Brno (German Brünn) is part of the large but, to foreigners, rather invisible portion of the Czech Republic called "not Prague."
Brno, the second largest city in the country and also in former Czechoslovakia, is home to over 400,000 people. Historically, the city was strongly culturally linked to Vienna, to Austria and to Austria-Hungary overall, due to its history within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Many German and German-influenced words have survived in the local dialect to this day.)
Brno is an important industrial, educational, cultural, and political center. Its industries include both heavy and light industries, as well as modern services-based industries, including the GriSoft anti-virus company, Zoner Software, and other internationally-active new-economy firms. Brno is also home to the BVV exhibition center, which presents prestigious exhibitions for products from beer (Pivex) to computers (Invex) to (yuck) weapons (IDET).
It is home to six higher-education institutions. "High-culture" institutions here include, for example, the Janacek theater (named after Leos Janacek, a famous composer from Brno), the Malin Theater, and numerous art and history museums. There are also countless clubs, etc., including a few for alternative culture, such as Alterna and the Vankovka factory-hall. Numerous important music, art, theater, film, etc. festivals also take place throughout each year.
As a political center, Brno is important not only for its standing as the largest city in Moravia (one of the two main historical cultural/political regions in the country, alongside Bohemia), but also as the home to several statewide institutions: the Senate, the High Court, the Constitutional Court (not the same thing as the High Court in the Czech System), the High Prosecutor's office, etc.
"From the north-east and the north-west, the city is surrounded by the beginnings of the Drahany Upland and the Czech-Moravian Highlands, while to the south, Brno's streets blend into the gently undulated plains around the Palava Hills."
--paraphrased from the Brno Technical College's pages on Brno.
Brno is a hill city, dominated by the Spilberk castle and Petrov church, located on two hills in the center of town. Over the centuries, it has absorbed a few more hills, one of which is even reflected in the name of a neighborhood: "Zabrdovice" -- "the village past the small hill." The city has also grown to nearly absorb the nearby recreational reservoir, known in the local dialect as the "spigl" (from German "Spiegel", mirror).
Brno lies about 250 km E-SE of Prague, and... err... about 2 hours by train north from Vienna. Bratislava is also about 2 hours away by train, to Brno's E-SE.
Based on information selected and translated from www.brno.cz
Humans have lived in the Brno valley since prehistoric times; there was provably human habitation on the territory of present-day Brno at the time of the Great Moravian Empire (in the 10th century, AFAIK). Around the year 1000, a settlement was founded next to a ford on the Svratka river, in the area where the Stare Brno ("Old Brno") neighborhood is today. The most common theory regarding the source of the name Brno is that it came from the word for the type of clay found near the ford.
There was a castle here by the 11th century, and three Czech-inhabited market villages under its protection. In the 13th century, foreign traders founded a village at the site of the present-day main square (Dolni namesti, today's Namesti svobody). Brno gradually became a walled city, with royal protection (privilegia). It also became home to five monasteries.
During the religious Hussite Wars, the city stood firmly on the side of King Zikmund (and thus of Catholicism). The city began turning towards Protestantism in the 16th century; it was then forcibly recatholicized. After the Battle of Bila Hora it became, of course, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the Thirty Year's War, it was the only Moravian city to be besieged unsuccessfully by the Swedes (twice!); this was a major factor in Austria's successfully repelling the Swedes. Brno became a major fortress after that war, later also repelling an attack by the Prussians.
After centuries of war, the 18th century brought a new commercial and industrial boom, based on the textile and machine-tooling industries, to Brno. (I've heard the city was once known as the "Moravian Manchester.") The city slowly ceased to be a fortress; for example, the horrible dungeons of the Spilberk castle ceased "activities" and the city walls were gradually removed. In 1850 the city annexed 32 surrounding villages; in the same period, streetcars, gaslighting, etc. were introduced.
As a mixed Czech/German (Austrian) city, Brno saw ethnic tensions, especially at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. During World War II, numerous Czechs were executed in Brno; as revenge, all Germans were forcibly deported in 1945 (note, however, that nearly all Germans in Czechoslovakia were eventually deported anyway under the Benes Decrees).
The city stagnated during Communist times, but is flowering today. Too much! If I see one more cell-phone billboard...
Johann Gregor Mendel -- biologist, abbot, and "first geneticist"
Kurt Godel -- (Godel lived in Brno until the age of 18.)
Authors Karel Capek and Milan Kundera and Thomas Garrigue "Nodeshell" Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president, also studied in Brno.