Charles Bridge over the Vltava River in Prague

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge on the Vltava River is located in a historic part of Prague: it connects Staré Město and Malá Strana – medieval districts of the Czech capital. The imposing, half-kilometer-long structure, with its heavy arches and bronze statues of Catholic saints, is always packed with tourists. Here you can make wishes, buy souvenirs from local artists, and admire views of the river and coastal quarters from the observation decks on the bridge towers.

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Video: Charles Bridge at Dawn

Overview

Charles Bridge is a must-see attraction in Prague, and no tour of the historic center of the city is without it. This fact was confirmed in the movie “Spider-Man: Away From Home”: the climactic explanation of Peter and MJ took place on Charles Bridge – deep at night, when finally not a single tourist was left on it. At other times, the half-kilometer-long, almost 10-meter-wide structure is quite crowded.

History of the Charles Bridge

In the second half of XII century, Italian masters built Judith Bridge on the Vltava River, named after the wife of King Vladislav I. The strong multi-arched construction of spectacular red sandstone remained until 1342, when it was destroyed by a powerful flood. It was not rebuilt, only the surviving arches were connected by wooden bridges for pedestrians until the new bridge was constructed. Charles IV, who came to the throne a few years after the disaster, was horrified and ordered the court astrologer Ben Baetzalel to draw up a horoscope for the construction work, so that the next bridge would not suffer the same fate. As a result of the predictions, the first stone of the future Charles Bridge was not laid until 1357, at the most favorable time, according to the predictions. The new bridge, named after Charles IV, was fully opened to riders and pedestrians at the beginning of the 15th century.

Architectural features

The construction consists of 16 heavy arches made of natural stone. For cladding was chosen light sandstone – the red stone deposit had already been exhausted by the time of construction. On the eastern bank of the Vltava River, at the beginning of the bridge, just by the water, stands the Gothic Old Town Tower. The western, unpaired Lesser Town towers are at first glance oddly located, far from the bank of the Vltava River, among the old houses. In fact, what appears to be the west bank is Kampa Island, separated from Malá Strana by a narrow arm of the Vltava River – the Čertovka River. That’s where the island ends, and there are the Malostransky Towers.

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Bridge Towers

The most spectacular tower is the Old Town Tower, built at the end of the 14th century on the eastern bank of the Vltava River. Above its arch are coats of arms with an eagle and a lion next to the figure of St. Vitus. Originally the Roman martyr, boiled in boiling oil in the fourth century, had nothing to do with Bohemia, but in the tenth century part of his relics were presented to the ruler of the country. Since then, he has been the main saint of Bohemia. To the right of the saint is a portrait of Charles IV, who started building the bridge, and on the left is Wenceslas IV, the one who gave Catholics a new saint – Jan Nepomutsky. Below in a row are the coats of arms of the lands that were part of Bohemia by the 14th century. The tower was restored 150 years ago by adding small corner towers on top, and today it is an excellent observation deck. Tickets to it cost 90 crowns and are sold right inside the building.

The Malostranes towers were not built at the same time. The lowest one, the oldest one, dates back to the Judith Bridge in the 12th century. The second one, 40 meters high, was built in the middle of the XV century on the site of a Romanesque structure that had existed before it. Stylistically, it resembles the Old Town bridge, although it lacks its solemn décor. There is also an observation deck and in the lower part of the building is a tourist office, where you can get a free map of Prague.

Sculptures on the Charles Bridge

The decoration of the austere Charles Bridge began at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, when several Baroque statues of Catholic saints revered by the Czechs were erected on both sides of it. The authors of the first works were the German sculptor Rauchmiller and the local Brokof family. There are a total of 30 separate figures and sculptural groups on the bridge. The most revered statue is the image of the great martyr John of Nepomuk. He went against the will of King Wenceslas IV when he refused to reveal the secret of his royal wife’s confession and was thrown straight from Charles Bridge into the waters of the Vltava. Since then, the canonized saint has been considered the patron saint of all who work with fresh water: owners of ships and river mills, and fishermen. Several mills have survived on the Certovka River and can be seen from the Charles Bridge. Ironically, the sculptural portrait of the sadistic king is placed here, on the facade of the Old Town Tower.

