Netizen Journalist


Holiday Ayo - For centuries, Charles Bridge was the only crossing over the Vltava. This landmark is key to understanding the history of Prague’s Old Town. This iconic landmark, and its unmistakable silhouette can be identified by many. As a testament to its structural integrity, it is one of the few remaining medieval bridges still standing today. There are not many bridges in the world that can rival the Charles Bridge in age, beauty and utility.

Commissioned by King Charles IV two years after he was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, the bridge made Prague the most important city in the region for many centuries to come. Accessing the Castle District of Prague via the Charles Bridge is something every visitor to Prague should experience – yes, it is often crowded, but it is also amazing.

source: Hellotickets

If you’re a numberphile like I am, you’d be amused to know that the first stone was laid on the 9th day of the 7th month of 1357 (9 July 1357), at 5:31, forming a numerical palindrome 135797531. King Charles was a superstitious man and felt that this was important.

Although the cost of the bridge left the Kingdom of Bohemia in debt for many years after its construction, it was a truly worthwhile investment. From its completion in the early 1400’s up till 1870, it was the only means of crossing the Vltava. Although Prague was already a key trading hub before the bridge, the bridge significantly increased the flow of traffic through the city. Today, as an easily recognisable icon of Czechia, it generates billions of tourist dollars indirectly.

On top of being useful to traders in the region, it also made life easier for the Medieval residents of Prague. Especially those working in the Prague Castle, who now had an easy and safe way to cross the Vltava.

Of course, to any upsides, there are downsides. The bridge’s incredible importance as the only crossing across the Vltava meant it was a target during the many wars that took place in the following centuries. In 1621, the Habsburgs hung the heads of 27 Bohemian revolutionaries from the Bridge Tower. The location of the heads meant that this “message” was received and spread quickly. During World War Two, the Nazi army noticed the bridge’s importance in the transport of supplies, and the bridge came under threat. Fortunately, it was not significantly damaged.

source: iStock

In the 600 years or so of its existence, it has endured a lot. The floods of the Vltava can be severe, and the bridge has been damaged many times over the centuries. At the turn of the last century, the bridge accommodated trams and buses, which no doubt increased the load and wear on this historical monument. After World War Two, city planners wisely decided that the bridge would be for pedestrians only. Today, it accommodates the footsteps of the millions of tourists that visit Prague yearly.

That it is still standing is testament to the power of an ancient engineering idea – the stone arch, which is a Roman invention. The Charles Bridge has 16 of these arches across its half kilometre length. Legend also has it that this strength was due to eggs being mixed in with the mortar by the constructors who built it. However, analysis of the bridge has so far been inconclusive whether this is true.

During my visit to Prague, I often found myself wondering what exactly made the bridge look so “medieval”. I concluded that it was the tapered pier heads (they cap the columns separating the arches), which resemble the conical roofs of medieval towers.

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