CZECH FACTS, HISTORY, LEGENDS

CZECH REPUBLIC  FACTS:

  • Total Area: 78.866 km2
  • Population : 10.476.543 ( by 2009)
  • Height above sea level : 235 m (average)
  • EU accession : 1 May 2004
  • Religion total : 39,8% (Most atheist country in EU)
    From this : Roman Catholic 39,2%, Protestant 4,6%, Orthodox 3%, other 13,4%
  • The Official Currency: Czech Crown (Koruna Ceska) (not euro yet)
    28 Kc = 1 Euro
    19 Kc = 1 US Dollar
  • Calling code:  +420 or (00420)
  • President: Vaclav Klaus (since march, 7, 2003)
  • Foreigners: long term stays & residents = 438.000 (4% of the total population). From this:  top 5 citizenships: Ucraine : 131.965;  Slovakia: 76.034; Vietnam: 60.258; Russia: 27,178; Poland: 21.710.
  • Tourists: 6.680.400/1 year  (spent at least 1 night in public accommodation facilities).
    From this: 23% Germans, 8,5% British, 6% Italians, 4% Americans, 3% Russians, 55,5% rest)
  • Food Consumption Record: #1 in the World by consumption of BEER per capita : 159 liters/1 person/1 year, or 1.665.770.337 litres a year/whole CR population, or 4.563.754 litres of beer every day in CR alone! (followed by Ireland 132 l/1 person/1 year).
  • Technological Record: Orloj. Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square – the oldest working clock mechanism in the world dating 1410. About 600 years now it shows the Old czech time, position of the Moon and Sun in realtion to the Earth, the Zodiacal periods, the Saints days, Present czech Time, and the spectacular hourly show with 12 spinning apostles and other figures.
  • 12 “UNESCO” Properties including the cultural, natural and mixed properties of Czech Republic are included in The UNESCO World Heritage List. Between the total 890 places from all over the World, Italy, as one country, has more UNESCO sites than any other country : 44.

PRAGUE FACTS

  • Total Area: 498 sq. km
  • Population: 1.216.855 inhabitants
  • Average height above sea level: 235 m
  • Average temperature in July: 19°C
  • Average temperature in January: -1°C
  • Literacy : 99,9%
  • Time Zone : UTC/GMT +1
  • Density of population : 2.379/km2
  • Main River: Vltava River (Moldau) flows through Prague in the length of 31 km, its maximum width being 330 m. The river has 9 islands, 18 bridges.
  • Number of towers and spires: approximately 500.
  • Prague and Brussels: Twin towns — Sister cities. Prague is involved in a number of official as well as unofficial partnerships with other major world cities. The city of Prague also maintains its own EU delegation in Brussels called Prague House.
  • 6 cities in the World called “Prague” : Czech emigration has left a number of namesake cities scattered over the globe: Praha (Slovakia), Praha (Texas, USA), Prague (Oklahoma, USA), Prague (Nebraska, USA), New Prague (Minnesota, USA).
  • 6-th most visited city of Europe (4,1 mln visitors/1 year) after Paris (15,6 mln), London (14,8 mln), Rome (6,1 mln), Barcelona (4,72 mln) and Madrid (4,64 mln). (2008) (World Tourism Statistics Wikipedia)
  • NickNames of Prague: Mother of Cities (Mater Urbium), Golden Prague, The City of 100 Spires.
     