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One of the good tourist traditions is to touch the pedestal of the statue of Jan Nepomutsky on the north side of the Charles Bridge, making a wish. You can recognize the time-green bronze figure by its halo with stars, a giant golden feather and a large crucifix in its hands. The group of statues is important for the Orthodox Church; Cyril and Methodius are the penmen of the Slavs, with miniature human figures crouching at their feet.

Charles Bridge Museum

The Charles Bridge Museum is located on the west, Old Town bank. It is open daily, in low season from 10:00 to 18:00, from May to September until 19:00. The ticket costs 170 crowns, for those who purchase a comprehensive walking and boating tour of the Prague Venice, admission is free. The exhibition includes a model of the medieval Charles Bridge, the result of archaeological excavations – the original entrance to the Judith Bridge, elements of the former Gothic church and its restored model, clay sketches of statues of saints decorating the bridge. The museum shop sells figurines of saints, knights, cups, jewelry and books.

Restaurants and cafes near the Charles Bridge

There are dozens of cafes on both banks of the Vltava River for every taste. A miniature coffee house with local alcoholic beverages and sweets can be found right in the Charles Bridge Museum. John Lennon’s pub awaits guests on Kampa Island, to which you can descend by stairs behind the statue of the knight, and there is also the popular Kampa Park restaurant with a view of the river. Next to the Old Town Tower, on the south side, there is a restaurant of Charles Bridge with national cuisine in the medium price category and a rather expensive restaurant “Mlynec”. On the west side, at the very beginning of the bridge, there is Pod Mostem, a restaurant known for its abundance of beer and wine snacks. Finally, 100 meters west of the Malostranskie Towers is the inevitable McDonald’s.

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How to get there

The nearest metro station is on the Old Town Square 500 meters to the north of the Charles Bridge. The Malá Strana Street will take you a little bit farther – about 800 meters. The best way to get there is to take the streetcar to Malostranské náměstí, which is 200 m west of the Lesser Town Towers, or to the Karlovy Lázně stop, which is 200 m south of the Old Town Tower.

Karlův most

Charles Bridge

Karlův Most is a well-known Prague landmark and one of the recognized symbols of the city so appreciated by tourists.

Medieval Charles Bridge over the Vltava River is pedestrian and free of charge; it is open 24 hours a day.

The bridge connects two historic districts – Stare Mesto and Malá Strana.

The length of the Charles Bridge in Prague is 515.76 meters (usually rounded to 520 meters).

Width – 9.4-9.5 meters.

The height of the bridge is 13 meters. The height of the pylons is 15 meters.

Since 1995 in May the route of the Prague Marathon passes over the Charles Bridge. During the race the bridge is closed to tourists.

The webcam of the Charles Bridge is shooting frame by frame with a delay of less than a minute. You need to refresh the page to get new images.

History of the Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

According to legend, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV started the construction of the Charles Bridge in July 1357. The new wide bridge was being built almost in place of the Judith Bridge that was destroyed by a flood in 1342. The work, in which masters Otto (Otlin) and Petr Parlerz participated, was completed at the beginning of the 15th century.

Historically, until 1836, the route of the “Royal Route” for the coronation took place over the bridge.

In honor of Charles IV, the Prague Bridge was officially renamed in 1870.

During the September 1890 flood, the bridge was severely damaged by large floating debris from the outflowing Vltava River. Repair work took a little over two years.

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Until 1908 the Charles Bridge was used by the horse-drawn railway, and then the streetcar route was removed (it existed only three years).

Major repairs of the bridge were carried out in 1965-1978. Damaged sandstone blocks were replaced, inappropriate by the style of the XX century coverings were removed. As a result of the restoration, the bridge was converted into a pedestrian bridge.

Since 2007 the Charles Bridge Museum dedicated entirely to its history has been operating in Prague.

