Introduction to the Czech Republic

Background, location, and geography

Introduction

It would be a shame to limit a discussion of the Czech Republic to its more tourist-minded pleasures. (Though mention its name, and a few stock images – Škoda cars, ancient castles, and admittedly, beer – inevitably confront the mind´s eye.)

But delve beyond the surface and you´ll discover that there are many more significant points of national pride. Film: anyone who has lived here for a short time will have been inundated with advertisements for film festivals – having produced one of the world´s most respected directors (Miloš Forman), the country´s passion for the genre isn´t surprising.

Music: when the Americans landed on the moon, the Czechs were there; Neil Armstrong took his first gravity-defying steps to the strains of Antonín Dvořák. World-class athletes: though they once called the Czech Republic home, NHL superstar Jaromír Jágr and tennis ace Martina Navrátilová have earned endless accolades in the Western world.

Yet the spirit of the nation is hardly so tangible. Cloaked in turmoil and political instability for many years, the country continues to emerge and find its footing in the world at large. As the Czech Republic evolves, embracing and adapting to the foreign while gently clinging to the past, opportunity, in many guises, unfolds. And that´s the beauty of living in Prague; here in this vibrant European capital, one that is as diverse as it is consistently stunning, it would seem that anything is possible.

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Location & Geography

Though commonly considered to be an Eastern European city, the Czech Republic is actually located in Central Europe. This is the preferred and (check your maps) more accurate geographical description. In fact, the Czech Republic is the westernmost of the Slavic nations, and it´s worth remembering that Prague is further west than Vienna, the archetypal Central European city.

Approximately 10 million inhabit this space of about 78,866 sq km (roughly the size of South Carolina). The Czech Republic is divided into Bohemia (Čechy) and Moravia (Morava). Bohemia in the west consists of rolling plains, hills, and plateaus surrounded by low mountains; Moravia in the east consists of very hilly country. The differences don´t end with the landscape: the language and culture of the two areas are similar, although Moravians are said to have a specific accent. It has been suggested that Moravian culture is generally more friendly and laid back than that of the people in Bohemia. Moravia is best known for its tasty wines while the Bohemians are partial to beer (pivo).

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The capital of Bohemia is Prague (Praha) and the capital of Moravia is Brno – these two cities have traditionally enjoyed a friendly (or, depending on whom you ask, not-so-friendly) rivalry. The Czech Republic borders Germany (810 km), Poland (762 km), Austria (466 km), and Slovakia (265 km). The highest point of elevation is the peak of Mt. Sněžka (1,602 m above sea level) and the lowest point of elevation is near Hřensko, where the River Labe leaves Czech territory (117 m above sea level). Despite the country´s many rivers and lakes, you´ll have to travel quite far to get to a major body of water. The Czech Republic is a landlocked country 326 km from the Baltic and 322 km from the Adriatic Sea. It is for this reason that many local families hit the beaches in Croatia for their yearly dose of summer sun.


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