Every town with a river has bridges that allow the two banks to be integrated. Some are robust and medieval, while others are modern constructions or true works of art. One of them is the Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava River on its way through the city of Prague..
Given the importance of having water supply sources, rivers are the main protagonists of many important cities. At the same time, these watercourses are natural barriers, and bridges are the best way to get around them.
We suggest you take a brief tour of this majestic river. Later, we will also talk a little about this famous Prague bridge.
The Vltava River, the longest in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic’s longest watercourse, the Vltava, starts in the Bohemian Forest. Along its 430 kilometers in length, this river bathes the lands of southern and central Bohemia. It also caresses different cities, the most important of which is, without a doubt, the Czech capital, Prague.
The waters of this river, whose river basin is about 28,000 square kilometers, join those of the Elbe on its way through the city of Mělník. In this way, whoever wanted to could take a boat in Prague and sail to the German city of Hamburg or even to the North Sea and beyond.
For centuries, one of the main activities that took place on the river was transportation. As a result of the construction of the Slapy reservoir, in the middle of the 20th century, this activity was in decline due to the impossibility for boats to circumvent the dam.
As there is no harm that is not good, through this engineering work it was possible to offer a constant supply of water to the city of Prague, and the electricity supply was also ensured thanks to the hydroelectric plant installed there.
The Charles Bridge: a bit of history
The city of Prague was built on the banks of the Vltava and, as happens in any riverside urban nucleus, the inhabitants rushed to find a way to integrate both banks of the river. as you can imagine, the Charles Bridge was not the first in the city.
Others existed before, all of them made of wood, at least until the year 1172. Before that date, in the place where we admire the Charles Bridge today, there was a wooden one.
However, in the 11th century a flood demolished it. For this reason, Wenceslao I ordered to build one of stone. This was called Judith Bridge, after his wife. Subsequently, in the year 1342 and after a tragic flood, the stone structure collapsed.
The bridge as we can see it today was ordered to be built by King Carlos IV; that’s precisely where its name comes from, although until the year 1870 it was known as the Stone or the Prague Bridge. The construction of this structure is shrouded in legend. One of them points out that the king had fully planned and thought out its construction.
The peculiarity of the date on which it began to be built stands out. It was July 9, 1357, at 5:31 in the morning. As you can see, all odd numbers. It is also said that one of the elements used to strengthen the paste used to join the stone blocks was egg yolk.
Be that as it may, the construction of this bridge has generated its own mythology and it is not surprising, because if for us it is a wonderful work, for the inhabitants of the Prague of the fifteenth century it must have meant much more.
Some details and curiosities of the bridge
The work was carried out first by Master Otto, and continued by King Charles’s favorite architect, Peter Parler. Other works of this architect are the Chapel of Saint Wenceslas in the Cathedral of Saint Vitus and the tower of the Old Town Bridge. Finally, the bridge was finished in the year 1402.
This engineering magic of the moment is 516 meters long by 10 meters wide. It is supported by 16 arches and protected by 3 towers. Two of these towers are at the end of the Mala Strana district, and the other is at the end of the old town of Prague.
The towers that guard the bridge
The two towers on the west side are known as the towers of Mala Strana, and their asymmetry is surprising.. This is because they were built at different times.
One, known as the Judith tower, was part of the old bridge built by Wenceslas I. It is 29 meters high and, although it is Romanesque in style, in 1591 a Renaissance-style roof was added. The tower that keeps it company was built in 1464, is in the Gothic style and is 43 meters high.
On the other hand, the tower of the old city, in the east part, whose designer was Peter Parler, is also in the Gothic style; its height is also 43 meters. If you want to have impressive views of the Charles Bridge, the Vltava and the city, it is recommended to get on it.
The statues could not be missing on the Charles Bridge
The more than 500 meters in length are guarded by different statues, most are baroque in style and sculpted around 1700. Currently, the statues that we can see are replicas, since the originals were transferred to the National Museum in Prague.
The first statue that was incorporated into the bridge was that of San Juan Nepomucenoin the year 1683. It is interesting to note that this character was sentenced to death and thrown into the river in the year 1393.
Later, in the 18th century, it was sanctified. It is said that whoever makes a wish by placing his left hand on the statue of San Juan Nepomuceno, it will be fulfilled. You should try it!
Crossing the Vltava River on this bridge is a unique experience
At first, it was thought that medieval tournaments would be held on the bridge. There was certainly a place for it. Although for a long time the bridge consisted of four lanes for road traffic, nowadays it is a crossing exclusively for pedestrians.
Despite this, the act of crossing the bridge can be a real obstacle course for the pedestrian. In fact, attacks between tourists are more frequent than clashes between knights during the medieval tournaments that could be celebrated. In any case, it is a highly recommended tour for those who visit Prague.