The towers of the Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

The bridge towers are named after their location – Old Town and two Malostransky towers.

Located on the right bank of the Vltava River the Old Town Tower was built in 14th century simultaneously with the construction of the bridge. This austere and even gloomy medieval tower is decorated with coats of arms of the Holy Roman Empire and other symbols, sculptures of St. Vitus, kings Charles IV and Wenceslas IV, St. Vojtěch and St. Sigismund.

The western Lesser Town towers were built at different times, but their modern appearance differs markedly from that of the Old Town Tower. The Small Bridge Tower was built around the 12th century. It was substantially rebuilt after a fire at the end of the 16th century, but retained its Romanesque foundations.

The High Bridge Tower was built in 1464 on the site of the destroyed one – once a twin tower for the Small Tower. It was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century and that is how it is preserved today.

The sculptures of the Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Most of the sculptures with religious themes were first installed on Charles Bridge in Prague during the Baroque period – from 1683 to 1714.

However, now among the 31 statues on the bridge, tourists mostly see copies of these sculptures – created in the mid-19th century or more recently. Few original sandstone statues on the bridge have survived, and some of the original compositions are now exhibits in the Lapidarium of the National Museum in Prague.

List of sculptures on the Charles Bridge – in the direction from the Old Town Tower to the Lesser Quarter, left and right in pairs:

  • St. Ivo (1908 copy) and Madonna and St. Bernard (1978-1980 copy);
  • Saints Barbara, Margaret and Elizabeth (original 1707) and Madonna, Saint Dominic, Saint Thomas Aquinas (copy 1958-1961);
  • The Pieta of the Mourning of Christ (copy 1859) and Calvary (original, the oldest sculpture on the bridge is 1628 with several additions and restorations, the last change being 1861);
  • St. Joseph with Jesus (1854 copy) and St. Anne (1999 copy);
  • St. Francis Xavier (1913 copy) and St. Cyril and Methodius (copy, 1928-1938).
  • St. Christopher (original 1857, as the sculpture was never made in the early 17th century) and St. John the Baptist (copy 1855);
  • Saint Francisco Borgia (original 1710) and Saints Norbert, Wenceslas, and Sisigmund (copy 1853);
  • St. Ludmila with Young Wenceslas (1999 copy); and St. John of Nepomuk (1683, the most famous sculpture on Charles Bridge; by reaching into the relief on its pedestal, tourists make wishes);
  • St. Francis of Assisi (1855, replacing an earlier sculpture from 1708) and St. Anthony of Padua (original, 1707);
  • Saints Vincent Ferrer and Procop of Sazav (original, 1712), Knight Brunswick (the only statue on the bridge abutment, an 1884 copy instead of the early 16th century original), and St. Judas Thaddeus (original, 1708);
  • St. Nicholas of Tolentine (1970 copy) and St. Augustine (1971 copy);
  • The Vision of St. Luithgarda (1995 copy) and St. Cayetan (1709 original);
  • St. Vojtech (1973 copy) and St. Philip Benicius (1714, original in marble, but the pedestal is a 2000 copy);
  • Saints John de Mata, Felix de Valois and John of Bohemia (original, 1714, popularly called “The Turk of Prague”) and St. Vitus (original, 1714);
  • St. Wenceslas (original 1858) and St. Cosmas and Damian with the Savior (original 1709).
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How to get to Charles Bridge in Prague

Near the Charles Bridge on the right bank, on the side of Old Town Square, from where tourists usually start their route, there are two streetcar stops: Staroměstská and Karlovy lázně. The bridge is located between them, but closer to it all the same Karlovy lázně. Staroměstská is also accessible by bus no. 194.

On the left bank, streetcars go to the Malostranské náměstí stop. Nearby is the same name bus stop of bus number 192.

The subway to the Charles Bridge can be taken to one of two stations: on the right bank to Staroměstská, on the left bank to Malostranská. However, both of them are closer to Manes Bridge and Charles Bridge is the next one to the south – you have to walk 400-500 meters.

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