This map plots the settings and references in The Unbearable Lightness of Being
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Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Population of the city proper is 1.2 million, and an estimated 1.9 million live in the greater metropolitan area. Located on the Vltava (Moldau) River in the center of the country, Prague has been the center of the Czech state in every way for more than a millennium.
When the novel opens, shortly after Tomas and Tereza have met (roughly in 1961), Tomas works as a surgeon in Prague. Later, when the Communist regime forces him out of his position in medicine, he works in Prague as a window washer. Tomas and Sabina of course meet and begin their long-term affair in Prague, Tereza shoots photos of the Russian invaders and their “welcome” by the Czechs there, and eventually all three of the native Czech characters -- Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina -- escape the city for elsewhere: Tomas and Tereza for the country and Sabina to other nations.
Many images from around the city (for example, the Vltava, Prague Castle, Týn Church, the Old Town Hall, the Astronomical Clock, and Petrin Hill) may be found among the Bookmarks.
Not long after the 1968 Russian invasion, Tomas accepts a job at a hospital in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, sometimes regarded as the cultural capital of the country. (Berne is the political capital, and Geneva -- the second largest city -- is a center for world diplomacy.) Zurich is located in northern Switzerland, where the river Limmat flows from Lake Zurich, and is surrounded by wooded hills.
Zurich is a leading world financial center -- the headquarters of many banking institutions such as UBS and Credit Suisse, and the Swiss stock exchange. Several surveys in 2006-2008 named Zurich the city with the best quality of life in Europe as well as the wealthiest. It is also a center for the arts and culture: Carl Jung lived and died there; James Joyce is buried there; and Wagner, Einstein, and Thomas Mann all spent significant portions of their lives in Zurich.
Tereza goes with Tomas but Sabina also visits. Six or seven months later (probably early 1969), Tereza returns to Prague, and Tomas follows five days later.
After Zurich, Geneva is the second largest city in Switzerland. It is located near the far southwestern corner of the country, where the Rhône River leaves Lake Geneva on its way to France. Population is under 200,000, although 1.24 million live in the metropolitan area.
Geneva is a worldwide center for diplomacy and international relations. Many United Nations and Red Cross agencies have their headquarters here. This is where the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of noncombatants and prisoners of war, were signed.
Sabina is able to visit Tomas in Zurich because a gallery in Geneva hosted a showing of her paintings. She ends up moving here from Prague and meets Franz, who is a university lecturer in Geneva.
City on the northwest coast of Sicily. Founded by the Phoenicians but named by the ancient Greeks (Panormus, meaning "all-port"). The fifth largest city in Italy, its population is estimated around 855,000, though the metropolitan area numbers closer to 1.2 million.
Palermo is one of two Italian cities Franz and Sabina visit on their traveling affair -- the other being Rome. (Venice is mentioned in passing in an unsavory metaphor in section 1 of Part Three, page 82).
A square in Paris named after the French republic.
Žofín Island is the most famous and popular of the islands in the Vltava River in Prague. In the past it was known as Sofie Island (Zofie in Czech), after Princess Sofie, the mother of Frantisek Josef (Franz Joseph), the Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia from 1848 to 1916. Its official name today is Slovanský ostrov (Slovansky Island).
The Zofin Palace, a neo-Renaissance structure, has hosted many balls and concerts. Liszt, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Dvořák (see Bookmark, page 97) and Smetana all performed there.