République tchèque

Art and culture - Czech Republic


Saying “He’s a Czech, he never smiles at people he doesn’t know” is making a stereotype. Stereotypes lead into conflict and misunderstandings. Saying “He’s a Czech, therefore he is less likely to smile at people he doesn’t know” is a generalization.

Generalizations are not only useful but also necessary for human lives. Cross-cultural training and living is a constant struggle between stereotypes and generalizations. All statements in this manual should therefore be understood as generalizations.

When moving into your row in a theater, walk sideways facing people already sitting there



The arrival of the Slavs at the turn of 5th - 6th century marked the beginning of an era of continuous artistic development on the territory of what is today the Czech Republic. With the rise of the Great Moravian Empire and the establishment of Christianity, the erection of countless stone churches began and the first written language of the area, Old Church Slavonic, was recorded in ancient religious hymns and Gregorian chants.

In the second half of the 9th century, the artistic styles of Great Moravia started to influence those of Bohemia, (e.g., the architectural rotunda of St. Kliment in Levý Hradec). Architecture and book illustrations (e.g., Vyšehrad Codex) developed under a South German influence in the 11th century. The dominant language in literature was Latin until the 14th century. Romanesque art had a strong impact on the area, mainly in the form of monastic basilicas and noble churches (e.g., the Prague Castle, Strahov and Doksany). Most royal residences and palaces (i.e. Olomouc and Prague), Romanesque castles (Primda), and city homes were built in this tower style.

The 13th century marked the introduction of Gothicism which manifested itself in the construction of castles and in the ecclesiastic architecture of Cisterian monasteries. Several noteworthy Gothic structures that still stand today are the cathedral in Sedlec near Kutná Hora; the monasteries of Vyssi Brod and Zlata in South Bohemia; and the castles, Krivoklat, Pernstejn, and Kost. During this era, Czech began to be used as a written language.

Gothic art reached its peak during the reign of Charles IV and Vaclav IV, during which time, the Czech lands became one of the main centers of European culture. The workshop of Saint Vitus Cathedral, led by Matyas from Arras, and later by P. Parlér, was responsible for many significant artistic efforts of the time. These include the reconstruction of the Prague Castle; the construction of the St. Vitus Cathedral and the Premysl tombs; and the decoration of the bridge towers. Paintings by court artists such as Theodorik, Oswald and Wurmser were used to decorate Karlstejn, the monastery in Emauzy (Prague), the St. Wenceslas Chapel in St. Vitus, and other landmarks.

In the 14th century, religious hymns began to increase in sophistication and inspired many other lay compositions. The works of some of these first composers have been preserved to this day.

Renaissance architecture was introduced by Italian builders at this time. One of the most notable examples of this style is Stella Pavillion, the summer house of Queen Anne. Many new types of secular buildings were also constructed including summer residences, and imperial and aristocratic chateaux (e.g., Cesky Krumlov, Jindrichuv Hradec and Budejovice). These were often decorated with graffiti, wall paintings and stucco (e.g., Hvezda and Kratochvíle).

From this intermingling of domestic and Italian forms came the basis of the Czech Renaissance style that is still prevalent in much of today’s existing architecture (e.g., city halls and patrician homes). Of note, Telc, a city typical of this time period, has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Kutna Hora, Holasovice and Lednice. Composers Rychnovsky, Trojan, and Harant developed renaissance vocal polyphonics. The activities of the Czech Brethren, their translation of the Bible into Czech (Kralicka Bible) in particular, also contributed to the development of Czech culture and literature during this time.

At the end of the 16th century, an international Center of Mannerism was established in the court of Emperor Rudolf II, successor to Charles IV, with Vries, Spranger, von Aachen, Arcimboldo, and others as patrons. An excellent musical culture, as well as other arts and sciences, were cultivated there. The Court of the Emperor in Prague was host and sponsor to many Renaissance celebrities, most notably Tycho de Brahe the famous astronomer. The re-Catholicization of the age brought new Baroque artistic elements to architecture; for example, the Valdstejn buildings in Prague and Jicin; the buildings of the Jesuit Order in Klementinum; Cerninsky Palace in Prague; and the Troja chateau. Michna, Cernohorsky and Zelenka composed early Baroque music, and Czech Baroque poetry reached its height at the time with Bridel being, perhaps, its most noted poet.

