Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
By Kathryn Hume
The Charles Bridge is arguably the most beautiful gothic bridge in the world. Commissioned by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emporer and King of Bohemia, the bridge has served as an essential link between Prague’s Old Town and the Lesser Quarter and Prague Castle, for hundreds of years.
According to legend, the first stone of the Charles Bridge was layed in 1357, July 9th, at 5.31am. These lucky numbers were given to King Charles IV by astronomers (135797531). However the bridge wasn’t completed until the year 1402. Another unusual legend about the bridge is that eggs were used to strengthen the mortar between the stone blocks and recent tests have revealed that it does indeed contain inorganic and organic properties.
Charles Bridge today
Every day the Charles Bridge welcomes thousands of visitors, who can experience magnificent views from this ancient landmark. By day, the bridge is a lively attraction, lined with many vendors, traders, artists and musicians. By night, the Charles Bridge has fewer visitors, but the views are arguably more spectacular.
The Charles Bridge wasn’t the first bridge to link the two sides of the city. The first bridge was a wooden bridge that collapsed during a flood in the 11th century. Following this King Vratislav I commissioned a stone bridge to be built, named the Judith Bridge, after his wife. This bridge too collapsed during a flood in the 14th century, however, one of the two towers on the west bank still stands, protecting the bridge to this day. Now the Charles Bridge is the oldest of the 17 bridges that cross the Vltava river in Prague, and is by far the most visited.
The bridge features 30 saintly Baroque statues, mostly made of sandstone and added in the 18th century. Most of the statues you see today are replicas, as some of the originals have been swept away by the river, or have been severely weathered by the elements. The original statues are now housed in the Lapidary in the National Museum.
St. John of Nepomuk
The first statue to be erected on the Charles Bridge is made of bronze. This is the statue of St. John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of Bohemia. According to legend John of Nepomuk refused to reveal the confessions of the wife of King Wenceslas IV, and was thrown off the side of the bridge to his death. On that same night, five stars appeared in the sky above the place of his death, which is why there is always a five-starred halo above any statue of St. John of Nepomuk.
The Charles Bridge is almost 10 metres wide and 516 metres long. The Charles Bridge rests on 16 arches, protected by ice guards. In recent years, restoration work has been done on the bridge to ensure its longevity continues.
The Charles Bridge is a must-see on your visit to Prague. The Charles Bridge is the definitive symbol of this beautiful city, and will remain so for years to come.