The earliest known settlement of what is now Prague can be traced to the accounts of merchant Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, who wrote of a castle that was built on a hillside along the right-hand bank of the Vltava River. A second castle, known as Hradčany, was soon erected slightly downstream and on the opposite side of the river (more on this castle later). By 1085, the city was home to the first Bohemian king, Vratislav I; and once a stone bridge was built over the river in 1170, the city began to expand and develop quickly, though it initially grew as a collection of individual boroughs. By 1348, Prague was home to the first university in Central Europe; and in 1583, the city was appointed the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy (a rank that it would hold for almost three decades).
Over the subsequent centuries, Prague continued to grow—its population doubled from 40,000 to more than 80,000 people between 1705 and 1771—yet it wasn’t until 1784 that its four boroughs (Old Town, New Town, Malá Strana, and AnchorHradčany) were unified. During the Industrial Revolution Prague expanded further, and with the rise of the working class and strong national sentiment, a resentment of the ruling Austrian monarchy grew stronger. Eventually, Czechoslovakia earned its independence in 1918, though it fell under Nazi rule during World War II and four decades of Communism following a Soviet “liberation” effort during the late 1940s. Finally, in 1989, a peaceful rebellion against Communism, known as the Velvet Revolution, led to the founding of a democratic Czech Republic four years later. Today, Prague is entrenched as a major cultural center in Europe, and a highlight of many Scenic river cruise adventures.