25 FAMOUS CZECHS

  • Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850 – 1937) - philosopher, politician, rationalist, humanist, the first President of Czechoslovakia, lived in Prague for substantial part of life.
  • Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 – 1884), outlined the laws of heredity, genes, and hybridization by studying pea plants. This research made him the “Father of Genetics”
  • Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), philosopher, therapist, scientist, born in Príbor (Moravia). It’s hard to exagerate his contribution to psychiatry. The “Father of Psychoanalysis”, revealed the principles of Unconscious mind, Psychosexual nature and behaviour, defined the human “Psyche”, soul,  and its 3 components: Id, Ego, and Super-ego.
  • Jan Janský (1873 – 1921), the first to study blood, separating it into 4 types (A, B, AB, O)., thus leading to safe transfusions. He campaigned for people to voluntarily donate blood; and to this day, Czech blood donors are awarded a Janský medal („Janského plaketa“) for outstanding contributions.
  • Otto Wichterle (1913 – 1998), invented a process in 1941 to make the synthetic fiber he called silon independent of the earlier American development “nylon” in 1935. He is best know for inventing the contact lens in 1956.
  • František Křížík (1847 – 1941), became known as the “Czech Thomas Edison.” Among his inventions was an anti-collision device for trains and the first electric arc lamp (a.k.a. Plzen Lamp).
  • Václav Prokop Diviš (1698 – 1765), priest, theologian, scientist, invented the lightning rod in 1753 (independently of Benjamin Franklin). He also constructed the first electrified musical instrument in history in 1748:  The Denis D´or [“Golden Dionysus”]. The first moog synthesizer!
  • Charles IV (1316 – 1378) – Holy Roman Emperor, under his rule Charles University in Prague or Charles Bridge were set up, made the city his main seat.
  • Jan Amos Komenský (1592 – 1670), born in Uherské Hradiště  district (Moravia); educator and national hero, considered the founder of modern education for his work in pedagogy. The “Father of Pedagogy”.
  • Josef Ressel (1793 – 1857), inventor of the screw propeller.
  • Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884), often called the “Father of Genetics”, is famed for his research concerning the inheritance of genetic traits.
  • Jaroslav Heyrovský (1890 – 1967), first Czech Nobel Prize laureate, awarded the prize in 1959 for pioneering research in polarography and electroanalytical chemistry.
  • Jan Hus (1369 – 1415) – religious thinker and reformer. Initiator of the “Hussites” religious movement. Most important preaching done in Prague.
  • Bedřich Smetana (1824 – 1884) – composer, has written Chamber, Symphonical, Piano, Chamber, Vocal and Orchestral compositions. Between the most famous “Ma Vlast“, “Libuše“, “The Bartered Bride“.
  • Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) – composer of Romantic music, “New World Symphony’”, the “Slavonic Dances“, “American” String Quartet, “Rusalka”,Humoresque“.
  • Josef Václav Myslbek (1848 – 1922) – sculptor, born in Prague, author of the Wenceslas Monument and the sculptures in the parks of Vysehrad Cultural Complex.
  • Alfons Mucha (1860 – 1939) – most famous czech artist, painter and decorative artist, the Art Nouveau genius, spent last decades of his life in Prague.
  • Jan Saudek (1935) – the leading czech art photographer, born and lives in Prague.
  • Jiří Menzel (1938) – Academy Award winning film director, born in Prague.
  • Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) – german-language fiction writer, one of the most important writers of the XXth century. Born in Prague.
  • Jaroslav Seifert (1901 – 1986) – poet, winner of Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Karel Čapek (1890 – 1938) – one of the most important czech writers, lived and died in Prague.
  • Václav Havel (1936) – writer, dramatist, politician, the first President of Czech Republic, born and lives in Prague.
  • Jaroslav Heyrovský (1890 – 1967) – chemist, inventor of the polarographic method, recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1959.
  • Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) – born in Bohemia, leading orchestral and operatic conductor, one of the most important late-Romantic/early-Modernist composers. Most famous works : Symphony #1 “Titan”, Symphony #5 “Adagietto. Sehr Langsam”.

