Karlův most, known to us English-speaking tourists as the Charles Bridge, is one of Prague´s best-known sites, and a much-visited one at that. Linking Staro Měste (Old Town) with Malá Strana (Lesser Town) and Prazký Hrad (Prague Castle), this iconic bridge, built in the numerical palindrome of April 31, 1357 (that´s 1357531), this oldest extant bridge over the Vltava River is at once charming and maddening.
Charles Bridge, with Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral behind
Since we spent the non-work part of this trip at a hotel in Mala Strana, we had occasion to walk across the Charles Bridge several times.
Mala Strana side of the bridge
On the Mala Strana side are two old gate towers; The shorter one (on the left) is all that remains of a pre-1357 bridge.
Entering Mala Strana
Continuing under the tower spits you out onto the busy streets of this compact, but pleasant district.
Charles Bridge at night
At night the crowds are much thinner, and the views of the lit-up monuments of central Prague are lovely.
The taller of the two towers on the Mala Strana side is climbable for a 70Kc (about US$3.50) ticket, and is worthwhile for the lovely views of Mala Strana and Prague Castle:
Mala Strana views from the bridge tower
St. Vitus Cathedral from the bridge tower
Mala Strana and Prague Castle from the bridge tower
Charles Bridge from above
Acrophobics, however, are advised to skip this tower – unlike the other two towers nearby that I climbed, this one has a very steep wooden staircase that my heights-fearing colleague Melynda did not appreciate one little bit!
Steep steps on the Mala Strana-side bridge tower
Mornings, evenings, and weekdays are definitely the time to visit the Charles Bridge unless you like dense crowds. Compare the photo below, taken in the late afternoon on a Sunday:
A relatively un-crowded bridge
… with this one, taken mid-day on a Saturday:
It’s easy enough to understand why it’s so popular, though, with views like this:
St. Vitus Cathedral
Night scene from the bridge
An interesting monument is on the downstream side of the bridge:
Site of St. John of Nepomuk´s martyrdom
This is supposedly where St. John of Nepomuk, confessor of the royal family, was thrown off of the bridge in 1396 on the orders of Wenceslaus IV for refusing to divulge the contents of the Queen’s confessions. It is also possible that this story was fabricated out of whole cloth to create a “native saint” for the Czech people, whom the Catholic Church strongly wanted to prevent from (re)turning to Hussitism.
St. John of Nepomuk
As in so many heavily-touristed places (Trevi Fountain in Rome, the Haghia Sofia’s “sweating” column in Istanbul, etc etc etc) , the plaque under the statue of St. John of Nepomuk promises to fulfill wishes if touched.
Many of the bridge’s statues are replicas, with the originals kept in a vault in Vyšehrad for safekeeping.
On several daytime visits a rather good band was playing amid the myriad art and souvenier vendors.
Cross with Hebrew inscription
What´s this? A Christian cross with a Hebrew inscription? This oddity has an interesting back-story. From its Wikipedia article:
This sculpture is one of the most historically interesting sculptures on the bridge, which gradually gained its present appearance throughout many centuries. The original wooden crucifix was installed at this place soon after 1361 and probably destroyed by the Hussites in 1419. A new crucifix with a wooden corpus was erected in 1629 but was severely damaged by the Swedes towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The remnants of this crucifix can be found in the lapidarium of the National Museum in Prague. This was replaced by another wooden Calvary which, in turn, was replaced with a metal version in 1657. Bought in Dresden, this crucifix was originally made in 1629 by H. Hillger based upon a design by W. E. Brohn. In 1666, two lead figures were added, but these were replaced in 1861 by the present sandstone statues by Emanuel Max, portraying the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. The golden Hebrew text on the crucifix was added in 1696. It was placed there as punishment for a Prague Jew, Eliass Backoffen, who had been convicted of debasing the Holy Cross by not removing his hat while passing by it. The text is derived from the words of the prophet Isaiah and reads, in English, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.
Old Town-side tower statues
On the Nove Město side of the bridge is a beautiful Gothic tower, heavily ornamented and decorated with 5 statues. Like the Mala Strana-side tower, this one is climbable for a few dollars´ ticket, and unlike the Mala Strana one, this tower has a substantial stone staircase, and is unlikely to scare anybody with its exposure.
Church roof, day and night
Church of St. Francis
Two pretty buildings stand next to and across the bridge tower on Knights of the Cross Square. The tower´s lookouts are also a nice place to watch the crowds come and go on the bridge.
City of a Thousand Spires
Prague is known as The City of a Thousand Spires, and for good reason! The otherwise fairly flat skyline is frequently punctuated by a tower, a spire, or an antenna.
It would be inconceivable to visit Prague and not walk across the Charles Bridge at least once. I definitely enjoyed it the most in the evening or nighttime (it´s perfectly safe), when the crowds died down, and there was some peace and quiet to be had.
- Part 1: Vysehrad
- Part 2: Vysehradsky hrbitov (Vysehrad cemetery)
- Part 3: Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) <– You are here
- Part 4: Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square)
- Part 5: Letecke Muzeum Kbely (Czech Air Force Museum)
- Part 6: Stare Mesto (Old Town)
- Part 7: Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square)
- Part 8: Prazsky orloj (Astronomical Clock)
- Part 9: Josefov (Jewish Quarter)
- Part 10: Vltava River
- Part 11: St. Nicholas Cathedral (Chram sv. Mikulase)
- Part 12: Wallenstein Palace (Valdstejnsky palac)
- Part 13: Kampa Island
- Part 14: Mala Strana street art
- Part 15: Petrin Hill
- Part 16: Mala Strana
- Part 17: Mala Strana house signs
- Part 18: Strahovský klášter (Strahov Monastery)
- Part 19: Schwarzenberský palác (Schwarzenberg Palace)
- Part 20: Toy Musuem
- Part 21: St. Vitus Cathedral gargoyles
- Part 22: St. Vitus Cathedral (exterior)
- Part 23: St. Vitus Cathedral (interior)
- Part 24: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), I
- Part 25: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), II