The impressive Charles Bridge with its sixteen arches is one of the highlights of Prague. The city’s oldest bridge is named after Emperor Charles IV, who ordered its construction in 1357 and personally placed the first stone. The bridge didn’t acquire its current name until 1870, however. Before then it was simply known as the Stone Bridge.
Back in 1350, Prague did not have a bridge to connect the castle on one side of the Vltava river with the city on the other. The existing bridge had been destroyed by floods in 1340. Construction of the new 516 m long, 9.5 m wide Charles Bridge had its problems, however, as we can still see today. Various miscalculations meant that the span of the bridge ended up being shaped like an S. The thirty statues of saints on either side of the bridge were erected over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The oldest statue depicts the crucifixion of Christ and dates back to 1667. The statues were gifts from judiciaries and noblemen involved in the counterreformation within the Catholic church, in which Prague played a pivotal role. The statues were erected to make the bridge look more like the St. Angelo Bridge in Rome.
The strong current of the Vltava was taken into account when designing the bridge. Sandstone was used as it does not erode in fast currents, while the pillars were streamlined to ensure an optimal flow-through. It has been said that the cement was mixed with eggs to provide extra strength but numerous tests have failed to either prove or disprove this claim. In addition to the Charles Bridge itself, the bridge tower on the south end is also worth a visit. It is renowned as one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the world.
To the delight of the countless visitors, the bridge is only open to pedestrians. It’s still always busy with artists trying to sell their paintings and drawings and street performers entertaining the crowds. In the evening the bridge is a popular meeting place for the young. Tip: Local legend has it that if you touch the two copper plates of the statue of John of Nepomuk at the same time, you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of good luck.
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