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Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic (Known places)

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Charles Bridge (Czech: Karlův most listen ) is a famous historical bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 (662 years ago) under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of 15th century. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava (Moldau), the Charles Bridge used to be the most important connection between the Old Town, Prague Castle and adjacent areas until 1841 (178 years ago). Also this 'solid-land' connection made Prague important as a trade route between east and west Europe. The bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) or the Prague Bridge (Pražský most) but has been the "Charles Bridge" since 1870 (149 years ago).

The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, erected around 1700 (319 years ago).

During the night Charles Bridge is a quiet place. But during the day it changes its face into a very busy place, with painters, owners of kiosks and other traders alongside numerous tourists crossing the bridge.


Building the bridge

The need for building a new bridge emerged after the old romanesque Judith Bridge (Juditin most, built around 1170 (849 years ago) and named after king Vladislav I's wife Judith) was destroyed by a flood in 1342 (677 years ago). The building began in 1357 (662 years ago), was supervised by Peter Parler and led by a "magister pontis", Jan Ottl.

There is a modern legend saying that the foundation stone was laid in 1357 (662 years ago) on the 9th day of the 7th month at 5:31 AM and that Charles IV chose this time so that when one writes out the opening time, they write the sequence of odd numbers, 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1.

The bridge was built from Bohemian sandstone. There is a legend saying that eggs were used to enrich the mortar used to bind the stone blocks to make it harder. Although the saying cannot be verified, modern laboratory tests have indeed proved inorganic and organic ingredients to the mortar. Later, the use of eggs in Charles Bridge mortar was confirmed. The construction of Charles Bridge took place until the beginning of 15th century. To sustain the bridge, tolls were taken, first by the religious order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, who had their mother-house nearby, then by the Old Town municipality (until 1815 (204 years ago)).

Through the 19th century

Old town bridge tower during 1848 (171 years ago) revolutionThroughout its history, Charles Bridge suffered several havocs and witnessed many historic events. A flood in 1432 (587 years ago) damaged three pillars. In 1496 (523 years ago) the third arch (counting from the Old Town side) broke down after one of the pillars lowered, being undermined by the water (repairs were finished in 1503 (516 years ago)). A year after the Battle of White Mountain, when the 27 leaders of the anti-Habsburg revolt were executed on 21 Jun. 1621 (398 years ago), the Old Town bridge tower served as a deterrent display of the cut-off heads of the victims to stop Czechs from further resistance. During the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 (371 years ago), the Swedes occupied the west bank of Vltava and as they tried to advance into the Old Town, the heaviest fights spread out right on the bridge. During the fighting, they severely damaged one side of the Old Town bridge tower (the side facing the river) and the remnants of almost all gothic decorations had to be removed from it afterward. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries the bridge gained its typical appearance when an alley of baroque statues was installed on the pillars. During a great flood in 1784 (235 years ago), five pillars were severely damaged and although the arches didn't break down, the traffic on the bridge had to be greatly restricted for some time.

The original stairway to Kampa Island was replaced by a new one in 1844 (175 years ago). The next year, another great flood threatened the bridge, but the bridge escaped major damage. In 1848 (171 years ago), during the revolution days, the bridge escaped unharmed from the cannonade, but some of the statues were damaged. In 1866 (153 years ago), the pseudo-gothic gas (later changed to electric) lights were erected on the balustrade. In the 1870s, the first regular public transport (omnibus) line went over the bridge (officially called "Charles Bridge" after 1870 (149 years ago)), later replaced by a horse-tram. The bridge towers underwent a thorough reconstruction between 1874 (145 years ago) and 1883 (136 years ago).

On 2-5 sep. 1890 (129 years ago), another disastrous flood struck Prague and severely damaged the Charles Bridge. Thousands of rafts, logs and other floating material that escaped from places upstream gradually formed a huge barrier leaning against the bridge. Three arches were torn down from the great pressure and two pillars collapsed from being undermined by the water, while others were partly damaged. With the fifth pillar, two statues - St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Xavier, both by Ferdinand Brokoff - also fell into the river (the former statue was replaced by a statuary of Saints Cyril and Methodius by Karel Dvořák, the latter was replaced by a replica of the original). Repair works lasted for two years (the bridge was reopened on 19 Nov. 1892 (127 years ago)) and cost 665,000 crowns.

20th century to present

In the beginning of the 20th century, Charles Bridge saw a steep rise of heavy traffic. The 15 May 1905 (114 years ago) was the last day of the horse-line on the bridge, as it was replaced with an electric tram until 1908 (111 years ago) and with buses afterward. At the end of World War II, a barricade was built in the Old Town bridge tower gateway. A capital repair of the bridge took place between 1965 (54 years ago) and 1978 (41 years ago), based on a collaboration among various scientific and cultural institutes. The stability of the pillars was reassured, all broken stone blocks were replaced, the asphalt top was removed and all traffic has been excluded from the Charles Bridge since then, making it accessible by pedestrians only. The repair cost 50 million crowns.

During the 1990s, some people started criticizing the previous reconstruction of the bridge and proposing a new one. As of the beginning of the new millennium, most of the experts appeared to agree that the previous reconstruction had not been flawless but disputed the need for further interference with the bridge. However, after the disastrous floods of 2002 (17 years ago) (which itself caused only minor harm to the bridge), it was decided that repair and stabilization of the two pillars (number 8 and 9) on the Malá Strana side of the Bridge would happen. These are the only river pillars that have not been repaired after the 1890 (129 years ago) floods. The floods intensified the voices of the supporters of an overall bridge reconstruction and, as of 2005 (14 years ago), the current repair of the pillars is considered as the first phase of the reconstruction, which will concentrate especially on building a new hydroisolation system protecting the bridge. The whole reconstruction will be done gradually without needing to close the bridge and is scheduled for the period 2007–2010.



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