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Prague  
 
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Situated on the river Vltava, Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. As such, it is the seat of the country's legislative, administrative, business, cultural, and educational institutions. Prague is also the hub of Czech gay and lesbian life, the center of the country's glbtq political rights movement, and a significant gay tourist destination.

The city of Prague has a population of approximately 1.2 million, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population exceeding 1.9 million.

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The Czech Republic was formerly part of the Central European country known as Czechoslovakia, created in 1918 following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. Prague was named the capital of the new nation.

Czechoslovakia became a Communist-ruled state from 1948 until the "Velvet Revolution," a non-violent insurrection that overthrew the Communist government in 1989.

On January 1, 1993, in what has become known as the "Velvet Divorce," Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague became the capital of the newly independent Czech Republic.

Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe and since the 1990s has grown to become one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Since 1992, the historic center of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The Czech Republic has become much more liberal and gay-friendly in recent years, and Prague has a vibrant and visible glbtq population, situated mainly around the Vinohrady area, close to the city center. A number of bars, dance clubs, and guest houses have opened, all catering to the diverse needs of the community and of the increasingly large number of glbtq tourists who flock to the city to enjoy its picturesque charm and friendly atmosphere.

Prague also boasts an annual glbtq film festival, along with occasional gay-themed theater productions and local art installations, as well as lecture series and exhibits on lesbian-related topics at the Prague Gender Studies Centre (GSC).

Homosexuality is legal in the Czech Republic and the minimum age of consent is 15. The Czech Army does not question the sexual orientation of its soldiers, and homosexuality is technically not grounds for dismissal in the military.

The Czech Republic was one of the first post-Communist Central European countries to legalize same-sex partnerships. Although originally vetoed by the Republic's President, Vaclav Klaus, the country's Registered Partnership Act went into effect in 2006, granting many of the same legal rights to same-sex couples that married heterosexuals enjoy, including inheritance rights and the ability to make health care decisions for ailing partners. It does not, however, allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

History

The area on which Prague was founded has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. By the fourth century B.C.E., permanent farming communities were established by the Boii Celtic tribe; in fact, the Latin name for the region, "Boiohaemum" (Bohemia), is derived from the name of the tribe.

From around 870 until 1306, the Pøemyslids, a Czech dynastic family, reigned over most of Bohemia, and established Prague Castle as their permanent royal residence.

Colonization, trade, and cultural activities steadily increased in Central Europe, and Prague, situated in the middle of several continental trade routes, grew in size. Prague's Staré Mesto (Old Town) was founded in 1234 and the Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) in 1257.

Prague truly began to flourish in the fourteenth century during the reign of Charles IV from 1346 to 1378. He personally planned Prague's Nové Mìsto (New Town) district, where Charles Square is located, and ordered the building of St. Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece, located within Prague Castle, which Charles also had rebuilt in the Gothic style. He initiated the building of the Charles Bridge, which crosses the river Vltava, and founded what is today known as Charles University, among the oldest universities in Europe.

In the sixteenth century, the Kingdom of Bohemia came under the dominion of the Habsburg Dynasty, where it would remain for the next three hundred years.

Tensions between Czech Protestants and pro-Habsburg Catholics led to the Thirty Years' War, which began in Prague in 1618, but eventually involved most of Europe.

The Thirty Years' War ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the Kingdom of Bohemia returned to Habsburg rule. The Habsburgs banned all religions other than Catholicism, and Protestant members of the Czech nobility were stripped of their property, which was given to loyal Catholic families. The German language and culture gained in significance throughout the Czech lands. Moreover, the center of the Habsburg court was moved from Prague to Vienna.

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Czech President Vaclav Klaus (top) vetoed a bill supporting domestic partnerships in February, 2006, but Prime Minister Jiøí Paroubek (above) successfully engineered a parliamentary override of the veto in March of the same year.
  
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