Although there are 18 bridges crossing the Vltava River in Prague, the Charles Bridge (Karlův Most in Czech) is the most famous in the city and also the oldest of them all!
Being the largest Gothic civil work in the world, it is able to transport us to medieval Prague as we cross.
|Frequently Asked Questions||Answers|
|Year construction began||9th of July 1357|
|Year of completion||1402|
|Chief Architect||Master Otto and Pter Parler|
|Bridge Dimensions||516m long and 10m wide|
|Number of arches||16 arches|
|Number of statues||30 sculptures, 15 per side.|
Nothing will help you get to know Prague’s history than an enthusiastic tour guide.
‘Prague Free Castle Tour & Charles Bridge‘ tour is FREE!
It is located in the center of the city, majestically fortified with two Gothic towers. Originally, the Charles Bridge was known as “Prague Bridge” or “Stone Bridge”, since there was only one in the city and it did not need further introduction. In 1870 it was renamed after its main promoter, Emperor Charles IV, and has remained under the name of Charles Bridge until today.
This indispensable connection between the two banks of the Vltava River, has withstood major floods, onslaughts of ice spandrels and several wars, two of them world wars, for nearly 700 years, standing firm but often not in one piece. We can say that it has earned its place as a World Heritage Site; are you ready to get to know the most important things?
How was Charles Bridge built?
The first bridge in Prague
As mentioned above, the Charles Bridge may be one of the most famous bridges in the world, but it was not the first bridge in Prague, which many people think because of its age. Prior to the construction of the Charles Bridge there were two other bridges that preceded it almost in the same place where it is today.
Following the course of the river, the first of them was in the tenth century a small pedestrian bridge built of wood. It was the first bridge in Prague that allowed crossing the river from one side to the other and brought the small settlements on both sides closer together. At that time Prague was far from being the great capital it would become centuries later.
The wooden bridge was finally destroyed in 1157 by a heavy flood.
Judith Bridge, the first stone bridge.
After the destruction of the small wooden bridge and both banks were cut off, it forced King Vladislav II to start the construction of the first stone bridge in Prague in 1160, much more robust and durable, which would be completed in 1172. This second bridge would be in Romanesque style and was baptized as Judith Bridge in honor of the wife of Vladislav II.
The Judith Bridge was 516 meters long and 7 meters wide and consisted of 21 arches. It was in operation until 1342 when another strong flood destroyed a good part of the structure.
Although the Judith Bridge was almost entirely replaced by the Charles Bridge, today there are still many remnants of its existence. Under the Church of the Knights of the Red Star you can still see part of its arches and foundations. Also, divers recently found the bases of several pillars that are still underwater.
Although King John of Luxembourg planned to repair the collapsed bridge, at the time, Margrave Charles supported a more radical solution: he wanted to build a new, bigger and higher bridge that would last forever.
History of the Charles Bridge
Full of stories, tales and legends, the Charles Bridge is one of the most emblematic places of the city of Prague; visited by many tourists who travel daily along its 516 meters long and with a width of 8.4 meters. Its design was thought so that four carriages could pass in parallel.
It was in the year 1357 when Emperor Charles IV decided to start the construction of a stone bridge by the architect Master Otto and later Pter Parler. After 45 years of construction, in 1402 Prague began to enjoy its new stone bridge, guarded by two towers, a small one from the twelfth century and another of greater height that was completed 300 years later.
Towards the Old Town side of Prague you can admire a tower in Gothic style that serves as an access to the bridge. While crossing to the Mala Strana side you will cross a structure that has more than 650 years of history.
The bridge has withstood the floods of the Vltava River for more than six centuries, four wars, two of them world wars and we can say that today it is still almost intact, requiring only some repairs, some bigger than others, but the important thing is that it is still standing.
Charles Bridge sculptures
The bridge is decorated on both sides by 30 statues of saints in baroque style, most of which were erected in the 17th-18th centuries. Today some of the original statues are preserved in the Lapidarium of the National Museum, about a third of them are still from the Baroque period, while the others are exact replicas of the originals.
In addition to the spectacular views that the bridge offers to both sides of the city, what characterizes it most are the sculptures made in baroque style, a delight for art lovers.
Although many believe that the sculptures were part of the original plan of the bridge, the truth is that they have been a later addition. The first of them was a representation of Christ crucified on a wooden cross in the year 1378. That first sculpture would not last long, as it was destroyed by the Hussites a few years later during the Hussite wars. The bronze statue of Christ that we see today was made in 1657.
The most famous statue on Charles Bridge is undoubtedly that of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech saint with a curious story behind him. It was designed by John Brokof and made in 1683.
It is necessary that you make the journey from one side of the bridge to the other so you can appreciate the details of each of these figures, which represent the saints mentioned below.
From Old Town to Malá Strana, on your left side
Starting the tour from the tower on the side corresponding to the Old Town, you will find the sculptures of:
St. Ivo, St. Barbara, St. Margaret and St. Elizabeth, Pietà, St. Joseph, St. Francis Xavier, St. Christopher, St. Francis Borgia, St. Ludmila, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Procopius, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, St. Lutgard, St. Adalbert, Saints John of Mata, Felix of Valois and Ivan, St. Wenceslas.
