This week we’ve arrived in the landlocked country of the Czech Republic. Once part of larger Czechoslovakia, it has become one of Europe’s most magical and intriguing destinations.
- Capital (and Largest City): Prague
- Population (2015): 10,541,466 (81st)
- Total Area: 78,866 km2 (116th)
- Official Language: Czech
- Currency: Czech koruna (Kč) (CZK)
Prior to the late Middle Ages, the land now known as the Czech Republic was largely populated by a variety of tribes; including Slavs, Samo, Avar, Huns, and more. The most successful power during this time was the principality of Great Moravia, which ruled in the 8th and 9th century by successfully holding off the Franks and securing the aid of the Pope.
The makeup of the region changed dramatically in the late 9th century, when the Duchy of Bohemia rose to conquer Moravia. This Duchy, which soon became a Kingdom, was a part of the larger Holy Roman Empire for centuries but was still a strong power in its own right. After being granted a degree of freedom from the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia began to influence much of Central and Eastern Europe.
After power struggles between the Bohemian king and nearby German monarchs, King Charles IV came to rule Bohemia. After ascending to the throne of the entire Empire, Charles IV (1316-1378) brought the region into what is still considered the Golden Age of Czech history. Great works of architecture were completed, Charles University in Prague was opened, and much more. This ‘Golden Age’ and expansion was brought to an abrupt end in 1380 however, when the Black Death swept through Bohemia.
The 1400’s saw the beginnings of the Czech (Bohemian) Reformation, with many abandoning the Catholic Church as a result. The 1500’s brought further upheaval to Bohemia, with the powerful Hapsburg dynasty exercising greater control over the country. Unhappiness with these foreign overlords led to the Defenestration of Prague and the Thirty Years War in 1618. Eventually, the leaders of the Bohemian revolt were executed and the country entered a dark age as Protestants were exiled, invasions came from the Ottoman Turks, and further plagues devastated the population.
The year 1806 finally saw the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, and the beginning of an uncertain time for Bohemia. The land passed from one monarch to another, with the Austro-Hungarian Empire seizing control. This lasted through World War I, where many Czech soldiers fought on the side of the Central Powers. Defeat meant that the region could finally achieve independence in 1918 – under the new name of Czechoslovakia. This wasn’t meant to last however, as the Munich Agreement in 1938 granted control of the country of Hitler’s Germany. The Slovakian section of the country allied with Germany, while the Czech half was occupied. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were killed during the war; with occupation only ended when Soviet and American troops arrived.
After World War II, Czechoslovakia was quickly wrapped up in the Cold War politics of the time. After initially attempting to bridge the gap between East and West, the country gravitated towards communism and became a member of the Eastern Bloc until the late 1980’s. There was a brief time where it looked like the country might move towards greater independence with the 1968 Prague Spring, however this was quickly quashed when the majority of the Warsaw Pact countries invaded.
Finally, in November 1989 with the Soviet Union suffering problems of its own, the Velvet Revolution brought about a peaceful transition to liberal democracy. Less than four years later, Slovakia peacefully separated – with the end result the two countries we know today, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Since then, the Czech Republic has further integrated with the rest of Europe and the West – joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.
The Czech Republic is well known for distinctive art and architectural styles – many of which remain to this day. The former is especially true when it comes to glass art and crystal, with works from the country renowned across the world. Renaissance and Baroque style buildings are common throughout the Czech Republic. This is in harmony with newer styles ranging from Neo-Gothic to functional Soviet.
Czech cuisine is very heavily meat based, with pork, beef, poultry, and organ meat staples of the country’s diet. Throw in a healthy amount of vegetables as well as gravy and dumplings and you have the makings of your very own Czech meal.
Sport is very popular in the Czech Republic, with soccer and ice hockey the dominant games. The hockey team is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ (the top 6 national teams in the world) while the soccer team has produced some top players and found success prior to the breakup of Czechoslovakia.
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country with a high degree of variation amongst its landscapes. Bohemia is largely a drained basin with rivers and small mountains while Moravia is slightly hillier. Because the country doesn’t border the ocean, the rivers have always been historically important means of transportation with many of them leading to nearby seas.
The largest city (and capital) is Prague. Thanks to its central location, it has long been an important cultural, commercial, and political centre – not just for the Czech Republic but all of Europe. It has become one of the most visited cities on the continent, partly thanks to an energetic reputation and a well-preserved classical cityscape that largely escaped devastation during the Second World War.
Did you know?
- Mountains surround most of the country
- Czech’s consume the most beer per person
- The soft contact lens is a Czech invention (Otto Wichterle in 1959)
- Mushroom picking is a popular pastime
- The Czech Republic is considered the castle capital of the world, with more than 2000 found throughout the country
- Bread and salt is a traditional Czech welcome
- A Czech President once stole a pen on a visit to Chile, resulting in an international scandal
- There are numerous spa towns located in the country
- The country has the most hospital beds per inhabitant in the European Union
After centuries of transitioning between foreign oversight and a strong independent power, the Czech Republic seems to have found its comfortable place in the new world.
Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems. See all of our previous countries HERE.
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