Did you know that one of the most historic bridges in Europe can be found in the center of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic?
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Charles Bridge, a remarkable piece of architectural history!
1. It’s located right in the heart of Prague
Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River in Prague, the longest river in the Czech Republic. It used to connect Prague Castle with the Old Town of Prague, the historic city center.
It’s located just to the northwest of the actual city center which features Old Town Square and is one of the most famous landmarks in Prague.
2. Construction started in the 14th century
The bridge is by far the oldest crossing over the Vltava River as the construction of it started in the year 1357. It took about 42 years to complete as the bridge finally opened to traffic in the year 1402.
The bridge was constructed with Bohemian stones and was built as a bow bridge. It consists of 16 arches that are shielded by ice guards, wooden structures that prevent the bridge from being damaged by ice.
3. The first stone was laid at a particular time
The bridge was constructed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) and a legend mentioned that it was the Emperor himself who laid the first stone.
One of the most remarkable facts about Charles Bridge is the Emperor, who was a fan of numerology, laid the stone at exactly 5:31 a.m. on July 9, 1357.
This particular time is a palindrome as it reads the same backward, 135797531, which the Emperor believed would give the bridge extra strength!
4. It originally had some different names
The official name of the bridge is “Karlův most,” which translates to “Charles Bridge,” a name given to it in the year 1870 in honor of the man who commissioned it.
Before this, the bridge was known as either “Stone Bridge” (Kamenný most) or “Prague Bridge” (Pražský most).
5. Its design was based on another medieval bridge
One of the most interesting facts about Charles Bridge is that it actually an older medieval bridge that was originally built between 1158 and 1172 and which was referred to as “Judith Bridge.”
The design of the new stone bridge was based upon the design of another medieval bridge, the Stone Bridge in Regensburg, Germany. This bridge was built between 1135 and 1146 and is considered to be a masterpiece of medieval architecture!
6. How long is Charles Bridge?
The bridge is longer than one might expect as it has a total length of 515.8 meters (1,692 feet). It’s also relatively wide for such an old bridge as it has a width of 9.5 meters (31 feet).
The longest span of the bridge, however, is just 13.4 meters (44 feet), while the clearance below the highest point is 13 meters (43 feet).
7. It was one of the most important bridges in Europe until the 19th century
One of the most fascinating facts about Charles Bridge is that it was the only way to cross the Vltava River for hundreds of years. Upon its completion until the year 1841, there was no other way to easily cross the river as it was the only bridge in the city.
This means that it can be considered one of the most important bridges in Europe as it was a crucial crossing for trade routes going from western to eastern Europe and vice versa!
8. The bridge is protected by 3 bridge towers
Just as with any other medieval bridge, Charles Bridge was protected by guard towers. Two of these towers are located on the western bank of the river, an area referred to as the “Lesser Quarter.” The most famous one is called the “Malá Strana Bridge Tower.”
The one on the east bank of the river, which protected the Old Town of Prague, is referred to as the “Old Town Bridge Tower,” a Gothic Tower which was constructed at the same time as the bridge.
9. One tower was once decorated with 27 heads of executed revolutionaries
The “Battle of White Mountain” happened in the year 1620 and was an important event early on in the Thirty Years’ War. An army of Bohemians and mercenaries was crushed by the much stronger army of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.
The event ended in 27 leaders of the anti-Habsburg revolt being executed on June 21, 1621, and their chopped-off heads were put on display on the Old Town Bridge Tower. This is similar to how the heads of executed criminals were spiked on top of the Southwark gatehouse of London Bridge in the early 17th century.
Quite a different vibe back then, don’t you think?
10. The bridge was severely damaged by the Swedes in the 17th century
As the end of the Thirty Years’ War finally approached in the year 1648, the Swedes occupied the area on the left bank of the river. As they attempted to enter the city by crossing Charles Bridge, they encountered a lot of resistance and a lot of the fighting happened right on the bridge.
During this fight, the flank of the Old Town Bridge Tower facing the river was severely damaged, which is the reason why the elaborate Gothic decorations were removed and it now looks like a plain stone tower.
11. The 30 statues decorating the bridge are all replicas
One of the most stunning facts about Charles Bridge is that it’s decorated with 30 Baroque statues which were created between 1683 and 1714 by some of the most renowned sculptors from the Baroque era, including Matthias Braun and Jan Brokoff.
Well, this was the case until recently when the original statues were removed and replaced by replicas. This process started in the year 1965 and the original statues can now be admired in the Lapidarium of the National Museum in Prague.
12. Multiple floods have damaged the bridge over the centuries
Charles Bridge has been damaged multiple times by floods, starting just 3 decades after its completion in 1432 when a flood destroyed 3 pillars.
One of the most severe floods happened between September 2 and 5 of the year 1890, when large amounts of debris from upstream got stuck and started leaning against the bridge. It resulted in 3 arches being washed away and several statues being falling into the river.
Repairing the damage took 2 years, cost 665,000 crowns, and the bridge opened again in 1892.
13. Charles Bridge became a pedestrian bridge in the 1960s
The traffic across the bridge really started to increase in the early 20th century, and because the bridge is relatively wide, it allowed for even trams to cross it. The first tram crossed the bridge in the year 1905, effectively replacing the horse lane.
Busses started crossing the bridge in the year 1908 as well, resulting in further damage to the bridge. Serious repairs were needed between 1965 and 1978 and it was during this period that it was decided to ban all vehicular traffic that.
This means that you can only cross Charles Bridge on foot today!
14. A thorough restoration in the 2000s was heavily criticized
Many people thought that the bridge wasn’t stable enough after the repairs in the 1960s and 1970s and after a serious flood in 2002 (which didn’t damage the bridge), plans were made to renovate the bridge once again.
Part of the structural improvements was to replace many of the original stones with new ones, which happened between 2008 and 2010.
Many of these stones didn’t match the original, which means the bridge looks completely different now, something that has been criticized by conservation experts all across Europe!
15. UNESCO agreed that the repairs were carried out by amateurs
To emphasize the fact that a bunch of amateurs was responsible for ruining one of the most historic and famous bridges in Europe, UNESCO assessed the case as well.
Their conclusion was simple:
The restoration of Charles Bridge was carried out without adequate conservation advice on materials and techniques.UNESCO about the restoration.
16. Charles Bridge and the area look amazing at night!
The area around Charles Bridge is without a doubt the most picturesque spot in all of Prague. If you really want to enjoy an amazing sight, then you definitely must check out the area at night and in the winter period!
The view towards Prague Castle is simply mesmerizing!