Prague is all about one man this May: the 14th-century alpha king Charles IV. Explore his urban legacy as the Czech capital wishes him a happy 700th birthday
Get orientated. If you are searching for a heavy dose of medieval grandeur, Prague more than fits the bill. The city is a twisting maze of Gothic cathedrals, stone bridges and gold-tipped towers. You’d be forgiven for thinking someone had pressed pause on this charming Czech capital in the Middle Ages.
A lot of Prague’s UNESCO-listed centre stems from the Bohemian era, particularly its 14th-century Golden Age. It was during this period that Prague took its place as one of the most important capitals in Europe – in part due to one man’s ambition.
Much of the credit for its success was laid at the feet of Charles IV (1316-78). who founded the city’s New Town and commissioned iconic sites ranging from St Vitus Cathedral to Charles Bridge, which still fords the Vltava River. Recently voted ‘the greatest Czech in history’. May 14 marks his 700th birthday. Expect locals to party like it’s 1316.
Getting around. Prague has an extensive public transport network, comprising metro, trams and buses. Tickets cover all forms of transport and are sold at ticket machines and offices, newsstands and tourist information centres.
The visit. For many Czechs. Charles IV will always be ‘the father of the country’, and Prague is clearly aiming to make daddy proud this May. Look out for medieval festivities, concerts and even a full re-enactment of his coronation.
But the influence of Prague’s famous patriarch is perhaps best explored in the cityscape itself. Never shy of lending his name to something, he founded Charles University (Central Europe’s first). New Town’s Charles Square was built in his honour, and he even laid the first stones of Charles Bridge in 1357. For 500 years this bridge was the only crossing between the Old Town and arguably the king’s most impressive legacy, Prague Castle.
Dominating the skyline, this vast complex of buildings, churches and gardens was originally the site of a grand Romanesque palace. But under Charles’ ambitious hand it was rebuilt in the Gothic style. Today, it is the world’s largest castle complex, and currently home to the Czech president.
Charles’ legacy continued long after his death. His Cathedral of St Vitus, the country’s biggest church, took nearly 600 years to build. Fittingly, it has been the final resting place for many Czech monarchs, including Charles IV. So where better to end your trip than by paying your respects?