Moody, romantic, historic, mysterious -- it's impossible to put a single label on Prague because it's a city that truly is the sum of its parts.
Modern-day Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is shaped by a storied past that dates back to the ninth century. Historical figures include the larger-than-life Bohemian Emperor Charles IV and, later, Empress Maria Theresa. In more recent times, the former Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans between 1939 and 1945. While it suffered the hardships of World War II, Prague saw less extensive bombing than many other European cities did. As a result, the city today is a wonderful, open-air gallery of largely undisturbed architectural styles that span the centuries: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Art Nouveau and Cubist. It's not an overstatement to say there is no other place quite like it.
Czechoslovakia, liberated by Soviet troops in 1945, operated as a Soviet-style state for decades. Not until the 1970's did dissident groups begin to organize against the Communist regime. But democracy was slow to take hold. It wasn't until after the famed Prague Spring uprising in 1968 and the student-led Velvet Revolution in 1989 that playwright and former political prisoner Vaclav Havel was elected president. Full, multi-party elections under a new constitution were held in 1992. One year later, after the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into two nations, Havel was re-elected president of the Czech Republic.
Today's Praha, as this city of 1.3 million is called, is becoming more of a tourist destination and an increasingly Westernized commodity. It's not unusual to see Austrians, Germans, Russians and Americans following tour guides, with their ubiquitous raised umbrellas, through Prague Castle and the warren of cobblestone streets that make up Old Town. But that's just part of the city's present-day persona. Experience Prague for just a few days, and you also get the feeling that this is a place that is still defining itself. If history is any indicator, it is just that.
--written by Ellen Uzelac; updated by Sean Bestor