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PRAGUE

It’s been called the city of hundred spires, the golden city, the mother of cities. If you’ve never been there, you may be forgiven for thinking the Czechs have a disproportionate pride in their beautiful capital. However, you need only stand of the castle’s ramparts to gaze at the breath-taking panorama below you to appreciate that this pearl among European cities more than deserves the lavish praise heaped upon it by visitors and residents alike.

Prague lies in the very heart of Bohemia astride the River Vltava and archeological finds confirm that a settlement was built here by the Slavs – the ancestors to the Czechs – as early as the 5th century AD. By the turn of the 10th century Prague had become a major trading town.

The 14th century saw Prague entering its golden age when Charles IV., King of Bohemia and Moravia and Holy Roman Emperor, made it his capital. With 40.000 inhabitants it was one of the biggest cities of the time and soon developed into the cultural and political centre of Europe – a role reflected in the noble architecture of the buildings and monuments erected by Charles IV. After his death in 1378 Prague lost its influence and religious squabbles plunged the city into decline. It recovered briefly at the end of the 16th century when the Austrian Emperor Rudolf II. restored it to it’s former glory and couraged traders, artists, artisans and scientists to return. After his death and the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618 the city was once more the victim of embittered religious factions.

After the defeat of the Czech forces at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 Austria reasserted its dominance and great chunks of Prague were soon knocked down to make way for the ostentacious palaces of the nobility. During the next 200 years the demands for independence from Austrian rule escalated. Autonomy was finally granted in 1918. Today Prague is a city of 1.3 million people which is the political, commercial and cultural hub of the country.

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