The Charles Bridge carries a history involving flood after flood, battles, beheadings, and statues of saints. It is the oldest bridge across the Vltava River in Prague and was once the only connection between the Old Town on one side of the river with the Castle on the other side. This gave the bridge great significance for centuries. Today it is a prime place to visit in Prague, both for the bridge itself and the magnificent views of the city.
The first bridge across the river at this spot was one made of logs. This was replaced by a stone bridge. Flooded out, that bridge was damaged in 1342. Construction of the present bridge began in 1357, with the foundation stone being laid by Emperor Charles IV on July 9 at 5:31 a.m. This precise timing lent “magic” to the bridge, as the date and time contained a pattern of 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1. A believer in numerology, Charles IV chose this timing to lend additional strength to his reign. Building was completed in 1402.
The bridge has suffered from many floods and the strain of battles in the area. The constant traffic of horse-drawn carts, then electric trams, then buses and cars, wore down the bridge. After restoration in 1978, all vehicle traffic is banned from bridge. So you can stroll across this pedestrian bridge without dodging traffic. You can pause to look at the historic buildings on the Old Town side, and you can look up the hill the other direction to the castle with the spires of the St. Vitus cathedral soaring into the sky.
A recognizable feature of the Charles Bridge is the Old Town Bridge Tower, built at the same time as the bridge. It’s designed as a victory arch through which the Czech kings pass during coronation ceremonies. You can tour the tower and climb the stairs to the top for a spectacular view.
The tower has served as a prison and stories about it abound. For example, in 1621, a rebellion arose against the nobility. Twelve of the leaders of the rebellion were caught and killed and their decapitated heads were put on display in the tower as a warning to behave. The heads remained in the tower for ten years. They were stolen one night and finally buried, and no one knows where they are to this day.
The Charles Bridge is notable for its 30 statues of saints, added from 1683 to 1928. Due to floods and battles, some of the first statues are gone. What we see today are replicas, with the originals housed in a museum nearby.
On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped to enjoy the traditional Czech dessert pastry with the funny name. A trdelnik is a rolled pastry sprinkled with sugar and chopped nuts. We chose the chocolate filling flavor. Yum!