Built between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Old Town, the Lesser Town and the New Town speak of the great architectural and cultural influence enjoyed by this city since the Middle Ages. The many magnificent monuments, such as Hradcani Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and numerous churches and palaces, built mostly in the 14th century under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV.
The historic city of Prague comprises three separate cities - the Old Town (Staré Mesto), the Lesser Town (Mala Strana). and the New Town (Nové Mĕsto).
The earliest settlement on the banks of the Vltava River dates back to prehistory, as excavations have shown. In the late 9th century a fortified settlement was built on a hill on the left bank of the river, the site now occupied by Prague Castle. This extended down towards the river, whilst a second fortress was constructed on the opposite bank (Vyšehrad). During the 10th century the intervening areas were gradually settled.
In the 10th century Prague became the capital of the Bohemian state, and a bishopric was founded there in 973. Construction of the early Romanesque Cathedral of St Vitus began in the later 11th century. In 1135 Sobĕslav Il began work on a large stone castle, replacing the earlier wooden structure. The 12th century saw considerable expansion of the city, with a Premonstratensian monastery being built at Strahov and the construction of a new stone bridge across the Vltava, which led to the growth of the Staré Mĕsto.
The mid-14th century saw further growth, with the foundation of the Nové Mĕsto, which was encircled by a defensive wall. From the mid-14th century onwards Prague became a major centre of culture, with artists and architects coming from all parts of Europe, but notably ltaly. The result was a massive programme of rebuilding.
A disastrous fire in 1541 destroyed much of the settlement on the left bank of the Vltava, and in the rebuilding Renaissance styles predominated. The end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 saw Prague declining, and it was not until the end of the century that it recovered, commemorated by the vigorous development of High Baroque.
Urban development from 1880 onwards resulted in the demolition of many old buildings, notably in the Jewish Quarter on the right bank of the Vltava. However, the city benefited from the construction of a large number of outstanding buildings in contemporary style.
The city is rich in monuments from ail periods of its history. Of particular importance are Prague Castle, the Cathedral of St Vitus. Hrad2'any Square in front of the Castle, and the Valdstejn Palace on the left bank of the river, the Gothic Charles Bridge, the Romanesque Rotunda of the Holy Rood, the Gothic arcaded houses round the Old Town Square, and the High Gothic Minorite Church of St James in the Staré Mĕsto, and the late 19th century buildings and town plan of the Nové Mĕsto.