Charles Bridge Charles Bridge Charles Bridge Charles Bridge 

Charles Bridge - Connects the Lesser Town and the Old Town

Charles Bridge

Connects the Lesser Town and the Old Town

Charles Bridge, “the rare and most beneficial jewel of Prague”, as it is depicted in the old chronicles of bridges, is a unique cultural monument, which is registered along with the whole Prague Preserve in UNESCO World Heritage List. As such - sacred and kind of conserved in its grandeur – it is mostly perceived today, although this approach is a phenomenon of the modern times, and our ancestors for whom the bridge used to be, above all, a road and utility constructi-on would not understand it. Just like the history of nations and states, the history of Charles Bridge includes a series of disasters – indeed, who would care to read about the usual life of Prague residents and non-residents hurrying over the bridge to see to their businesses, about laughter, shouting and thundering of cartmen, tradesmen and servant maids, about quarrelling and squabbling about the customs duty and toll. Flood or war – that is another cup of tea! A grandiose construction, as well as witness of the common life, natural disasters, wars and other forms of human stupidity – that is Charles Bridge. Out of numerous floods that had swept through Prague during six and a half centuries of its existence, those in the years 1359, 1432, 1496, 1655, 1784, 1845, and 1890 caused considerable damage to Charles Bridge; miraculously, it had always been repaired to be the same as it had been built and it has maintained its im-posing Gothic form.

The first stone bridge over the river Vltava in Prague, Judith Bridge, was destroyed by the flood in 1342 under the reign of John of Luxembourg (1296-1346) who was represented in ab-sence by his son Margrave of Moravia Charles of Luxembourg, the future king Charles IV. A wooden provision was built on the remnants of Judith Bridge after the disaster; it was evident, however, that the town as large and significant as Prague was could not do with a wooden foot bridge, fords and ferries. Although King John planned to repair the collapsed bridge, Margrave Charles supported a more radical solution – he wanted to build a new, larger and higher bridge that would last forever. Because the state treasury was empty, as usual, Charles asked the Order of the Knights of the Cross with Red Star for contribution (the Order had already taken care of Judith Bridge and collected the customs duty and toll). Charles received assistance also from Archbishop Arnošt of Pardubice (1297-1305) who solicited subscriptions throughout his bisho-pric. The foundation stone of the new bridge was laid under the personal presence of Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV fifteen years after the collapse of Judith Bridge, exactly on 9 July 1357 at 5.31 o’clock (the date and time is known exactly because a memorial tablet was found in the Old Town Bridge Tower during one of repairs). It is frequently claimed that the foundation stone was laid by King Charles in person – it is hardly true because it was a huge millstone. The construction works began from the Old Town bank. Just like the metropolitan cathedral being erected within eyeshot, the new bridge was also consecrated to St. Vitus. Bridge foundation crowned the first era of Charles reign during which he founded, amongst other, St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle (1344), Prague University, New Town of Prague, as well as the Karlstein Castle (all in 1348), and enacted the constitution called Golden Bull (1356). Is there better evidence about the growing power of the Czech state under the reign of the wise Father of the Czech Nation?