The influence of Italian Baroque entered Bohemia in the 18th century and subsequently inspired classic Czech Baroque art. Architecture of this style includes the works of Dienzenhofer and Santini, originators of the Czech Baroque Gothic phenomenon. In sculpture, the pieces of Braun (Chateau Kuks) and Brokoff are exemplary. Painting became a synthesis of Baroque elements that were applied mainly to portraits and altarpieces. Of importance are the works of Brandl; the portraits of Kupecký; the wall paintings of Reiner; and the graphics of Hollar. A number of composers from Bohemia, including Benda, Rejcha, and Myslivecek, made significant contributions to world music during this era.

Early in the 19th century, Classicism reached its peak with the Napoleonic style which was applied in the sculpture of many tombs and monuments. Machek, Manes and Navratil, who combined Classicism with Romanticism and Revivalist ideals, rejuvenated painting which slowly reached its Classic phase in this century. Other notable Classical painters of the time include Purkyne and Kosarek. In Romantic poetic composition, Maj by Macha revived Czech literature to a new European standard. Such writers as Vrchlicky, Sladek, and Zeyer also incorporated Czech literature into the European context.

Also in the 19th century, Czech pseudo-historical architecture found its own expression in many Neo-renaissance works including those of Zitek, Schultz and Wiechl. The National Theater contributed to contemporary monument architecture. At the same time, the socially harmonious genre of Schikaneder and the realistic landscape painting of Chitussi developed. Classic Czech national music developed in the works of Bedrich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak and Zdenek Fibich. The Czech Philharmonic, an internationally renowned orchestra, was established in 1894.

At the beginning of the 20th century, European influences from the 1890's merged with Czech tradition. Symbolism and Impressionism reached its peak in the works of Preisler and Slavicek. The famed artist Mucha contributed to the development of European Art Nouveau. The Group of Eight, the Tvrdosijni Group and the Group of Graphic Arts began to experiment with Expressionism and Cubism. Kremlicka combined modern trends into his own original synthesis. Tichy, who painted circus scenes, refashioned Seurat impulses. Czech Modernism (e.g., Gocar, Honzik and Janak) appeared in architecture and developed into Functionalism after World War I. The 1930's marked the ascension of Surrealism (e.g., Tyrsky and Toyen) and expressive tendencies. Capek, Vancura, Durych, Cep, Nezval, Holan, Zahradnicek and Seifert created masterpieces of Czech literature. Leading modern composers of Czech music between 1890 and 1930 included Janacek, Foerster, Novak, and Suk. Some of the chief modern architecture styles, most notably Constructivism and Modern Functionalism, are seen in the Villa Tugenhad in Brno and the Veletrzni palac in Prague.



A rich and old culture

- The history of the Czechs reveals the permanence of a cultural, spiritual and artistic tradition since the Middle Age.

- The Czech Republic has international references in many fields such as music, literature, craft industry, painting and cinema.

"If you cannot beat them, join them". This Czech maxim describes the fatalism of the Czech Nation which during its recent history was subjected to the monarchy of Habsbourg, to the IIIrd Reich and to the communist regime.

svejk The honest soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923)


Czech literature

Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923)

F. Kafka (1883-1924)

M. Kundera, Nobel prize of literature


Top 10 Figures of Czech History

1.    Svatý Václav
(St. Wenceslas – 900s)

Patron of the Czech lands. Peace-loving king opposing war with the Germans, killed by his brother Boleslav. According to legend he and his soldiers lie under the mountain Blan ík and will rise to help the Czech nation in the gravest hour of need.

2.    Karel IV. (Charles IV.) (1316 – 1378)

Holy Roman emperor (1355–78) and founder of  Charles University (1348). Under his rule, Czech lands were the political and cultural center of Europe.

3.    Jan Hus
(1372 - 1415)

Reform preacher and linguist, author of modern Czech spelling. Burned at stake for heresy. Inspired the Hussite movement.

4.    Jan Žižka (d. 1424)

Successful military leader of the Hussite forces. Under him, Czech rebels defeated crusaders sent by the Roman emperor. Famous for directing battles even being blind.

5.    Jan Ámos Komenský (Comenius)

Famous educator and bishop of the Czech Brethren, sometimes nicknamed the ‘Teacher of the nations’. Wrote the first modern compendium of pedagogy. Was exiled during 30-Year War and worked on the educational systems of Sweden and Holland.

6.    Antonín Dvořák

World-famous composer. Spent several years in the United States, where he wrote his most famous symphony ‘From the New World’.

7.    T. G. Masaryk

Politician and philosopher. First president (1918-35) of the pre-war Czechoslovakia, founded at the end of World War I after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

8.    Jaroslav Hašek

Popular Czech writer and humorist, author of the ‘Good Soldier Švejk’, a book translated into over 20 languages.

