A great time to visit is at sunset, for a spectacular view of Prague Castle lit up against the sky.
There has long been a bridge across the Vltava river of Prague: records as far back as the 10th century talk of a wooden structure there. The first stone one was completed in around 1170 and named the Judith Bridge after Vladislav II’s wife. The Charles Bridge was built as a replacement when the Judith was badly damaged by floods (of which the Charles has itself since weathered its fair share). The first stone was laid in 1357, and the last finally in 1402. The name comes from King Charles IV, who ordered its construction - although it was simply called the Stone Bridge until 1870.
Linking the two halves of Prague, the bridge is a majestic walkway, ten metres wide and stretching over half a kilometre in length. It sits atop sixteen massive arches, and walking along you are flanked by thirty baroque sculptures of various saints, added between 1683 and 1928 (although most are replicas, the originals being held in the Czech National Museum for safekeeping). The most famous is also the oldest, commemorating Saint John of Nepomuk, a patron saint of Bohemia whose death in the Vltava - he was thrown off the bridge at the orders of King Wenceslaus in 1393 - led to him being seen as a protector from floods and drowning.
The bridge is guarded by three towers. Two are at the Lesser Town end, and the other, a magnificent Gothic civic building, creates an arched entrance to the Old Town. All three can be climbed for a vista over the bridge. A popular attraction for its wonderful views of the river and Prague Castle, the bridge itself is a busy place: tourists jostle for good vantage points as painters, jazz bands and hotdog vendors vie for their custom. The early hours tend to be quieter.
Far more than a piece of magnificent civil engineering, a visit to the Charles Bridge is an essential part of any trip to Prague: with an aura of Gothic grandeur, it truly captures the sense of the city as a medieval metropolis.
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