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Famous Czechs

  • Princess Libuse (pre-9th c.) -- Fabled mother of Bohemia. Legend holds that the clairvoyant Libuse, the daughter of Bohemian philosopher Krok, stood on a cliff on Vysehrad Hill looking over the Vltava and foretold that on this land a great city would stand. She and Prince Premysl Orác declared the first Bohemian state, launching the Premyslid dynasty, which lasted from the 10th to the 12th century.
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  • St. Wenceslas (Svatý Václav; ca. 907-35) -- Patron saint of Bohemia. Prince Wenceslas was executed at the site of the present-day city of Stará Boleslav -- on the orders of his younger brother, Boleslav, who took over the Bohemian throne. A popular cult arose proclaiming the affable and learned Prince Wenceslas as the perpetual spiritual ruler of all Czechs. A statue at the top of the square, depicting the horse-mounted warrior, was erected in 1912.
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  • Charles IV (Karel IV; 1316-78) -- Bohemian king, Holy Roman Emperor, and chief patron of Prague. Born to John of Luxembourg and Eliska, the sister of the last Premyslid king, Charles was educated in the royal court in Paris and spent much of his adolescence observing rulers in Luxembourg and Tuscany. Charles ascended the throne in 1346, and during his reign he made Prague the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and one of Europe's most advanced cities. He also inspired several key sites through the country, including Prague's university (Univerzita Karlova), stone bridge (Karluv most), largest New Town park (Karlovo nám.), and the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
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  • Master Jan Hus (1369 or 1370-1415) -- Religious reformer, university lecturer, and Czech nationalist symbol. Upset with what he thought was the misuse of power by Rome and the German clergy in Prague, Hus questioned the authority of the pope and called for the formation of a Bohemian National Church. From his stronghold at Bethlehem Chapel in Old Town, he declared that the powerful clergy should cede their property and influence to more of the people. In 1414, he was summoned to explain his views before the Ecclesiastic Council at Konstanz in Germany but was arrested on arrival. He was burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6, 1415, a day considered the precursor to the Hussite Wars and now commemorated as a Czech national holiday. His church lives on today in the faith called the Czech Brethren.
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  • Bedrich Smetana (1824-84) -- Nationalist composer. After studying piano and musical theory in Prague, Smetana became one of Bohemia's most revered composers, famous for his fierce nationalism. His Vltava movement in the symphony Má Vlast (My Country) is performed on the opening night of the Prague Spring Music Festival; it's also used as a score in Western movies and TV commercials. His opera The Bartered Bride takes a jaunty look at Czech farm life.
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  • Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) -- Neo-Romantic composer and head of Prague Conservatory. Dvorák is best known for his symphony From the New World, which was inspired by a tour of the United States. His opera about a girl trapped in a water world, Rusalka, remains an international favorite; it became a popular film in Europe, starring Slovak actress Magda Vásáryová.
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  • Franz Kafka (1883-1924) -- Writer. Kafka was a German-Jewish Praguer who for much of his adult life worked in relative obscurity as a sad Prague insurance clerk. In works such as The Metamorphosis, The Castle, and Amerika, Kafka described surreal and suffocating worlds of confusion. Now many use the adjective Kafkaesque to mean "living in absurdity." Anyone who tries to apply for anything at a state office here will know that Kafka's world lives on.
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  • Tomás G. Masaryk (1850-1937) -- Philosopher, professor, and Czechoslovakia's first president. Educated in Vienna and Leipzig, Masaryk spent decades advocating Czech statehood. In 1915, he made a landmark speech in Geneva calling for the end of the Habsburg monarchy. He traveled to Washington, D.C., and received the backing of President Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I for a sovereign republic of Czechs and Slovaks, which was founded in October 1918. During his nearly 17 years as president, Masaryk played the stoic grandfather of the new republic.
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  • Alexander Dubcek (1921-92) -- Government leader. Though he's not a Czech, Dubcek is a key figure in the history of Prague and the country. A Slovak Communist, he became the first secretary of the Communist Party in January 1968, presiding over the "Prague Spring" reforms. After he was ousted in the August 1968 Soviet-led invasion, Dubcek faded from view, only later to stand with Havel to declare the end of hard-line Communist rule in 1989. He returned to become speaker of Parliament after the Velvet Revolution but was killed in a car accident in 1992.
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  • Václav Havel (b. 1936) -- Author, dissident, ex-president. Absurdist playwright in the 1960s, Havel became a leading figure in the prodemocracy movement Charter 77 and the first president after leading the Velvet Revolution.

Among other famous Czech expats are Oscar-winning film director Milos Forman (Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Milan Kundera, the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and other widely admired works about 20th-century Czech life. Kundera is now a French citizen and bitterly refuses to make a public return to his homeland, after having left during the dark days of Communist "normalization."

The Czech Republic is the homeland of many supermodels. Former Wonderbra icon Eva Herzigová hails from the blue-collar northern Bohemian industrial berg of Litvínov -- whose smokestacks are about as far removed as you can get from the catwalks where she works. Model, actress, and writer Paulina Porízková is from the town of Prostejov; former Victoria's Secret model, recently named the "Sexiest Woman Alive," Karolína Kurková is from Decín, near the German border; and tsunami survivor and activist Petra Nemcová is from Karviná, in Moravia.

Mention should also be made of Ivana Trump (pronounced Ee-vah-nah), born in Gottwaldov (now known again as Zlín), east of Prague in Moravia. The woman who first brought meaning to the term "Velvet Divorce" starred as a skier on the Czechoslovak National Team and as a model before first going down the slippery slope with billionaire husband "The Donald" in 1977 (divorcing in 1991) and then a couple of husbands after that. Her first novel, For Love Alone, took place partly in Bohemia.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.