9.    Karel Čapek

Leading novelist and playwright of the ‘First Republic’. Coined the word ‘robot’ in his play ‘R.U.R.’

10. Václav Havel
(b. 1936)

First president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism. Human rights fighter and playwright.

Jára Cimrman
(1865 – 1898 –
  1915 – 1927)

A fictious figure from the turn of the century, attributed with most famous inventions. Cimrman was created in the late 60s by a group of Czech actors who produce plays in his name. Gained enormous popularity on the scale of Monty Python in Great Britain.


Famous people born in the Czech Republic

1.       Madeleine Albright – American Secretary of State born in Moravia

2.       Sigmund Freud – Austrian psychologist born in P říbor.

3.       Tom Stoppard – English dramatist born in Zlín.

More famous people born in the Czech lands suggested by Jirka Hana:
  • Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera (writers)
  • Gustav Mahler (composer)
  • F. Porsche (automobile designer)
  • Georg Mendel (founder of the field of genetics)
  • K. Goedel, G. Gentzen (mathematicians)
  • Edmund Husserl (philosopher)

Some other famous people with roots in the Czech lands are John Kerry, the failed presidential candidate in the 2004 US elections and Ray Kroc (Croc), the founder of MacDonalds. 

It is important to remember, however, that most of these people have their roots in the now nonexistent German or German Jewish community either in Prague or in Moravia and had very limited links to Czech culture (although Kafka made it to 55 and Freud to 98 on the greatest Czech poll).


Czech National Prides

Famous writers, composers, politicians and other things Czechs are proud about.


Points of national pride

Beer, ice hockey, soccer, classical music, jazz, humor, women, Czech, ingenuity, history, science, film, architecture, Prague, food.


Literature: Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Čapek, Bohumil Hrabal, Ludvík Vaculík, Josef Škvorecký, Milan Kundera, Jaroslav Seifert, Václav Havel.

Film: Miloš Forman, Jan Svěrák, Zdeněk Svěrák, Jiří Menzel.

Music: Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů, Jiří Stívín, Luboš Andršt, Ian Hammer, Emil Viklický.

Important People

Karel IV., Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, Jiří z Poděbrad, J.A. Komenský, T.G. Masaryk, Václav Klaus, Václav Havel, Miloš Zeman

Past and current events

Founding of Charles University (1348), Burning of Jan Hus (1415), Battle of White Mountain - start of 30-year war (1620), National revival (19th century), Foundation of Czechoslovakia (1918), Partial occupation by Germany (1938), End of Second World War (1945), Communist party takes power (1948), Invasion by allied forces (1968), Charter 77 (1977), Velvet Revolution (1989), Split with Slovakia (1993).

3 Famous Composers

Bedřich Smetana (1828 – 1884) Popular composer of last century. Like Beethoven composed some of his best works while completely deaf. His works include: Bartered Bride, Dalibor, The Kiss, My Country.

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904 – see above) Other works: Slavonic Dances, Sabat Mater, Rusalka.

Leoš Janáček (1854 – 1928) Most famous Czech composer of this century. His operas include: Káťa Kabanová, Věc Makropulos, Liška Bystrouška.

5 Important Writers

Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923) Writer and journalist. Wrote satirical short stories. During WWI took part in the Russian Revolution. Creator of “Good Soldier Švejk” a popular satire from WWI translated into many over 20 languages including English.

Karel Čapek (1890-1938) Writer, journalist and playwright. His 1928 sci-fi drama R.U.R. first used the word robot. His other works include War of the NewtsWhite IllnessThe Macropulos ThingKrakatit.

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-97) Major works: I Served the King of England, Larks on a String, Closely Watched Trains, Too Loud a Solitude.

Josef Škvorecký (*1924) Emigrated after 1968. Currently lives in Canada. Started and runs publishing firm 68’Publishers. Major works: The Cowards, Sins for Father Knox, Swell Season, Tank Platoon.

Milan Kundera (*1929) Emigrated after 1968. Currently lives in France. Wrote his last novel in French. Major works: The Joke,  Unbearable Lightness of Being, Laughable Loves, Immortality.

Czech Mythology

Historical myths are often better known than facts. Here are three commonlyPraotec Čech (Forefather Czech)

Czech tribes led by the father Čech stopped their journey at the Říp mountain (about 50 km north of Prague). There he beheld the “land of milk and honey” and decided to settle. His brother Lech had separated from his tribe earlier and became the founder of the Polish nation.

