Oriental visitors to Prague

Contacts with Persia (now Iran) were strengthened during the reign of Rudolf II (1575- 1611 king of Bohemia). He saw, just as other European rulers did at the time, great danger in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) and any anti- Ottoman coalition was useful. The first Persian envoys arrived to Prague in 1597, so that they’d make preparations for the arrival of their shah, which took place three years later. They were welcomed in the “Star mansion” (Letohradek hvezda, the Na Vypichu district), a quite special building with symbolic features referring to astronomy, and accommodated in the Lesser Town. One of the leaders of the small delegation was Anthony Sherley, a British catholic in Persian diplomatic services. While present in Prague, he paid a visit to the Jesuits in Klementinum. The Jesuits were, by the way the order, which sent priests to the Orient (to China, for example), taking over much of the agenda the Franciscans were taking care of previously.

Czech- Turkish contacts were mainly supplied by Ottoman captives, but there were also cases of Europeans in Ottoman service and otherwise. After Rudolf’s unsuccessful attempt to win a war with the Turks, the international relations sort of normalized. In 1620 Prague hosted a Turkish delegate. The European strategy towards the expansive giant was based on economy rather than force from then on.

First coffee

Less internationally grave a matter, but significant for the Czech lifestyle was the emergence of the coffee drinking habit. Brought to Europe, it is said, in 1683, as part of the Turkish armies’ resources left behind after attempted conquest of Vienna, the substance was brought to Prague in 1705 by Georgios Deodatus el Damascus. At first he sold to pedestrians on the streets, later establishing the first Prague café in 1708. He was forced to change its site of residence a couple of times, operating in the Celetna street, in Lesser Town and ending up in the Charles’s street in the Old Town. He was increasingly popular with the citizens and very friendly towards the court, holding a pompous celebration after the birth of Charles VI son Leopold.


Tight were the links with India, at least according to Panikkar, an Indian politician and historian. In the 1950s he was a guest in Prague and when examining the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, he discovered similarities with the oriental art in the placement of the precious stones. He claimed that many other medieval works show a connection between the two countries.

Other guests

Nehrú, the first Indian president, visited Prague on several occasions. During his first visit in 1938, he expressed strong depiction of the Munchen agreement and the western powers’ role in it. There were more visits in the following years and a close relationship was established.

The last mention goes to the Japanese historian R. H. Takahashi, who spent time in Prague in the 1950s. Comparing it to other European capitals, he emphasised the uniqueness of its character. Especially in comparison with US cities, which in his eyes lacked character, he stressed the importance of protecting the Old Town, the Lesser Town and Hradshin (Hradcany- the castle district) from intrusion of contemporary architectonic trends.

Sep 8, 21:06 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

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