The parameters of the Stone Bridge of Prague were amazing at that time and they are still respectable today, in the era of concrete and steel miracles of bridge-building. It was the fourth large stone bridge in Bohemia (coming after the older Judith Bridge in Prague, the still existing bridge in the town of Písek, and the bridge in the town of Roudnice nad Labem, which does not exist any more). Charles Bridge is 515.8 meters long and 9.4-9.5 meters wide; the bridge deck is 13 meters over the level of the river Vltava; that means Charles Bridge is 2 meters longer, 3 meters wider and 4 meters higher rather than the preceding Judith Bridge. It was built parallel with Judith Bridge, some 6 meters upstream Vltava. At the Old Town bank, Charles Bridge leads by a carriageway in the Old Town Bridge Tower to the Knights of the Cross Square (Kři-žovnické náměstí) and then to the Karlova Street; at the Lesser Town bank, Charles Bridge leads between the Lesser Town Bridge Towers to the Mostecká Street. Charles Bridge has 16 arches of various spans; from 16.62 meters (under the Old Town Tower) up to 23.38 meters (over the district Kampa); the pier ground-plan is 8.5-10.8 meters to 24.0-25.0 meters; the pier gridirons are pointed upstream in the angle of 65°, being distinctly less pointed downstream. The pier under the Old Town Tower is usually marked as Pier No. 0 and the Lesser Town bank pier as Pier No. 10. One more arch is located at the Old Town side, while Piers Nos. 11-15 and Abutment Pier No. 16 are on the Lesser Town side. Piers Nos. 0-14 were originally built as the upstream ones; the nowadays island of Kampa was, however, piled up in the 15th and 16th cen-turies in the Lesser Town and the river Vltava was narrowed to the east. The remaining part of the main channel became known as Čertovka (Devil’s Stream) and Piers Nos. 10 through 14 became riverside ones. Similarly, Pier No. 0 became integrated in the development area on the Old Town bank. Today, Piers Nos. 1-9 are upstream ones. The arches are marked using Roman numerals I-XIV. The bridge is cranked three times along its length and it is slightly hump upstream; that is why you cannot see the paving on the other bridge side. Charles Bridge is a world in itself; attracting passers-by to stop and wait for a moment and look around. A series of disasters and subsequent repairs caused that it is a lesser part only that has been preserved from the original bridge to these days (the section over Kampa and three arches at the Old Town Bridge Tower); the other sections are younger; the appearance of Charles Bridge has been, however, miraculously preserved in spite of all reconstructions and the bridge still looks like it had been in the early 15th century when the construction of Charles Bridge had been completed (except for the sculptural gallery, which is much younger).

Charles Bridge in Dates


According to Hájek’s Chronicle, the first Prague bridge over the river Vltava was built; the report is considered as uncertain

about 935

A wooden bridge is mentioned in the Christian’s legend; further evidence about the existence of a bridge in Prague is from 1002, 1086, 1118 and


when the wooden bridge was destroyed by flood.

after 1125

The lower Lesser Town Tower was built as part of fortification of the left bank of the river Vltava.


The stone Judith Bridge was built (according to some sources, it was completed in 1181).


Judith Bridge was damaged by flood; and repaired.


The flood destroyed 18 of 24 piers of Judith Bridge; a provisional wooden footbridge was built on the remnants.


Charles IV laid the foundation stone of a new bridge, which is called today Charles Bridge; the construction was taken over in the 1360’s or 1370’s by Peter Parler after Master Otto.


The flood destroyed a pier of the bridge under construction and part of the adjacent wooden foot-bridge.


The dead body of Charles IV was transported over the new bridge to be buried in St. Vitus Cathedral.

after 1380

The carcass of the Old Town Bridge Tower was completed.


The builder Peter Parler died.


The bridge constructionwas fully completed.


A bridge tower was built at the Lesser Town end of the bridge.


The Prague University rector John Huss posted his protest against indulgence on both sides of the bridge.


The flood broke the bridge in three places and damaged heavily five piers.


The rights and duties to the bridge were given to the Old Town burgesses (till then, the rights and duties had belonged to the Order of the Knights of the Cross).


A joust in honour of King Sigismund took place on the repaired bridge.


The first demonstrated measuring of the level of Vltava by the relief of Beardy Man.


George of Poděbrady confirmed the rights of the Old Town burgesses to the bridge.


George of Poděbrady founded the today’s higher Lesser Town Tower and had the bridge decorated with several sculptures.


The flood undermined one of the piers; when a heavy cargo was transported, the pier and two adjacent bridge arches collapsed.


The bridge was damaged by another flood; its repair was completed two years later.


The repair and decoration of the lower Lesser Town Tower; manure and waste dumps round the Lesser Town end of the bridge were abolished.


“Winter king” Frederick of Palatine escaped over the bridge after the Battle of White Mountain.


Heads of beheaded Czech lords were exhibited on the castellation of the Old Town Bridge Tower.


