Charles Bridge (Karlûv Most)

Charles Bridge (Karlûv Most) (2)

No visit to Prague is complete without strolling over Charles Bridge beneath the attentive stare of the 30 statues of saints that keep a careful eye on the traveller. The bridge connects the Old Town with Malá Strana thanks to its 519 metres’ length over the River Vltava. Until the 18th century, it was the only link between the two banks. It forms part of the Royal Way that led up to the palace.

This bridge is considered to be one of the city’s symbols and its image, cheerful and bustling during the day, changes into the mysterious night under the faint light of the lampposts. For this reason, at the end of the 1990s the director Brian de Palma chose the spot to set the scenes for his film Mission Impossible.

The bridge you are walking across was begun in 1357 at the orders of King Charles IV to replace another one, called Judith Bridge and of which there are hardly any remains. It was a colossal work for the time and its size surprised the people of Prague. Ten metres wide, four carriages at a time could cross over the bridge.

The work was entrusted to Peter Parler in 1357 and was not completed until the following century. Tradition tells that eggs were added to the mortar with which it was built to make it harder. The bridge is built with sandstone blocks.

The history of Charles Bridge is also the history of Prague. Historically, this has been the place to do business, pay taxes or execute the convicted. The peace treaty with the Swedes that marked the end of the Thirty Years War was signed here in 1648.

Over all these centuries, the bridge has survived floods, wars and bombardments. In 1974, the authorities made use of the restoration process to make it pedestrian-only.

We cannot mention Charles Bridge without referring to the statues that adorn it. There are 30 sculptures that represent various saints and which forms a whole that recalls the Sant’Angelo Bridge in Rome. Most of the statues placed here today are replicas of the originals, which have been guarded in other places to ensure their conservation.

For nearly 200 years the bridge was only decorated with a crucifix similar to the one you can still see there today. On the cross you can read the words “Saint, Saint, Saint is the Lord”, inscribed by a Jew as punishment for a blasphemy he had committed. The first statue was not placed until 1683, in the middle of celebrating the victory of Catholicism over the Reformation.

The legend goes in Prague that, at night, the saints argue with each other about religion. Tradition also states that the statue of Saint John Nepomucene grants a wish if you touch it. Perhaps that is why the relief work that adorns it has been practically worn away over the years. The history of Saint John Nepomucene dates back to the 14th century, when this cleric was taken prisoner by King Wenceslas IV’s men. His crime was to refuse to reveal the sins that the queen had confessed to have committed. After being martyred, his body was thrown into the river at the point where his statue stands today.

The group made up of Saint John of Matha, Saint Felix of Valois and the Blessed Ivan commemorates the founding of the Order of the Trinitarians, which collected money for Christians who had been taken prisoner by the unbelieving.

The statue of Saint Vitus recalls his legend, according to which he was about to be devoured by lions that ended up licking his hands instead. His fame as a peacemaker means that he is invoked to calm conflicts.

The experts consider that the statue of Saint Luthgard is the best from an artistic point of view. It commemorates the story of this blind nun, who recovered her sight after kissing Christ’s wounds. Its author, Matyás Braun, was only 26 when he was entrusted to make it in 1710.

There are not only saints on Charles Bridge, however. If you look carefully at the statue of Saint Francis Xavier you will be able to see its author, Ferdinand Brokof, who wanted to immortalise himself seated at the foot of the group.

On both sides of the bridge stand two towers that give it an even more majestic appearance. The Tower of Malá Strana leads to this district and it is well worth visiting it, as there are some lovely panoramic views to be had.

On the other bank, the Old Town Bridge Tower was built at the end of the 14th century for defensive purposes by the same author of the bridge, Peter Parler. It is 40 metres high and is in Gothic style. The spire in the shape of a cot crowning the tower is certainly the most noticeable part of the construction. From the viewpoint you can appreciate a privileged view over Prague Castle.

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