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History of the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic, eská republika), is a landlocked country in Central Europe and a member state of the European Union (since May 1, 2004). The country borders Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, Germany to the west, and Poland to the northeast. The total land area of the Czech Republic is 30,450 square miles (78.866 km2) and has an estimated population of 10,424,926 for the year 2008.  The currency used is the Czech koruna.

The capital of the Czech Republic is Prague (Czech: Praha), which is also the largest city of about 1.2 million people and a major tourist attraction.  Other major cities include Brno, Ostrava, Zlín, Plzeň, Pardubice, Hradec Králové, České Budějovice, Liberec, Olomouc, and Ústí nad LabemThe vast majority of the inhabitants of the Czech Republic are Czechs. Minorities include Slovaks, Poles, Vietnamese, Germans, and Gypsies.

History of the Czech Lands

From the Middle Ages up until the 17th century, the Czech Lands played a significant role in European history. The country is made up of the historic regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Silesia, as well as small sections of the historic Lower AustriaEvidence of prehistoric human settlement in the area was found by archaeologists dating back to the Neolithic era. In the Classical era, from the 3rd century BC, two Celtic tribes settled in the territories of the present day Czech Republic. The Latin name of Bohemia was derived from one the tribes known as Boii. Later in the 1st century, the Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi dislodged the Celts and settled there.

Slavic people from the Black Sea and Carpathian regions came and settled in the 5th century, as many Germanic tribes migrated out of Central Europe. But the first real state was the Great Moravian Empire, which was established in the early 9th century. The 2nd Moravian emperor invited Byzantine missionaries to spread Christianity in the Slavic language. They became known as St. Cyril and St. Methodius.

In the late 9th century, the central area moved to Bohemia under the rule of Premyslid dynasty and it remained for many years. In 1212, Premysl king Otakar I received a Golden Sicilian Bull from the emperor. This edict confirmed the royal title for Otakar and his descendants and established the right of succession to the Bohemian crown. The government rule of the Premyslid dynasty ended in 1306.

By marrying a member of the Premyslid family, John of Luxemburk became the Czech king. And his son Charles IV, would become the most famous Czech king ever as he was known for Bohemia’s “Golden Age”, a period of great economic and cultural growth. He was also crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, and while living in Prague, he ruled over half of Europe. He founded the Charles University, Charles Square, and surprisingly the Charles Bridge - and started building the St. Vitus Cathedral, which is still the largest and most important church in the present day Czech Republic. The Czech kingdom was the most wealthy and important state in Europe of the time.

After Charles’ death, there were many different foreign kings on the Czech throne. The country remained independent until 1526, when King Ferdinand I of Habsburg made the Czech Kingdom a part of Austrian monarchy, centralized in Vienna.

Religious conflicts such as the 15th century Hussite Wars (1420 - 1434) and the 17th century Thirty Years’ War (1618 - 1648) had a devastating effect on the local population. Czechs call the period from 1620 until the late 18th century, the "Dark Age", as the population of the Czech lands declined by one third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion of Protestant Czechs. The Habsburgs had banned all religions other than Catholicism.

Later, in the 18th century, German became the only official language in all of the Habsburg monarchy, and Czech was spoken primarily on the countryside.

The 19th century saw the restoration of the Czech language and culture in a Period known as the Czech National Revival. The Czech language became the basic tool once again as writers started using it to help shape their identity. Museums and theaters (such as the National Museum in Prague and the Mahenovo Theatre in Brno) were built throughout the country, emphasizing the significance of Czech culture in the nation’s life.

The Czech language has since been restored as an official language in the Czech lands and is currently used by the vast majority of Czechs, and also serves as an official language in the Czech Republic and the European Union.

The independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire of World War I. In 1948, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, after increasing dissatisfaction to reform the communist regime, the events known as the Prague Spring of 1968 took place.

It ended with an invasion by armies of Warsaw Pact countries, and the troops remained in the country until the overturn of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when the communist regime collapsed. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia dissolved peacefully into separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Article contributed by Terezie Sedlinska and Chris Rybak.  Edited by Edita Rybak.

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