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At first sight, its seems as though time has stood still in Prague. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Among the old buildings and lanes lies a new world of hip shops, bars and clubs that would be at home in many a metropolis.

By contrast, many shop windows in the broad streets are still filled with things from twenty years ago. It's a only slight exaggeration to say that very many things in Prague date back a long time. The old stop trams are a perfect example. Great when you're a tourist, less convenient when you're rushing to a meeting.

Prague is one of the world's most beautiful cities. The river Vltava, better known to us as the Moldau, divides the city in two. Its former beauty has been revived. Many of the sights are open to the public again and the restoration of the most important monuments has been completed. For those who look carefully enough, however, there are still plenty of reminders of the dark period of communist domination.

Prague has something for everybody. The city has a wealth of cultural hot spots like museums, cathedrals and palaces, but it also offers much in the way of entertainment. Everyone will find his/her favourite among the hundreds of small bars, terraces and restaurants. A major advantage is that Prague is still relatively cheap. Despite the economy's recent boom, prices are still well below those of other major European cities.

In short: Prague has to be discovered. Once you've found it, don't let go.

History

Over two thousand years ago, Celtic tribes inhabited the area. German tribes followed in the first century. The Slavic forefathers of the Czech people arrived in the hills of the region named Bohemia in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Charles IV transformed Prague into an important metropolis and made sure that Prague gained a dominant position in the international and intellectual world. In 1348, he founded the first university in Central Europe. Artists, artisans and merchants flocked from all over Europe to Prague. Prague became the fourth largest city in the world.

In 1526, the Habsburgers came to power. The city acquired baroque palaces and gardens were laid out. During the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, from 1576 to 1612, the arts and the sciences assumed great importance. Religious disturbances between Protestants and Roman Catholics led, in 1618, in the Thirty Years War. At the end of the war, the Roman Catholic faith was proclaimed to be the only lawful faith. The majority of Protestants emigrated.

As in other European cities, the Industrial Revolution brought major growth with it. In 1868 the National Theatre was built - a source of inspiration to many composers.

After the collapse of the Habsburg Kingdom in 1918, the independent republic of Czechoslovakia was created. The Czech communist party was established.

In 1939, German troops invaded Czechoslovakia. The Germans continued to occupy Prague until 1945. After the war, the Communist Party seized power. A period of oppression followed. In 1960, the land officially became a socialist state, and political and artistic freedom increased somewhat. In 1968, during the Prague spring, a programme of reform was introduced, only to be crushed by Soviet troops.

In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and partly as a result of the huge demonstrations, Prague was freed of communist influences. The new mood brought strong economic growth with it. In 1993, the country was split into two independent states: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.