Why do we live in Prague and why Prague isn’t located e.g. twenty kilometres up the river? The answer is in fact rather simple – people chose places where they settled according to their natural advantages. They liked the land because it was fertile and of course they liked the river, because there is no life without water. On top of that the winding river Vltava was quite friendly and it was possible to wade across it. What about the hills above the river? There is no better defence than a hill with difficult access such as Vyšehrad or Hradčany. Therefore people took to the Vltava valley and areas around; archaeologists are finding settlements even in farther-out locations such as Letňany.
No city, regardless of its size, can exist without water. The main source of water was of course the river Vltava with its tributaries and also many wells that are still in Prague. Quite a few children can take pride in being “baptized” from Petřínka which is a small well, one of the many springs of Petřín. Praguers drank water mainly from Vltava River which sometimes affected their health. Not until 1914, at the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria’s instigation, was there built the first really modern water works in Kárné. It is rather curious that 15 years later when the water works in Podolí was built, people were drinking water from Vltava once again.
Over the centuries people used also other sources. For example at Prague Castle they drank water from Brusík that was brought with water pipes made from pine trunks. People also built house wells that were even used by civic defence as a back-up source of drinking water.
Regarding springs, there are almost a hundred of them in Prague and they were used quite a lot. Over the years, their quality deteriorated and drinking from them is not recommended because of pollution .
The area of Prague, if we can call it so, has always been life friendly. Those, who don’t believe it, can turn to the most famous specialist – Joachima Barrande. His Silurian system of Central Bohemia ( Système silurien du centre de la Bohême) is a work that not only influenced whole generations of palaeontologists but also brought fame to Prague and its neighbourhood. Fossils that he collected are scattered around the whole world. According to him, already 550 million years ago there was a decent life in the territory of Prague. It wasn’t same form of life as it is now but it was without doubt interesting. It is hard to say what the social structure of trilobites and their relatives was like. The Barrandien layer where trilobites can be found is, according to specialists, up to several kilometres thick. Barrandien is really famous, it is a unique object of its kind and like the city centre it is protected by UNESCO.
Geological structure significantly influenced Prague. It had influence on the flow of Vltava River and flow of streams because water flows always in a direction that is allowed by the structure of minerals. All kinds of minerals can be found In Prague, from hard ones such as granite to soft ones such as sand stone and also coal that is up to this day to be found in Petřín. By the way, it was thanks to all those minerals that life in Prague was able to develop. By looking back into history you find out that there used to be many quarries and mines. Some of them are still visible even though we don’t realise that they used to be quarries. One example is Bránická Rock.
Sand stone used to be mined in Petřín. Brick clay was up to recent days, used in Jirčany and contemporaries may remember the brick-kiln that used to stand in Vokovice.
The quality of subsoil influences the development of a city. Development of different buildings depends on it (let’s remember e.g. Lucerna that was built in difficult geological conditions) as well as the building of the metro as builders have to struggle through various layers from hard granite to shifting sand. Prague can be called a sampler of many different minerals and specialists are of the opinion that there are also precious stones such as agate, garnet, chalcedony, jasper, tourmaline, zircon etc. Even gold used to be paned for in Prague and its neighbourhood. The first people to do it were Celts who paned for gold in Zavist, later on gold was also found in the city but in quite small quantities. Gold-washing was going on in different places until the Hussite Wars. In the wider territory of Prague also various ores were mined such as iron ore that was of high quality and was found around Uvaly. Local minerals had up to 60 percent of iron. Also Červený Vrch (Red Hill) was named after iron ore that used to be mined here.
The appearance of a city is also influenced by the stone used for buildings. These days all kinds of exotic stones are imported from all over the world but in the past people used mainly local stone. We don’t mean just paving but also e.g. argillite buildings such as the part of Týnský church, The Hunger Wall and the majority of Romanesque buildings (St Jiří basilica and all Prague’s rotundas). Argillite used to be mined in many places. All that was left up to recent days is the quarry in Přední Kopanina.
Sand stone was abundant in Prague. It was used for Gothic buildings and was mined e.g. in the area between Petřín and Bílá hora (White Mountain). The best quality sand stone was to be found in the quarry in Hloubětín that belonged to the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. Charles Bridge was built from this stone and the Knights also used it for their own seat.
Regarding marble, Prague was to a certain extent self-sufficient because this mineral was mined in Lochkov and Kosor. This marble is part ofBarrandien and therefore it comes as no surprise that is possible to see various fossils in different parts of Prague. One example is the marble that is part of the National Monument in Vítkov and it is also to be seen on other public buildings such as the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Health. So called Slivenec marble that was used by sculptors, became rather famous. It had such quality that it was even exported. This marble was used for tomb stones and sculptures, mainly Baroque and Renaissance ones. Slivenec marble decorates also Estates Theatre and St Francis Church.
Marble is a kind of lime stone which is a base material for the production of cement. Therefore it is not surprising that production of cement had started in Prague already in the middle of 19 th century. The quarry in Bráník was founded in this time and here lime stone was burned. This stone was full of fossils that can be still found there. The only visible reminder of this enterprise is the wall on the embankment with openings that were used for pulling fuel wood out of the water as the wood was transported to the quarry by the river. Production of cement was in Bráník finished in 1940 and a cement factory was built in Radotín instead.
The Vltava valley was an ideal place for people to settle in. Celts, Slavs or other cultures that came before them, they all found favourable conditions in the area. That’s why Prague was founded.