Though the history of Prague dates back over a millennium, it was a surprise to read recently that the historic city only got a unified administration 230 years ago. Previously its four towns comprised one city territorially but were actually independent of each other.
Indeed, among those who tried and failed to create one Prague-wide administration was the city’s greatest builder, the 14th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Prior to having his head lopped off, Hussite priest Jan Želivský had also found the task beyond him.
It took the intervention of another Holy Roman Emperor, the reforming Joseph II, to create a single Town Hall – the one on Old Town Square – for the city, which was renamed Královské hlavní město Praha, or the Royal Capital City of Prague. After Vienna it was the biggest metropolis in the empire.
Over six decades later it was expanded to take in Josefov, originally named the Jewish Town, which became Prague V. In the decades that followed, suburbs such as Vyšehrad, Holešovice-Bubny and Libeň also became part of the Royal Capital City of Prague.
Nevertheless, at the start of the 20th century it still had a population of less than a quarter of a million and an area of just 21 square kilometres.
In 1922 the Royal city was superseded by Velká Praha or Greater Prague, with many more districts – including ones that today feel quite central, such as Vinohrady, Žižkov and Karlín – finally being incorporated into the city proper.
Since that time the city has grown to almost 500 square kilometres, with the last big expansion taking place in the mid-1970s. And, it seems, that the city may have now grown to its full size, so to speak.
According to a recent article in Mladá fronta Dnes, municipalities on the outskirts of Prague have no desire to join the city. Indeed, the newspaper contacted more than three dozen mayors of such places and not a single one expressed interest in incorporation.
The officials say the municipalities that did join Prague in the last intake have lived to regret it; they have lost financial independence and now have to plead with the central authority to fix pavements and other amenities.
One local mayor offered an interesting analogy. His municipality, he told Mladá fronta, had something of a “lover’s” relationship to Prague; entering into marriage or a registered partnership would only harm the relationship.