FAMOUS PEOPLE connected with PRAGUE

  • Rudolf II (1552 – 1612) – Holy Roman Emperor of austrian provenience, made the City of Prague  capital of Austrian Empire. Was an ineffectual ruler whose mistakes led to the Thirty Years’ War.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) – austrian composer, stayed in Prague several times and lived at the Bertramka villa in Smíchov. His opera Don Giovanni had its world premiere in Prague under the composer himself. Mozart famously pronounced on the occasion: “My Praguers understand me.”
  • Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) – german astronomer, in 1601 succeeded Tycho Brahe as imperial mathematician. In Prague’s Klementinum Astronomical Laboratory he will discover: “Astronomiae Pars Optica” (Law of Refraction), “The Supernova of 1604″ (Star of Bethlehem), “Astronomia Nova” (The Planetary elliptical Sun Centered motion).
  • Tycho de Brahe (1546–1601), swedish astronomer,  was a member of the court of EmperorRudolf II. A sculpture of the two scholars can be found at Pohořelec, a short walk from Prague Castle. Tycho de Brahe is buried in Týn Cathedral on Old Town Square.
  • Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) – german physicist, awarded with Nobel Prize in Physics, served as professor at the German part (Charles-Ferdinand) of Charles University. In Prague Einstein formulated his “Principle of Equivalence” Law in 1912. Einstein was a friend of the writer Franz Kafka (1883–1924). A plaque on Old Town Square commemorates Einstein’s stay.
  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832), german poet and dramatist,  was fond of Bohemia. He even donated his collection of minerals to the National Museum in Prague. Goethe’s name is also borne by the German cultural institute which resides a short distance from the National Theatre.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1780–1827), german composer, lived and worked in Prague, staying in a house near Charles Bridge in the Lesser Town. Although he experienced unrequited love in Prague, he did not harbour any rancour for the city.
  • Nicolo Paganini (1782–1840), italian virtuoso, violinist, lived in Prague in 1828–9 yet failed to become overly enamoured with the Czech milieu. He gave several unforgettable concerts, but never returned to Prague.
  • Fryderyk Chopin (1809–1849), polish pianist and composer, had a Czech music teacher. He gave highly acclaimed concerts not only in Prague but also in other Czech cities. His music also inspired the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), the leading russian composer, visited Prague on several occasions. In 1877 he conducted here the world premiere of his opera Eugene Onegin.
  • Auguste Rodin (1840–1902), french sculptor, came to Prague on the occasion of the opening of his exhibition at the Kinský Garden in 1902. He had a studio in Letná, among his pupils were Czech sculptors.
  • Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931), american inventor, spent several days in Prague in 1911. He was kept company by the “Czech Edison”, the engineer and inventor František Křižík.

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PRAGUE’S and CZECH REPUBLIC’S OLDEST LEGENDS

1. Říp and the Slavic rotunda at Budeč

forefather-cech-rip

The various legends associated with central Bohemia make up an important part of more than one thousand years of Czech history. Many of these legends are tied to actual places that make a great destination for an excursion.

The most famous legend is that of forefather Čech, who, according to the story, settled with his people in the Czech basin. After a long journey the group stopped beneath a high mountain, at which forefather Čech decided to explore and survey the area. He soon discovered “a land of abundance, full of game and fowl, sweet honey and waves of milk” and decided to put down roots in the area.

forefather-cechThe legend of forefather Čech first emerged in the Cosmas Chronicles, also known as the Chronicle of Bohemians, which is the oldest known written document of its type in Czech history. This legend apparently records the arrival of the Slavs to the Czech lands and the legendary mountain known as Říp. It is a place of great national pride. For example, the cornerstone used to build the National Theater was taken from Říp.

Even for tourists in the 21st century, Říp is an impressive experience. At the top of the mountain stands one of the oldest architectural monuments in the Czech lands (it was constructed in 1126). The rotunda is the destination of many pilgrimages throughout the year. A restaurant is located nearby and provides refreshment for tourists visiting the area. From the top of the mountain it is possible to see the Elbe lowlands and the mountains of central Bohemia.

slavic-rotunda-at-budecThe Slavic Rotunda named after Sts. Peter and Paul at Budeč is among the most beautiful and best preserved Roman constructions in the Czech Republic. At the same time it is the country’s oldest standing building and dates back to the 10th century. The rotunda also has important mythical significance, because St. Václav, the patron saint of the Czech lands, apparently learned to read and write here.

