Prague is the magic capital of Europe. Since the days of Emperor Rudolf II, 'devotee of the stars and cultivator of the spagyric art', who in the late 1500s summoned alchemists and magicians from all over the world to his castle on Hradcany hill, it has been a place of mystery and intrigue. Wars, revolutions, floods, the imposition of Soviet communism, or even the depredations of the tourist boom after the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989, could not destroy the unique atmosphere of this beautiful, proud and melancholy city on the Vltava. John Banville traces Prague's often tragic history and portrays the people who made it, the emperors and princes, geniuses and charlatans, heroes and scoundrels, and paints a portrait of the Prague of today, revelling in its newfound freedoms, eager to join the European Community and at the same time suspicious of what many Praguers see as yet another totalitarian takeover. He writes of his first visit to the city, in the depths of the Cold War, when he engaged in a spot of art smuggling, and of subsequent trips there, of the people he met, the friends he made, the places he came to know.