IT'S 261 meters long, 10 meters wide and spans the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic to connect the Mala Strana (Lesser Town) below the Prague Castle to the Stare Mestos (Old Town), and the only means to cross the river until 1841; the connection made Prague important as a trade route between Easter and Western Europe; it was built under the support of King Charles IV, who laid the first stone in 1357, to replace the flood-damaged Judith Bridge; and prior to bearing the name we all know it to be, it was called the Stone Bridge and Prague Bridge -- the Charles Bridge.
It was one of the captivating sights I encountered in my visit to the Bohemian capital. The Charles Bridge is not just an ordinary bridge. The museum like path came as a surprise, a wonderful one. The span is guarded with three protective towers in Gothic style, one on the Old Town side and the other two on the Lesser Quarter. In between these towers, on the balustrades running the length of the historic bridge, is an avenue of baroque sculptures -- 30 statues and statuaries depicting saints and patron saints revered during the era created by famed sculptors of the period.
What is displayed on the bridge today is the replica of the original 1700-erected statues. But who would know? The sculptures in its weathered patina are as impressive. The originals were moved to the city's National Museum starting in 1965 and are on exhibit at the lapidarium.
Of the sculptures on display on Charles Bridge, the most popular are the statuaries of St. Luthgard, considered one of the leading mystics of the 13th century; the Holy Crucifix and Calvary, with the original cross made of wood; and the oldest statue on the bridge, St. John of Nepmuk, who was thrown from the bridge into the river where he drowned. In modern times, touching the bronze plaques will bring good fortune and ensure the visitor will return to the city of Prague.
But long before this path became a must see tourist site it is today in Prague, the bridge has suffered several disasters caused by the troublesome waters, which included the flood in 1432 that damaged three pillars; the third arch breaking down in 1496 undermined by the water; the great flood of 1784 severely damaged five pillars, which restricted traffic on the bridge for some time; the 1890 flood that severely damaged the bridge with debris tearing down three arches, two pillars collapsed due to water undermining, other pillars were partly damaged and two statues falling into the river; and the disastrous floods of 2002 only causing minor harm to the bridge.
Charles Bridge witnessed the city's historic (and tragic) events as well. In 1621, severed heads of executed revolutionary leaders were displayed at the Old Town bridge tower as warning to Czech resistance; and, in 1648, a battle ensued on the bridge at the end of the Thirty Years' War and severely damaged one side of the Old Town bridge tower.
After several repairs and massive preservation efforts throughout the 20th, vehicular traffic was terminated in late 70s. Even if the Charles Bridge has become a pedestrian only path, strengthening the bridge's stability is still carried at present time.
Today, the Charles Bridge is enjoyed by millions of visitors who visit the city.
When in Prague, a walking tour around the city is a must and Charles Bridge will be your "museum link" from the Old and New Towns to the Lesser Town where the uphill path leads to the Prague Castle.
For more travel and lifestyle stories, visit http://jeepneyjinggoy.blogspot.com/ and http://apples-and-lemons.blogspot.com/