The rotunda is a national cultural monument. It is made up of a circular nave, an adjoining tower and a vestry. The oldest part of the building is the oval nave, whose brickwork has been preserved from the foundations to the cupola since the structure’s founding. Říp mountain is situated not far from Roudnice, some 40 kilometers northwest of Prague. The rotunda at Budeč is located 10 kilometers northwest of Prague.

2. The Silver Fish

u-kapra-restaurant

A legend says that a wealthy man called Myslík was forced to run away from Prague after the battle of the White Mountain. He gathered all his precious silver and melted it Mysliks.Silver.Fishin a fish-shaped clay mould. Before leaving his beloved Prague, Myslík hid the silver fish inside a wall of his house. Many years later a new tenant was living in that house. One day, this man was ordered by the city counselors to tear down the old building and build a new one. The poor man fell into despair at the news as he didn’t have the money to do that. He was about to leave his house when Myslík’s silver fish fell out of a broken wall. The precious object allowed the man to restore his old house. This legend is still well known in Prague and the moral of this story is that someone’s misfortune may always turn into someone else’s good luck and so we should never lose our hope. A good illustration of this legend is the relief-statue in the Old Town “U Kapra” Restaurant showing Myslik holding the Silver Fish (painted golden today).

3. The Origin of Prague 

 princess-libuseThe origin of Prague goes back to the 7th century and the Slavic princess Libuše, a woman of great beauty and wisdom who possessed prophetic powers. Libuše and her husband, prince Přemysl, ruled peacefully over the Czech lands from the hill of Vyšehrad. A legend says that one day Libuše had a vision. She stood on a cliff overlooking the Vltava River, pointed to a forested hill across the river, and proclaimed: “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” (”Vidím město veliké, jehož sláva hvězd se dotýkati bude”).princess-libuse2

She instructed her people to go and build a castle where a man was building the threshold (in Czech práh) of a house. “And because even the great noblemen must bow low before a threshold, you shall give it the name Praha”. 

(Another version: Princess Libuse saw the level thresholds on the Vltava (Moldau) River and it’s waters flowing smoothly and falling down. As the river is the heart of the city, these tresholds became the symbols which gave name to the future city). Her words were obeyed and some two hundred years later, the city of Prague became the seat of the Premyslid dynasty. Today you can see several statues and paintings, mosaiques of the Princess in different parts of Prague including: The National Theatre, The Old Town Hall, Karlova Street, The Vysehrad Parks.

4. The Legend of Dalibor (Dalibor’s Violin)

The name of the Tower of Dalibor (Daliborka) at the Prague Castle is connected to one of Prague’s best-known legends, which was also made into an opera by Bedřich Smetana in 1868.

dalibor-of-kozojedyAccording to this legend, a man called Dalibor from Kozojedy, a small town near Litoměřice, was sentenced to death and imprisoned in this tower for giving shelter to some rebellious peasants. While waiting for the fatal day, Dalibor would play his violin and his music was so beautiful that all the people of Prague were moved and enchanted and the local authorities didn’t dare announce the date of the execution. People knew that the generous Dalibor was dead when his violin fell forever silent.

(Another version: When, in 1496 the serfs of his neighbour, Adam Ploskovský, rose up against their lord, Dalibor stood up for them and captured the Ploskovice farmstead. His deed was viewed as a violation of the status quo, and two years later the hero was sentenced to death. Prior to his execution Dalibor was kept prisoner in a tower (called Daliborka to this day) of Prague Castle. Legend has it that the prisoner learned to play violin and his listeners used to send him food and drinks, using a rope. Since that time there has been a saying in the Czech Lands “Nouze naučila Dalibora housti” which freely translates as “Necessity is the mother of invention”. The composer Bedřich Smetana set the story to music.) Today you can visit Dalibor’s Tower in The Prague Castle.