The corpus of Christ was installed; it is the oldest, still preserved part of the bridge decoration.


The Swedish gunnery destroyed the Gothic decoration of the bridge and damaged the frontage of the Old Town Bridge Tower.


The flood undermined several bridge piers and exposed their foundations.


The first statue of the future Baroque gallery was installed on the bridge (St. John of Nepomuk); by 1714, 28 statues and statuaries were installed on the bridge, most of them in1706–1714.


Opened on the bridge was one of five standpoints where go-carts and carriers could have been hired.


The levels of floods began to be recorded in ells over the normal level, not according to the Beardy Man.


Augustin Neuräutter depicted the bridge and its statues in a set of engravings, which are still a valuable source of learning the original status of the Baroque sculptural decoration.


Oil lighting was installed on the bridge.


Five bridge piers were damaged by flood; the guard-room with guards collapsed to the river; guards on the bridge were abolished.


The first (wooden) steps from the bridge to Kampa were built.


The right-side traffic was ordered on the bridge (the first traffic regulation in our country).


The basket and pulley for lowering down tricky bakers were removed from the bridge.


The toll and customs dutyceased to be collected on the bridge.


The bridge stalls at the Lesser Town bank were pulled down.


Omnibuses, the first means of Prague mass traffic, began to go over the bridge.


Cast-iron pavement with nonskid grooves was laid on the bridge.


The chain Bridge of Emperor Franz I was put into operation; until that year the Stone Bridge was the only Prague crossing of the river Vltava.


The wooden steps to Kampa were replaced with stone neo-Gothic steps.


Oil lighting was replaced with gas lighting.


Windischgrätz’ imperial army damaged several statues by gunnery.


The Office of the Prague Bridge was abolished.


The damaged Baroque statues and statuaries were replaced with new ones.


Railway cars from the factory at Smíchov were transported over the bridge to the today’s Masaryk Railway Station.


The bridge was given the official name of Charles Bridge (till then it had been called the Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge).


The bridge towers were restored with great expenses.


The horse tram began going over the bridge.


Flood; water and driftwood displaced two piers, broke three bridge arches and damaged several others; the sculptural decoration on the bridge was damaged, too.


The bridge reconstruction was completed; the piers repaired were anchored using caissons.


The other bridge piers were reinforced using collars of smaller caissons.


The horse-tram was replaced with electric tram.


Tram was replaced with buses.


Bus traffic was abolished (in whole Prague).


The image of the bridge appeared on three-, five- and ten-heller crowns of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.


Bus traffic re-introduced.


The statuary of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the youngest sculpture on the bridge, was installed.


Bus traffic on the bridge was discontinued.


A barricade was built in the carriageway of the Old Town Bridge Tower during the Prague May Insurrection.


The bridge was declared national cultural monument.


Car traffic was discontinued on the bridge; since that year the bridge is used by pedestrians only.


Original sculptures began to be replaced with copies.


The fairway in the third arch of Charles Bridge was deepened; one of the piers of Judith Bridge was broken.


General reconstruction of the bridge.


The Prague Preservation including Charles Bridge became part of UNESCO World Heritage.


Explanatory tables were added to the crucifix with the text in Hebrew, which was offensive for Jews.


Prague was hit by one of the worst floods in the history; the bridge stood the test perfectly.


The Prague municipal council organized a public subscription for repair of Charles Bridge; it was a complete failure.


Anchoring of the eighth and ninth piers.


The concrete copies of statues on the Old Town Bridge Tower were replaced with sandstone ones.


The bridge reconstruction will begin; it will focus mainly on insulationof the structure from rain water.

