smaller Moravia to the East and Czech Silesia in the northern mountains. The word Bohemia is derived from Latin and has been adopted by Germanic languages. Chech people were referred to as Bohemians in old English. However, the word “bohemian” has evolved to infer a wild kind of lifestyle and can have a somewhat derogatory connotation. Perhaps for this reason, occupants of the Czech republic are currently referred to as Czechs.

After many dynastic wars, the kingdom of Bohemia transitioned from the Přemysl to the Luxemburg Dynasty in the 14th century. King Charles IV (1316-1378) was the King of Bohemia, the Count of Luxemburg, and the Holy Roman Emperor, all at the same time. Charles IV made Prague his imperial capital, refusing to move to Rome. He built up the city, along with the Charles Bridge, Charles Square, Wenceslas Square, the St. Vitus Cathedral of the Prague Castle, and many more landmarks. He also founded Charles University 1348, the first university in central Europe. Overall, he made Prague into an intellectual and cultural center in Central Europe.

In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was integrated into the Habsburg monarchy and became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This huge Empire, which encompassed essentially all South-Eastern Europe, lasted for centuries and collapsed after World War I. Czechoslovakia was born in 1918. It seems somewhat random that Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia, and Slovakia were merged into one country. That is perhaps why, in 1993, a peaceful dissolution led to the creation of the current Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Sports have long been a prominent feature of Czech life. Prague is home to the largest stadium in the world, the Strahov Stadium, which can fit 220,000-250,000 people and holds 9 football fields. It’s located on the Petřín hill, overlooking the city. Here practices the Czech football team, Sparta. Before World War II, the stadium was known for big events called ‘Sokol Slet’. Sokol means falcon. The Sokol organization was founded in 1862 as a youth movement of physical, moral, and intellectual training for the Czech nation. Its motto is, “A sound mind in a sound body.” This organization is thought to have been the precursor to the Scout movement. The Strahov Stadium served primarily for displays of synchronized gymnastics during Sokol Slets: thousands of people performing the same routine to music in a synchronized fashion, creating patterns and formations on the field. Sokol played an important role in development of Czech nationalism and Sokol members even participated in the military during the two World Wars, taking part in the national resistance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Nazi occupation, and the Communist Regime. After World War II, Sokol continued to function clandestinely in Czechoslovakia and mainly abroad, holding sports classes, youth camps, and smaller versions of Sokol Slets in many countries. After the fall of Communism in 1989, a Sokol revival took place in the Czech Republic and a comeback Sokol Slet was held in the Strahov Stadium in 1994. Sokol continues to exist now as a sports and cultural organization.

Historical Sites to Visit:
  Old Town Square
  Charles University
  Charles Bridge
  Charles Square
  Wenceslas Square
  St. Vitus Cathedral
  Prague Castle
  Vyšehrad church and fortress
  Vltava River
  Astronomical Clock (Orloj)
  Strahov Stadium
  Karlštejn Castle (day trip)
  Petřín Tower and surrounding orchard
  Loreta monastery with its hourly carillon bell music
  Strahov monastery with its impressive antique library
  Vrtbovská Garden with sculpted flower beds
  Queen Anne’s Summer Palace (Belveder) in the Prague Castle gardens with its Italian Renaissance style
  Kampa Island with its quaint houses and ancient water mill
  Trója chateau near the zoo with an art gallery of Czech paintings from the 19th century

The 44th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions will take place in Prague, Czech Republic. This is the city of ancient spires, domes, and alleys; the land of preserved thousand-year-old history; the vibrant home of culture, music, and art. Spend your free time sightseeing, city-walking, dumpling-eating, and pivo-drinking. Get to know Prague and start planning your travel with the Imagine Prague articles originally written and edited by ISHLT member, Tereza Martinu, MD, MHS, of the Toronto General Hospital/UHN in Toronto, Canada.