Few bridges match the romantic ambiance of Prague’s picturesque Charles Bridge. The structure is one of the best-loved landmarks in the Czech Republic and spans the River Vltava between the Malá Strana district, the site of the city’s vast castle, and the Staré Město, Prague‘s Old Town.
Many bridges are purely functional – a means of traveling between two points – yet the Charles Bridge has become a popular attraction in its own right.
A popular Czech attraction
If you’re visiting on a sunny afternoon be prepared for a crowd of camera toting tourist ambling over the cobbles of this structure, which was pedestrianized in 1950.
Hawkers sell souvenirs and artists display works depicting the landmarks of Prague. Those include, of course, the famous bridge that’s known to locals as Karlův most.
When to photograph the Charles Bridge
Photographers will tell you the best time to see the bridge is just after dawn, when the sun rises over the Gothic tower on Old Town side of the bridge. Early in the evening—when the the crowd has departed and street lamps cast their warm glow on the well-trodden cobbles—also proves popular. Even foggy mornings have an evocative charm.
It wasn’t until 1870 that this 16-arch stone structure became officially known as the Charles Bridge. That name is in honour of the Bohemia’s King Charles IV – also the Holy Roman Emperor – the man who commissioned its construction in 1357. It was completed in 1402 but, remarkably, until 1841 it remained Prague’s only bridge across the Vltava.
Numerology and the bridge
Ask a local and they may well recount a legend that says Charles himself laid the first stone, at precisely 5:31 on the morning of 9 July 1357.
Those who believe in this tale will tell you the monarch was an avid believer in numerology and deemed it auspicious to build on the foundations of a numerical bridge; 1357 9/7 5:31.
Others dismiss the legend as an urban myth fabricated in the modern age.
History and Baroque sculptures
Looking towards the Old Town Bridge Tower you‘ll see the spot where the heads of 27 Protestant rebels were displayed following their execution in 1621, in a macabre show of imperial power.
The 30 Baroque sculptures and statuaries that now line the bridge were not added until late in the 17th century. The original works, by celebrated sculptors Matthias Braun and Ferdinand Brokoff, are now within the National Museum.
The most famous figure, with a halo of five stars, depicts St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown into the river on the orders of King Wencelas IV for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions. John drowned but became the patron saint of Bohemia and, perhaps a touch ironically, of bridges.
Strolling across this one gives insights to more than six centuries of Czech history and some fine views of the nation’s capital.
See the Czech Tourism website for travel information about the Czech Republic.
The images illustrating this feature were supplied courtesy of the Czech Tourism Authority. The featured image is by the photographer Dagmar Veselková.