It is generally known that the historical centre of Prague is situated on both banks of the river Vltava, in a valley between Prague Castle and a historical fort Vyšehrad. On the left bank, the centre is bordered by steep hillsides of Petřín and Letná, on the right bank by the Vítkov Hill, the Viničné Mountains and the Nusle Valley. However, it was not so from time immemorial. The core of the oldest settlement could be found a little further to the north, namely in today’s Prague districts of Dejvice and Bubeneč. Now here is the area where the archaeologists have placed the predecessor of today’s Prague, some kind of a Pre-Prague.
In the Age of Mamooth Hunters
The first prehistoric men merely passed through the area of Prague Basin. It was the hunting groups who during the Stone Age (from 20 to 30 thousand years ago) travelled to hunt animals and who temporarily inhabited the area on the banks and bays of the Vltava River. This age was engagingly described in the Eduard Štorch’s novel, Mammoth Hunters, in which one of the temporary hunting settlements were placed on the White Rock in Libeň. The establishment of the first permanent settlements occurred in the context of the overall warming, the melting of glaciers and the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian society 10 thousand years agoduring the so-called Neolithic Revolution. The earliest settlements were established in the most fertile areas around waterways, where the area was shallow and could be easily forded. On the territory of today’s Prague, the large Dejvice-Bubeneč Basin, naturally protected against floods and adverse winds,primarily offered suitable conditions for permanent settlement. The local specific microclimate, the fertile loess soil and the presence of the Dejvický stream created almost ideal conditions for the development of agriculture. Moreover, from norththe basin also bordered with the Šárka Valley of which deep and shady forests were a rich source of animals and various fruits.
The Crossroads of Nations
As time went by, various tribes and cultures have alternated in the Prague Basin, at the crossroads of Europe. After the Celts, the Germanic peoples and the Lombards,in the middle of the 6th century, the first Slavsarrived and they established their agricultural settlements in the fertile valleys of smaller watercourses. The permanent settlement created the conditions for the economic and social development. The upland hill fort, Levý Hradec, Bohnice, Šárka and Butovice arose as the centres of administration, production and trade. However, the fertile area of Dejvice and Bubeneč, where the dozens of settlements were established and where the main road to the ford of Trója in the Podbaba district led, remained as the core of the Prague Basin settlements. A hill fort on the Džbán hill in the Šárka Valley, was the administrative centre of the region with its area of 23 ha as the largest of the all Prague settlements.
Between two castles
After the middle of the 9th century, a major breakthrough occurred,when the fortified settlement of Prague, today’s Prague Castle, was established on the Hradčany headland. In terms of habitability, the settlement did not provide favourable conditions. The headland was too narrow and long, however, its strategic importance was significant. Its location provided an immediate control from its foothillsover the Prague Basin and the pivotal fords of the Vltava River, which led to the remote trade routes. The seat of the Přemysliddynasty soon moved from Levý Hradec to Prague Castle and the importance of the older Slavic strongholds together with the Dejvice-Bubeneč Basin rapidly declined. The settlement moved to the area below Prague Castle and gradually shifted to the right bank, whereduring the next two centuriesthe first merchant settlements with Romanesque sacristans were established. In the middle of the 10th century, a hill fortabove the mouth of the Botič stream, today’s Vyšehrad, was established in order to protect the area of the right bank. Between the two royal castles, an agglomeration called Mezigrady (between two castles) arose as it over the time coalesced into various towns of Prague. Dejvice and Bubeneč, the area of our Pre-Prague, began to fall into oblivion for the next few centuries. The construction activity then again awoke in the twenties of the 20th century, when according to Antonín Engel’s regulatory plan, the district of Dejvice was established.
(published 31.7.2015 on CityBee.cz and 28. 9. 2016 on Blesk.cz)