The beginnings of Prague's Municipal Archive can be seen in the collections of documentary privileges, which had been deposited, being the proofs of the freedoms of that which town, in the homes of the aldermen, or in the office of the justice of peace; and when town halls came to be built, they were stored in metal-sheathed chests in town hall chambers. These documents, so fundamental for the city, were soon joined by administrative documents from the individual towns of Prague, court materials and even private documents, due to the relative safety of storage. The increasing numbers of documents necessitated ever larger storage facilities, leaving only the most valuable documents in the chests, while other materials, above all books, moved to cabinets in separate chambers administered by the municipal scribe. The scribe, or scrivener, made the earliest lists and registers of the archive's contents when the documents were just too numerous for easy account.
The four originally independent towns of Prague (Old Town, New Town, Lesser Quarter, and the Castle) were united in 1784, and in the place of their respective self-governing bodies there was appointed a board of municipal authorities sitting at the Old Town Hall. In due course, all the archival documents from the unified towns were deposited there. Next to the archival documents' legal value, their great historical value, mirroring the story of the metropolis, and the cultural and political history of our lands, began to be appreciated with the development of modern historiographical research. This attitude was decisive for establishing of the municipal archive as a separate institution in 1851 when Karel Jaromír Erben was appointed the first municipal archivist. That year saw commencement at the archive (termed "an auxiliary municipal office" in contemporary parlance) of systematic work to make accessible the valuable municipal collections, above all the collections of documents and manuscripts, and to utilize their historical importance. A new department of city plans and depictions of the city was set up and the foundation was laid for an extensive history and law library. The archive also acquired commensurate premises in the north wing of the Old Town Hall, where, next to the depositories, space was found for a well-equipped reading room, a photo studio, and a conservation workshop. Its technical facilities and skilled staff made the Archive of the Capital of Prague one of the best state-of-the art archive institutions in our country in the period between the world wars.
The Nazi occupation was a sad period in the Archive's history. Its funds and staff were continuously cut and its archival materials were taken away from Prague to countryside depositories to protect them from air raids. The Archive was dealt a lethal blow in the very end of the war on 8 May 1945 during the fire of the Old Town Hall caused by the withdrawing German units. Together with the premises there burned down also a portion of archival documents, causing irreplaceable losses to the historical heritage of Prague.
The time to heal wounds came after the end of the war. The Archive obtained substitute premises at the Clam-Gallas Palace in Husova (Jan Hus) Street, where a part of its documents had been stored during the occupation. As the newly established depositories were being equipped with the stacks, the archives were carted back to Prague and new archival tools were gradually put together to replace the ones that had been consumed by fire. A reading room reopened in 1949. Since at that time construction of a new dedicated edifice turned out to be a pipe dream, the Palace was confirmed in the same year as the Archive's permanent location. Another trying period for the archive began in the 1950's. During 1950-1951 the archive lost a considerable segment of its staff but also its organizational independence since it was made to report to the internal affairs section of the Central National Committee of the Capital of Prague. But significant paper-pushing duties in the form of shredding of documents from national committees, schools, courts, companies and other organizations were added to its agenda. The archive was swamped with a plethora of materials hastily glanced over, including the archives of associations or church institutions that were shut down. Frequently they were obtained in a bad physical shape and unorganized without requisite catalogs and thus denied the opportunity to be scholarly utilized. In the following years the archive gradually reinstated its scholarly activities. It managed to increase the numbers of its professional archivists and to obtain and equip additional facilities to store its collections. Even the Clam-Gallas Palace was gradually renovated and refurbished. The staff picked up where pre-war publication efforts had left off and commenced intensive collaboration with history-oriented facilities at the Charles University and other institutions.
This positive trend received a decisive impetus through the November 1989 revolution. The Archive became a separate department of Prague City Council and in the eyes of the public it gained on importance as it provided significant archival evidence in restitution and rehabilitation cases. To a larger degree than any time before it has been receiving contemporary technology, above all computers and replication technology and the numbers of its staff have gone up as well. After more than half a century of waiting in vain, its space problems were finally over with the new dedicated Chodov archive in Prague 4, completed in 1997. (In the late 1980's the archive used along with the Clam-Gallas Palace an additional 8, mostly unsatisfactory, depositories in and outside of Prague, which included a chateau and an anti-fallout shelter.) In Fall 1998 a new state-of-the-art reading room opened there. Archive materials from the other depositories are being gradually regrouped here.