5. The Story of Horymír and Šemík

horymir-and-semik-the-leapWhen the Czech lands were ruled by prince Křesomysl, a farmer named Horymír lived in the village of Neumětely. He had a white horse of extraordinary intelligence called Šemík. Due to Křesomysl’s obsession to find treasures that were said to be hidden underground, people were encouraged to abandon farming and to become miners. Horymír was unhappy with Křesomysl’s rule and warned that neglecting farming would result in famine. His protests were not liked by the miners who one day set Horymír’s property on fire. Horymír and his followers in turn burned down the miners’ village. Horymír was punished and sentenced for execution. When he was asked his last wish, he requested one last ride around the castle grounds on his beloved horse Šemík. His wish was granted. When Horymír got on his white horse, he whispered something in his ear. Šemík ran to the ramparts, jumped over them and slid down the cliff. When the on-lookers got to the ramparts, they were astonished to see Horymír and Šemík on the other side of the Vltava, galloping towards Neumětely.

The miraculous jump exhausted Šemík. The dying horse spoke to Horymír in a human voice and asked for a tomb to be built for him. Horymír did as the horse wished. The tomb has since disappeared but Šemík is said to be sleeping in the Vyšehrad rock, ready to come out when his help is needed again. Today you can see Horymir’s Equestrian Statue in the Park of Vysehrad.

 6. Prophecies of the Clock

orloj-astronomical-clock-deathThe Old Town Astro-Clocks are the oldest working clocks in the world, and famous for their beauty,detail and the hourly show. One of the figures on the clocks is a skeleton holding in it’s right hand a bell and in the other hand a clepsidra (sand clock). It represents the Death as a part of life, reminding us of the famous “momento mori”. One day a prisoner, looking at the famous astronomical clock, noticed that a sparrow was caught in the mouth of Death. The unlucky man believed that sight to be a bad omen and thought that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. But, as the next hour stroke, the clock started moving again, the jaw of Death opened and, to the prisoner’s great relief, the sparrow set itself free and flew away.

A few days later the convict was released from prison and was free again. Today the Orloj is still ringing and striking each our, and the figures predicting symbolicly the destinies of many people.

7. The Golem of Prague

golem-angel-protector-of-jews-pragueIn the 16th century, during the reign of Rudolf II, an old Jewish man named Rabbi Judah Loew lived in Prague. During that time, the Jewish people of Prague were being attacked and lived their lives in fear. Rabbi Loew decided to protect the Jews against pogroms by creating the Golem, a giant who according to the Cabala could be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava. Following the prescribed rituals, the Rabbi built the Golem and made him come to life by reciting a special incantation in Hebrew. The word “emet”, meaning “truth”, was placed on the Golem’s forehead. It’s eyes glowed red and it’s giant clay body was rippled with muscles. The Golem was put to work, with it’s incredible strength, and became feared by all those who wanted to harm the Jewish people of Prague.

golem-statue-pragueThe Golem would obey the Rabbi’s every order and would help and protect the people of the Jewish Ghetto. Day after day, the Golem would work tirelessly helping with harvest and other hard work, always under the strict direction of the Rabbi. But, on the Jewish Sabbath, the Rabbi would remove the parchment from the Golem’s mouth, and the creature would become a harmless statue, while the Rabbi went to his temple and worshipped God. But one day, the Rabbi forgot to remove the parchment, and went to the temple, leaving the Golem unattended. This proved to be a disaster. Without it’s master around, the golem grew restless and went on a rampage. It ran through the streets of Prague, randomly destroying homes and attacking the Jewish people. Rabbi managed to reach into the Golem’s mouth and remove the parchment. Rabbi Loew was promised that the violence against the Jews would stop if the Golem was destroyed. The Rabbi agreed. By removing the first letter from the word “emet”, thus changing it to “met” (meaning “death”), life was taken out of the Golem. According to legend, the Golem was brought back to life by Rabbi Loew’s son, and may still be protecting Prague today. Today you can see Golem’s statues in different parts of Prague: The City Hall etc.

