The Charles Bridge – The Jewel of Prague
The Charles Bridge is one of Prague’s most famous attractions, located in the middle of a city known for its Gothic and Baroque architecture. It is the oldest bridge standing over the Vtlava River, and the second-oldest bridge in the Czech Republic. It was constructed by order of King Charles IV, and took between the years 1357 and 1402 to complete.
Charles IV ordered the construction of Charles Bridge because the original one in that location, Judith Bridge, had been destroyed by a flood in 1342. Judith Bridge had been built to replace wooden logs across the river, and had stood since 1170. Charles IV hired a renowned German-Czech architect, Peter Parler, to build a new and improved bridge to connect the two parts of the city.
Peter Parler is also responsible for Saint Vitus’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn in Prague, and set out to construct a magnificent bridge over the Vtlava River. Charles IV is said to have laid the first stone of the bridge on the 9th of July 1357 at 05:31 for magical purposes (it creates the sequence 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1), but he would not survive to see its completion in 1402.
It is rumoured that the bridge, constructed of sandstone blocks, had eggs mixed into the mortar to make it stronger, and eggs were drawn from across the entire country to get enough for the massive bridge. While historians cannot confirm if this story is true or not, it is interesting to think you could be standing on stone mixed with eggs that are hundreds of years old.
While we call it Charles Bridge now, it wasn’t actually called that until 1870. Before then, it went by Stone Bridge, and until 1841 it was the only bridge over the Vltava River in Prague.
Charles Bridge is made up of 15 pillars and is 516 meters long, 9.5 meters wide. There are 3 large Gothic towers, the Old Town Bridge Tower and Lesser Town Bridge Towers, at each end of the bridge, and all can be climbed to get a spectacular view of both ends of Prague, Old Town and Malá Strana, for a small fee.
Charles Bridge is now a pedestrian bridge, though there have been times throughout its history that horse trams, electrical lines, and buses have all crossed over it. However, for the preservation of the bridge, it is pedestrian-only now.
One of the most spectacular parts of the bridge are the 30 sculptures down the bridge. Each sculpture is of tremendous significance, and have been made or re-made throughout the years since the late 17th century.
St. John of Nepomuk is the oldest original statue that is still standing, placed on the bridge in 1683. This statue stands at the point where King Wenceslas IV had John thrown to his death from the bridge for refusing to reveal information the king’s wife had said during confession. Rumour has it that if you touch the falling priest on the plaque under his statue, you will have good luck and will return to Prague one day.
The statues were placed on the bridge starting in 1683 to bring Catholicism back to the city after the end of the Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648 after a final conflict on the Charles Bridge at the Battle of Prague. The last statue was placed on the bridge in 1908.
Best Time to Visit
Charles Bridge is in the middle of many of the main attractions in Prague, including the Prague Castle. This means that it can get very busy during the day when there are many tourists. If you aren’t planning on climbing one of the towers, it may be best to go in the early morning before it gets busy, or in the evening to see it at night among the lights of Prague.
Prague is also known to be beautiful in the winter, and seeing the bridge dusted with snow is a sight you really won’t want to miss.
Getting to the Bridge
Charles Bridge is a central part of the city, if you walk along the Vltava River you cannot miss it. It is in walking distance from Prague Castle on one side, and the Old Town Square on the other. It is also close to the John Lennon Wall and Lovers Bridge, and accessible by metro, tram, or bus.
Words by Megan Barnard