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Slav culture is not usually associated with the word 'carefree', but in Prague this perception is contradicted every time you see the crowds of rollerbladers in the park, groups toasting each other with na zdravi! in pubs, and couples strolling along the riverbank. The city itself seems to encourage delight: How can anyone brood when Prague castle lights up like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale every evening? Or when a metro carriage opens and a crowd of giggling students in formal dress pours out, on the way to their first ball? Maybe this new culture needs to be seen to be believed and a reason why so many visitors flock to the city each year. Tourism is a serious source of revenue for the city, and brings in billions of crowns each year. Gradually, Prague has evolved to accomodate the many people who come here to spend money and see the sights. In most restaurants and shops, credit cards are now accepted, and opening hours have been extended. Prague airport has added a second terminal, and metro lines have been lengthened. The negatives are the same as for any popular tourist destination: shops selling souvenirs and inflated prices in restaurants near the centre. Although it's hard to get a seat on the popular No.22 tram during the summer, the constant flow of international visitors gives Prague an undeniable energy. Without them, the city might feel empty.
Read more on this destination in The AA Keyguide to Prague.
The history of Prague
A combination of forests, fertile soil, fordable river and easily defended rock outcrops made the site of Prague an attractive place to settle. In the last century BC, the area supported the Celtic people called the 'Boii' by the Romans, a name which has survived in the form of Bohemia. In the final century BC, the Celts, with their relatively advanced culture, were driven out by the Marcomans, a Germanic tribe, who held sway over the area for several hundred years until, in the sixth century AD, they were overcome by Slavs moving in from the north and east. Over the next few century's there had been numerous leaders, however, still to this day, the Czechs look back on the middle of the 14th century as the Golden Age of their country's history. Still, Protestant-Catholic relations alongside unfathomable politics contributed to the deterioration of the kingdom and in 1618 the signal for the outbreak of the Thirty Years War was given. From Darkness to Light 1700-1914: This was the age of the Baroque, and in a great upsurge of activity, known as the National Awakening, Prague was transformed into a thoroughly Czech city, thanks mainly to industrialisation. World War I saw the country occupied by Germans until the end of World War II, where most of the Czech Republic was liberated from the Nazis by the Red Army. In 1968, the communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek tried to revive Czechoslovak Communism by making it responsive to the wishes of the people, but its brutal crushing led to two decades of political and cultural repression. By the end of 1980s the whole Communist pack of cards in Eastern Europe had begun to collapse. In November 1989 Havel coordinated the bloodless 'Velvet Revolution' and became President. By the turn of the 21st Century Prague was now the capital of a more or less 'normal' Western country.
In many ways Prague and the Czech Republic are gold standard for all of the countries of the former Eastern bloc. For anyone familiar with Prague of the early 1990s, let alone the communist behemoth of pre-Velvet Revolution days, the contrast with today's city is astonishing. The pervasive grey has gone and few buildings remain to be restored; shopping is a treat rather than a chore, and dining out presents problems of choice rather than finding somewhere half-decent to eat. Indeed, until the economic crisis of 2009, the Czech Republic enjoyed nearly 20 years - since the Velvet revolution itself - of steady growth. The long boom enabled Praguers to catch up with the living standards of their visitors. Leisure activities are therefore easy to find: there's live music everywhere, from the corner pub to the downtown club. At Christmas, the local squares are full of craft markets and even on cold days people take their time as they sip hot wine. Outdoor cafes are packed when the warmer weather arrives and the city settles into a lazy routine, and everyone goes a little more slowly.