The Statues on Charles Bridge

If we walk across Charles Bridge nowadays, it does not even cross our mind that the bridge did not always look like this – for the most part of its history, it was a “mere” stunning piece of architecture adorned at both ends with towers. Today’s gallery of statues on Charles Bridge is much younger than the actual bridge – the oldest statue on the bridge is from 1659, the most recent one from 1938. The main part of the gallery with 21 statues was created by the most prominent sculptors of Central Europe during the years of 1706-14; it is believed that the bridge was modeled after the Bridge of Angels in front of Hadrian’s Mausoleum in Rome. Nowadays, there are 31 statues and statuaries with about 100 figures, including angels, devils and animals, on the bridge. Most of the statues are made of local sandstone; one statue is made of marble and one of bronze. The size and quality of this gallery is beyond comparison in Europe, except perhaps the one in Würzburg, Germany, which, however, does not have the breathtaking panorama of the castle. Sculptor Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, the most prominent pupil of Auguste Rodin, who visited Prague in 1909, stood on Charles Bridge in astonishment and called it an Antique centaur: with a Gothic bottom and Baroque top, the bridge thus represents a union of two living, fascinating organisms.

We do not know much about the oldest adornment of Charles Bridge. The documents from 1361 already mention a cross. During the rule of King George of Poděbrady, the king’s equestrian statue is believed to have stood on the bridge. Historian Balbín talked about an allegoric statue of Justice, a column with a lion, Calvary and a crucifix. In the year of 1506, the symbol of the rights of the Old Town over the bridge, the statue of Knight Roland that later on was identified with Prince Bruncvík from Czech legends, was added to the bridge; it has been replaced with a liberal version made by Ludvík Šimek. The sculptural adornment was totally destroyed when Prague people fought the Swedish army in 1648; the bridge was empty for decades, except for Calvary from 1629 with the Virgin Mary, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene under the cross, made of painted wooden boards.

In 1659, a bronze body of Jesus Christ, which after several renovations became the base for today’s statuary of the Calvary Cross, was mounted onto the wooden cross. The bronze statue of St. John of Nepomuk, made based on a wooden model of Jan Brokof and placed on the bridge in 1683, was the first statue of today’s gallery and, eight years later, was followed by the statuary of Pieta made by the same scupltor. However, the actual gallery of statues was erected on the bridge during the years of 1706-14 in respect to the preparations for the canonization of John of Nepomuk that Czech estates pursued in Rome. University faculties, friaries and rich people ordered and paid for statues and statuaries made by foremost Baroque sculptors; by the end of 1714, there were already 26 statues, including the best sculptures of Matyáš Bernard Braun and Ferdinand Maxmilián Brokof. A sad year in the history of Charles Bridge was the revolutionary year of 1848, when the imperial army damaged some of the statues; however, the bridge survived without any major damage.

Four years later, when sculptor Josef Max was asked to evaluate the condition of the gallery on Charles Bridge, he said that the statues were created during the biggest artistic decadence and were not worth renovating (actually, Josef Max was not the first one to harshly criticize the Baroque statues and the Baroque style in general; his forerunner, František Lothar Ehemant (1748–1782), a professor of the Prague University who evaluated the statues in 1772, said that the majority of the statues were way below any criticism. He then saw through that the majority of statues made by Jan Brokof, whom he did not like, were removed from the bridge). Thus, starting in the year of 1853, the brothers Josef Max and Emanuel Max and their pupil Josef Kamil Böhm began to replace the Baroque jewels with their Romantic statues; they perhaps wanted to make Charles Bridge all Gothic again according to the Romantic motto, the “revival of the medieval spirit.” However, they had time to replace only three statues and add some new statues because they were faced with huge opposition coming mainly from the generation of sculptors Josef Václav Myslbek (1848–1922) and Ludvík Šimek who continued with the legacy of the Brokofs and stressed the value of the Baroque style and its creativity.

The flood of 1890 also negatively impacted the unity of the sculptural adornment on the bridge, taking down the bridge, including two statuaries made by Brokof; the statue of St. Francis Xavier returned to the bridge as a copy and the empty space left after the statue of St. Ignatius was filled in 1938 with the statuary of St. Cyril and St. Methodius made by Karel Dvořák. Fortunately, the gallery of statues on Charles Bridge was not touched by the revivalist tendencies in 1918 nor by the political development after 1948 and thus represents the grand legacy of Czech history. Since the year of 1965, the precious originals of the statues have been replaced by copies.

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