8. The Legend of Bruncvik

bruncvik-and-bohemian-lion2-damyanNeomenia was was worried about Bruncvik – she begged him not to leave Prague for his adventures to the unknown lands. But Bruncvik decided to leave and gave her his wife a ring to wear, and took hers, and promised he would return in 7 years’ time.  He told her that she would recognize him by her ring, and that if he didn’t return in time it meant that he was dead, and that she should remarry.

 Bruncvik set out on his adventures accompanied by 50 men on horseback. They travelled far and wide, soon they’ve reached the sea (supposedly Adriatic sea) and took to the sea in a large boat. After several uneventful months, a storm whipped up and bathed them in a yellow glow. It was the dreaded Amber Isle, which sucked sailors to its shores.

After two years on the island, all of the men and horses were dead except for Bruncvik and the oldest man of his former consort. The old man told Bruncvik how to get away, and Bruncvik promised to take care of the old man’s family, should he ever return to Prague. A large carnivorous bird was just about to make his annual trip to the island (a chance to escape the uninhabited island)! The old man sewed Bruncvik into one of the horse skinsand left Bruncvik near the top of the Amber Mountain. The bird carried Bruncvik away to its nest, as food for its babies, and flew away.
Bruncvik drew his sword and made short work of the rest of his horse skins disguise and escaped.

bruncvik-and-bohemian-lion-damyanHe travelled far and soon arrived in a deep, wild forest, where he spotted a lion, fighting a nine-headed monster. Bruncvik battled with the lion gainst the monster for 2 days. After they’ve killed the monster, chopping off all its heads one by one, they both dropped down with exhaustion. The lion cared for Bruncvik and brought him food, and nursed him back to health. From that time on, the two were inseparable. During his long trip in one of the castles, Bruncvik found a magic sword that knew how to chop people’s heads off all on its own – all Bruncvik had to do is say “Blade, heads off!” and off they rolled. Bruncvik and his lion had many adventures together in strange lands, inhabited by demons. Some of them were half grey and half white, some had a dog head instead of a human head, and their king had eyes in the back of his head as well as the front. But none of these heads stayed attached to their necks for long after Bruncvik’s arrival there.

After 3 more years of long trips to weird lands, Bruncvik came home, he was surprised to see everyone celebrating the wedding of Neomenia (the Queen). It had, after all, been longer than 7 years. Bruncvik snuck his wife’s ring – which he had worn all the time – into his wife’s goblet of wine, and left the castle. When his wife drank her wine saw the ring, she recognized it immediately. She called the wedding off, thus sending her ex-bridegroom into a mad fury. He and 50 of his friends set off to track Bruncvik down and kill him. Soon, the 51 heads of all of his rivals were rolling on the ground, chopped off by that magic sword, and Bruncvik was in his beloved Neomenia’s arms again.

bruncvikstamp-damyanBruncvik never left home again, and his pet lion never left his side. When Bruncvik died at a ripe old age – leaving behind an heir, Ladislav, the lion died of a broken heart just days after, sitting at the side of Bruncvik’s grave.
Bruncvik’s lion is said to be the two-tailed lion in the Czech state symbol. As the Knights of Blanik are entrusted with the same task, many have drawn the conclusion that St Wenceslas – with Bruncvik’s sword – will lead the Knights of Blanik when that dark hour comes. Today the sword’s hiding place is inside the stones of the Charles Bridge next to the statue of Bruncvik that stands below the bridge (and the dragon that Bruncvik killed below the other bridge)– and one day, when the Czech lands are at their lowest point, at the very edge of ruin, St Wenceslas will rise from the dead, take Bruncvik’s sword, and save the nation.

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