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General information about Czech Republic

Czech Republic, landlocked republic in central Europe, comprising the historic regions of Bohemia and Moravia, and part of Silesia. The republic borders Poland to the north, Germany to the northwest and west, Austria to the south, and Slovakia to the east. Prague is its capital and largest city.

The Czech-inhabited lands of Bohemia and Moravia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the early 17th century until 1918, when they were united in a common state with Slovakia and part of Silesia. The new state, a democratic republic known as Czechoslovakia, was broken up during World War II, but was reestablished at the end of the war in 1945. From 1948 to 1989 the republic was ruled by a Communist regime. In November 1989 the Communist government was ousted and Czechoslovakia again became a democratic state. During the early 1990s, political and economic conflicts developed between the Czechs and Slovaks, and leaders of both groups decided to dissolve the republic. In January 1993 Czechoslovakia was replaced by two independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Land and Resources
The total area of the Czech Republic is 78,864 sq km (30,450 sq mi). The maximum distance from east to west is about 490 km (about 305 mi), and the maximum distance from north to south is about 280 km (about 175 mi). Mountain ranges bound much of the country.

Natural Regions
The Czech Republic contains two main regions?Bohemia, located in the west, and Moravia, located in the east. Part of the region of Silesia occupies the north-central section of the country.

The central part of the Czech Republic is dominated by the elevated plateaus of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands and the low plains and rolling hills of the Bohemian Basin. A number of rivers drain these areas, and much of the country?s farmland is located there. Rising along the edges of these central regions and extending outward to form much of the country?s natural border are a number of mountain ranges. The Erzgebirge in the north and the ?umava Mountains in the west, are known for their spas and ski resorts. The ?umava comprise part of the B?rwald (Bohemian Forest), a highland region located in the west and southwest that forms the country?s border with Germany. The Sudety mountains are located in the north and form part of the border with Poland. The Sudety range includes the Krkono?e Mountains, which contain the country?s highest point, Sne?ka (1,603 m/5,259 ft). One of the country?s largest nature reserves is also located in the Sudety range. Extending along the Czech-Slovak border in the southeastern part of the country is a section of the Carpathian Mountains. Also located in the southeast are the Moravian Lowlands, which contain the fertile valley of the Morava River where a variety of crops are grown.

Rivers and Lakes
The main rivers of the Czech Republic are the Elbe (known locally as the Labe), the Vltava, the Ohre, the Morava, the Lu?nice, the Jihlava, and the Svratka. The S?va, Odra (Oder), and Opava rivers are also important.

The Czech Republic has a humid, continental climate, with cold winters and warm summers. The average temperature range in Prague is -5ºC (22ºF) to 0ºC (33ºF) in January and 12ºC (53ºF) to 23ºC (74ºF) in July. Temperatures generally decrease with increasing altitude. Prague receives an average of 530 mm (21 in) of precipitation annually. Precipitation is generally heaviest during the summer months.

Population and Settlement
The Czech people are descended from Slavic tribes who arrived in Bohemia and Moravia in the 5th century ad. The Czechs are the country?s dominant ethnic group, representing about 94 percent of the population; Slovaks account for about 3 percent; and Poles, Germans, Roma (Gypsies), and Hungarians comprise most of the remainder.

Principal Cities
Prague (population, 1999 estimate, 1,193,270) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Other important cities include Brno (384,727), an educational and industrial center; Ostrava (322,111), a center for metallurgical industries; Plzen (168,422), noted for its breweries; and Olomouc (103,372), a trade and industrial center.

The official language of the Czech Republic is Czech, a language of the West Slavic subgroup of Slavic languages. Moravians speak a form of Czech that differs slightly from the form spoken in Bohemia. Slovaks speak Slovak, a language closely related to Czech. Members of other ethnic groups generally speak Czech in addition to their own native languages.

The principal religion of the Czech Republic is Christianity. Approximately 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Protestant denominations account for about 3 percent of the population. About 5 percent of people in the Czech Republic are athiest. Many of those who identify as members of religious organizations do not practice their religion actively.

Prior to World War II (1939-1945), the country had a large Jewish population. Most of the Jews died in the Holocaust, the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jews of Europe. There are currently between 15,000 and 18,000 Jews living in the Czech Republic; the Jewish population is centered in Prague.

Recent Developments
In November 1997 Václav Klaus and his cabinet were forced to resign amid a campaign finance scandal, and a caretaker administration was appointed to lead the government until parliamentary elections could be held in June. President Havel was reelected in January 1998 to a second five-year term. Havel, who had earned enemies with his public criticism of Klaus, won by a narrow margin in parliament.

The Social Democrats emerged as the largest party following parliamentary elections in June 1998, winning 32 percent of the seats. Miloš Zeman, chairman of the Social Democrats, was appointed prime minister and formed a minority government after promising key parliamentary posts to Klaus’s Civic Democrats, who won the second-largest number of seats. In June 2002 parliamentary elections the Social Democrats again emerged as the largest party, this time claiming 30 percent of the seats. Vladimir Spidla, who took over leadership of the Social Democrats following Zeman’s decision to retire, was appointed prime minister. Spidla’s Social Democrats formed a coalition government with the center-right Coalition, an electoral alliance of the Christian-Democratic Union-Czech People’s Party and the Freedom Union.

In February 2003 Klaus was elected president of the Czech Republic by the national parliament. Klaus succeeded Havel, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term in office. The vote revealed deep rifts within the Social Democrat-led government, which failed in two previous votes, held in January, to elect their own candidate to the presidency. Klaus was narrowly elected with 142 votes in the 181-seat parliament, just one vote more than he needed for a majority.

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