You can also observe the sculpture of Bruncvík that is located outside this group at water level, carved on the basis of a fragment of the original during the year 1884 by Ludvík Šimek. It is a statue of the knight Roland, holding in one hand his sword and in the other hand the shield, while at his feet rests a lion.
From Old Town to Mala Strana, on your right side
As part of the tour in the opposite direction, you have the opportunity to meet the following statues:
Virgin Mary and St. Bernard, Bearded, Virgin Mary, St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas, Calvary, the Holy Cross, St. Anne, Saints Cyril and Methodius, St. John the Baptist, St. Norbert, St. Wenceslas and St. Sigismund, St. John Nepomuk, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Jude Thaddeus, St. Augustine, St. Cajetan, St. Philip Benedict, St. Vitus, St. Cosmas and St. Damian with the Savior.
One of the most popular sculptures is the Calvary and the Holy Cross, since during the year 1361 it represented the first decoration of the Charles Bridge, although as a result of the floods it has been replaced several times. The present one corresponds to the year 1657, while the rest of the sculptures were added mainly at the beginning of the 18th century.
These statues are the work of great artists of Bohemia, among which stand out names such as Jan Brokoff and his sons, Matthias Braun, Emanuel Max, among others, while the oldest of all these sculptures is that of St. John of Nepomuk from 1683.
The Bridge Towers
The Charles Bridge is guarded at each end by towers, one of which you can see on the Old Town side, while the other two are on the Small Town or as it is also called ” Lesser Town “.
Tower on the side of Staré Město
This side of the bridge is known as the Old Town and its tower is made in Gothic style, being part of the design by the architect Peter Parler, the same who was in charge of the Charles Bridge. Inside you will enjoy a panoramic view of the bridge and the castle, as well as learn how the tower was built.
Towers on the Lesser Town side
These interesting towers are connected by a small bridge, each of them is made in different architectural styles. The first, smaller tower dates back to the 12th century and was built in a combination of Renaissance and Romanesque styles.
The large tower was built many years later, in 1464, in a Gothic style in accordance with the architecture of the Charles Bridge and in order to harmonize with the tower of the Old Town.
It offers tourists a series of exhibitions and they can reach its highest point, taking advantage of a gallery that connects these two buildings.
It is always crowded with tourists, so the ideal is to arrive early and enjoy the views, take pictures, visit the stores in the area and walk around. You can even go on and enjoy the surrounding areas, such as the Castle and Petrino Hill, admire the statue of Charles IV in the Plaza de los Cruzados or the church of San Francisco de Serafin.
Floods and reconstruction
Only ten years after construction began in 1367, one of the pillars of the unfinished structure was destroyed by floods. Several times before its completion, Charles Bridge was threatened by floods (1359, 1367, 1370, etc.) that caused extensive damage.
In 1432, during floods that also affected much of the old town, the bridge broke at three points and five of its pillars were severely damaged. Repairs took an incredible 71 years. New piers were driven into the river bottom by hand piling.
More damage was suffered by Charles Bridge in 1784 when pieces of broken rafts and ice blocked the arches and the water carried away the pillars on which the military guards were standing and traffic on the bridge had to be severely restricted for some time. A similar situation occurred in 1890, when wooden poles from broken rafts crashed into the piers.
One by one the fifth, sixth and seventh arches (counting from the Malá Strana side) gave way. A new construction method was used during subsequent repairs, when the pillars were placed on iron cofferdams. This method was gradually used to reinforce the remaining pillars. The most recent general repair was carried out in the years 1965 to 1978. Damaged sandstone slabs were removed, while a 1920s asphalt surface was replaced with split granite blocks. Since about 2001, plans have been in place to refurbish the top of the bridge and its arches.
Legends of Charles Bridge
Although there are many, one of the most famous legends of the Charles Bridge refers to the ingredients that were used for its construction. Although it is difficult to verify, it is said that to make the mortar stronger and waterproof it, egg yolks and cow’s milk were mixed with the aim of strengthening the construction and the joints of the blocks. The curious thing is that modern laboratory tests have shown that the mortar contained both organic and inorganic ingredients.
On the pedestal of the statue of St. John of Nepomuk, you will see that there is something that shines quite bright and surely there is someone touching it. Legend has it that if you touch the depiction of John of Nepomuk (an upside down man falling) you will return to Prague in the future. Our recommendation is that you do not touch anything, even if it seems a harmless gesture, millions of people pass through there every year and if each person touches it, we will be destroying a work of art little by little.
It is also known that the first stone for the construction of the bridge was made at 5.31 am on July 9, 1357, if we look at the numbers, it would be: 1 3 5 5 7 7 9 7 7 5 5 3 1. It is a correlation of odd numbers, ascending and descending Numerology in the fourteenth century! It is said that by starting the construction at that time it was going to give extra protection to the bridge and that it would last forever, we can say that at the moment it works.