The majestic Charles Bridge over the Vltava river is one of the main symbols of the Czech capital. It’s more than 600 years old and features pedestrian-only cobblestone surface with traditional streetlamps, beautiful statues and bustling with street artists and tourists. The 621-meter-long bridge connects two prominent neighborhoods in Prague – the Old Town and Malá Strana – but the bridge itself is a very special attraction all on its own.
According to historical records, another bridge had already been built prior to the current one – the Judith Bridge. However, it was too low, had more arches and was longer. It was destroyed by a flood in 1342, so King Charles IV ordered the construction a replacement: thus, the Charles Bridge was born. This enterprise was directed by the famous architect and sculptor Petr Parler, who also participated in the construction of the amazing St. Vitus Cathedral. Throughout history, the Charles Bridge has endured repeated floodings, damage and repair. It was also the epicenter of several notable events in the history of Czech Republic. Owing to its resilience, historical significance and architecture, Charles Bridge holds immense value as the heritage from the distant past.
Architecture and highlights
The art of Charles Bridge is exceptional. There are 30 statues across its length – mostly replicas of the originals which are now preserved and exhibited at the National Museum – and each one has an interesting story to tell. One of the most famous is the statue of St. John Nepomucene: legend goes that the statue lies in the exact spot where the national saint was thrown alive into the river. Another example is that of a small dog which preserves its original color owing to a local superstition: anyone who rubs the puppy will return to Prague again.
On the Old Town’s side, the bridge ends in a remarkably gothic bridge tower. It is decorated by magnificent sculptures, all masterpieces of Petr Parler. On the other side, the bridge is protected by two towers of different heights: the Judith Tower (the oldest) dates back to the XII century, and the highest tower dates from the XV century, offering a beautiful panoramic view over Prague. For a small fee, you can climb both of these towers to enjoy a spectacular view of the city.
A picturesque experience
Crossing the bridge is a delightful walk, but it tends to become very crowded on the busiest hours. It is worth crossing in the morning hours when it is relatively empty. Then you will be able to see the traders mounting and selling their crafts, and you might even manage to get a caricature or portrait from one of the street artists!