The Czech Republic: Famous People

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 1306th century. Read also about Princess Libuse in the Prague Legends.

St. Wenceslas (ca. 907-935)
St. Wenceslas, in Czech Svatý Václav, patron saint of Bohemia, 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. The horse market, Prague’s traditional meeting place, was the scene of a brief thrust of Czech nationalism against the Austrian Empire in 1848, when people named the place Wenceslas Square (Václavské nám.). A statue at the top of the square, depicting the horse-mounted warrior, was erected in 1912.

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, originally christened Václav, was reared as John’s successor; John had taken over the Bohemian crown in 1310. 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 (Universita Karlova), stone bridge (Karluv most), largest New Town park (Karlovo nám.), and the spa town of Karlovy Vary.

Master Jan Hus (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.

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884)
The father of genetics and the laws of heredity – Mendel’s Laws. Born in Heinzendorf (now Hynčice, Czech Republic), Mendel received his education at the Augustinian monastery in Brno where he also performed his experiments with plants. Mendel showed that the inheritance of traits follows particular laws, which were later named after him. The significance of Mendel’s work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century. Its rediscovery prompted the foundation of the discipline of genetics. He coined the terms dominance and recessiveness, still used in present-day genetics.

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.

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 Vasáryová.

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. He resigned for health reasons in 1935 and died less than 2 years later.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Although not Czech by nationality, the “father of psychoanalysis” was born in a town called Příbor, which was then a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and today is located in the north-eastern part of the Czech Republic. Freud spent the first three years of his life there (1856 – 1859) before his family moved to Leipzig (today’s Germany), and then to Vienna (today’s Austria).

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)
Art nouveau painter and poster designer who spent most of his life in France. Many of his works were created for the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Mucha also designed unique advertisements for various products. A number of his paintings have become part of Ivan Lendl’s private collection. Visit My Czech Republic’s Alphonse Mucha Gallery to see Mucha’s art!

Ema Destinnová (1878-1930)
A great Czech soprano and patriot, also known as Emmy Destinn. She sang at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, including the Covent Garden, the Berlin Hofoper, and the New York Metropolitan Opera, and also sang with Enrico Caruso.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Writer. Author of the depressing but universally read novel The Trial, 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 like 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.

Karel Čapek (1890-1938)
Czech writer and playwright. He and his brother Josef first introduced the word “robot” in their science-fiction play R.U.R. in 1921. The abbreviation stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots” and the word itself comes from an old Czech word “robota” (hard work, drudgery), which is still used in some Czech dialects.

Josef Sudek (1896-1976)
One of the world’s best photographers. In his works the subjective and objective points of view are intermixed. His fragile and pellucid photographs present, in a fascinating manner, the harmonious beauty of everyday objects, nature and human life.

Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986)
Seifert was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984. He published over 30 collections of poems and also the children’s literature. In his poems Seifert has celebrated Prague and the cultural heritage of Czech Republic.

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 dubious car accident in 1992.

Milan Kundera (born 1929)
Another Czech writer Milan Kundera reached the international fame by his novels The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1985) and Immortality (1990). He got some prestigious literary awards for his work and he is acknowledged as one of the world’s best contemporary writers. 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.”

Milos Forman (born 1932)
A film director Milos Forman is considered one of the most significant film directors in the world today. He received the Oscars for his films One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. He also directed a film version of the musical Hair.

Václav Havel (b. 1936)
A well known dramatist, essayist, philosopher and the former president of the Czech Republic. The central theme of his literary texts is human identity and the mechanisms of dehumanized power. In the 70’s and 80’s Havel became a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement Charter 77. After Velvet Revolution, in January 1990, he became president of the country. Mr. Havel is very popular in the country and abroad as well.

Miss World
Czech beauty Tatana Kucharova was voted for Miss World in Warsaw on September 30, 2006. Eighteen-year-old High School student Tatana (88-63-90) was born in Trnava (Slovakia) and grew up in Opocno (Bohemia). She is beautiful, intelligent and ambitious young woman likewise Czech women often are. Remember also Eva Herzigova, Tereza Maxova, Petra Nemcova or Ivana Trump.

Czech Sportsmen
A lot of excellent hockey players in NHL teams in the USA and Canada came from the Czech Republic. The best known are Jaromir Jagr (born 1972) who played for New York Rangers, Pittsburg Penguines, Washington Capitals and goalkeeper Dominik Hasek (born 1965) who helped the Czech team to get the Olympic Gold in Nagano. In NHL he played for Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings. Also the Czech tennis school is world famous and a lot of good tennis players came from there. Martina Navratilova (born 1956) is the one of the most successful representative together with Ivan Lendl (born 1960). She has won Wimbledon nine times and in total she has won 164 titles from international tournaments.

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