Přemysl and Libuše

Countess Libuše, Čech’s grand daughter, ruled the Czech people after the death of her father Krok. She was gifted with prophetic powers and foresaw the founding of Prague. She resided at Vyšehrad and in one of her prophetic moments declared: “I see a large city whose fame touches the stars.” She then sent builders into the woods where they found a man making a threshold (práh) which also gave a name to the new city (i.e. Praha).

Once, when presiding over her court, she made a decision between two brothers. The one in whose disfavor she had decided, proclaimed: “Sorry are the men who let themselves be ruled by a woman!” Libuše became angry and promised the men a firm rule by a man. She sent a delegation to her secret lover Přemysl to call him to become the king of the Czechs. Přemysl was a farmer and the delegation led by Libuše’s horse found him plowing his fields. That’s why he is known as Přemysl Oráč (the Plower). Thus the Přemyslid dynasty ruling the Czech lands for over 300 years was founded.

Šárka (Maiden War)

Some women, discontent with the rule of men, went away and founded a castle called Děvín, from where they fought men with great success.

One of the maidens, Šárka, lured Ctirad and his men, who had slain many women, into a trap by pretending to have run away from the womens castle. After Ctirad, having fallen in love at first sight, had celebrated this encounter and fallen asleep, women stole upon him and his men, who were overpowered and killed. Ctirad himself was executed at the wheel.

Men, angered by Ctirads death stormed Děvín, the castle of the women fighters, and killed all women who resisted including Šárka.


Anything by the following current authors: Ivan Klíma, Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Josef Škvorecký, Bohumil Hrabal, Lukáš Tomin.

Or by one of these pre-war writers: Karel Čapek, Jaroslav Hašek, Alois Jirásek.


Don’t miss the Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Seifert. Some other notable poets are Vítězslav Nezval, Vladimír Holan, František HalasJan Holuband many others.


Jan Patočka is the most prominent Czech philosopher of this century.

Classical Music-Opera

There are basically five names in classical music:

Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Josef Suk, Leoš Janáček andBohuslav Martinů. Another popular work is Christmas Mass by Jakub Ryba.


Folk singers are extremely popular from the times of communism when they were considered a voice of freedom. Here are the most well known names:

Jaromír Nohavica, Karel Plíhal, Wabi Daněk, Jan Nedvěd, Jiří Dědeček


Czech jazz is typically very good. It is little known fact that Jan Hammer is Czech.

Jiří Stivín, Emil Viklický, Jan Kratochvíl, Jana Koubková, Martin Svoboda


Here are some of the most popular names from the 60s-80s still active today.

Olympic, Katapult, Karel Gott, Pražský Výběr, Hudba Praha, Laura a její tygři

These are the most popular new names.

Lucie, Wanastowy věci, Daniel Hůlka, Lucie Bílá, Bára Basiková, BUTY


Oscar films: Kolja, Closely Watched Trains

Older films available with English subtitles: Larks on a String, Vesničko má středisková, Limonádový Joe

Post-communist films: Obecná škola, Akumulátor I., Je třeba zabít Sekala, etc.


There are many musicals currently playing in Prague. The original Czech works of the 90s are Dracula and Rusalka (musical inspired by Dvořák’s famous opera).


Drama requires the most language knowledge and is often least accessible to a foreigner. For those with good Czech ability, these theaters can be recommended:

Divadlo Na Zábradlí, SEMAFOR, Divadlo Járy Cimrmana, Národní Divadlo, Stavovské Divadlo, Divadlo Labyrint, Činoherní klub

Some Czech popular playwrights are: Václav Havel, Filip Topol, Karel Čapek


Some sports celebrities are still famous, even though they have retired, and Czech Republic has had little success in their particular field.

Ice-Hockey: Jaromír JágrDominik Hašek; Football (soccer): Antonín Panenka, Jaroslav Chovanec; Athletics: Emil Zátopek, Jarmila Kratochvílová; Tennis: Ivan Lendl, Jana Novotná, Martina Navrátilová, Petr Korda




To go further

czechcentres.cz - The Administration of Czech Centres (ACC) - Czech Centres present the Czech Republic through culture, education, business,and tourism

culturalpolicies.net... Cultural policies and trends in the Czech Republic

mkcr.cz/en/ - Minitry of Culture - Czech Republic


nkp.cz... - National Library of the Czech Republic


musica.cz - Czech contemporary music


gallery.cz - Art Forum, Czech artists on the web

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