- Address:Old Town
Latitude / Longitude: 50.08640, 14.41172
Charles Bridge and Prague Castle online webcam
Charles Bridge, like many of the great bridges of the world which are still intact, was built on the sight where a previous bridge could no longer fulfill its purpose because of age or decay. Charles IV, the immortal Holy Roman Emperor, who by declaring that his Imperial capital be Prague and nowhere else - thereby endearing himself to the Czechs forever - declared that the next bridge at this perfect location upon the Vltava should not only stand the test of time but also be absolutely beautiful. And so it was that without too much haste, but with plenty of astrological planning the good Emperor called for the workmen to begin their task while he looked on. It was exactly 5.31 in the morning of July 9, 1357. He liked those numbers 13579 and saw in them an auspicious moment and opportunity and who is to argue with him. The previous bridge that spanned the river at this location called the Judith Bridge hadn't been badly constructed by any means but yet another flooding had revealed just how weak it was. This time there would be no expense spared to make this new totally stone bridge a bridge worthy of an emperor. To this end no expense was too much and hundreds of workmen were put to work upon the project many of them no doubt working during frightfully cold and unpleasant conditions. Petr Parler the architect supreme overlooked the planning and development of the enormous undertaking.
Fortunately for the sake of the bridge and its longevity the 1300s were not a time when architects, or even emperors, insisted on deadlines and finish dates for both Charles IV and Petr Parler would pass on long before the bridge was complete in 1404. Built totally from Bohemian sandstone it was an impressive sight indeed more than half a kilometre long and with a width of almost ten metres. Bridge towers on either end marked its entry and exit. No less than sixteen mighty arches ensured its stability and resistance. Opened to the public just thirty years a ferocious winter storm and consequent flooding damaged three pillars but repair work was at hand and the bridge survived. Flooding, as well as the wear and tear of armies and their artilleries would severely test the bridge in the centuries ahead but it has bravely stood up to all assaults both from nature and from man. Initially the bridge was known as the Stone Bridge, and later the Prague Bridge -there was no need after all for very imaginative titles for it as it was the only means of crossing the river in Prague until 1841 - but by 1870 the name Charles Bridge was given it and so it has remained. Incidentally the statuary which so defines the bridge was not there from the start but began to appear from the late 1600s onwards. Just like with the monument of the horses in St Mark's Square in Venice none of the original creations are on the bridge today, all of the statues are copies dating back to the 19th century. It was in 1890 that Charles Bridge suffered its greatest damage when a colossal fllood sent rafts, boats and other floating material which were tossed from their moorings upriver crashing against and accumulating along the bridge's length. Three arches were torn down and two columns collapsed and their nearby statues above went tumbling into the river. It would be more than two years before the bridge was re-opened and deemed safe for traffic. In fact traffic, and the lack of regulating it caused many of the problems the bridge had to deal with in the early years of the 20th century. Trams and buses too thundered along it every day undermining its strength and its attractiveness considerably. Common sense finally prevailed in the 1960s when it was closed again for thirteen yers to implement an enormous overhaul which was a great success. No traffic apart from human and animal feet will be allowed on it into the future. Even the world-famous Prague floods of 2002 didn't majorly impact on the bridge although the walking surface of the bridge was just fractionally above the waterline. The latest controversial, exceptionally expensive, and not particularly satisfying to everyone repair of the bridge was just finished in September 2010.
One of the aspects that sets Charles Bridge apart and which gives it such a wonderful aura when you look at it in the near distance is its extraordinary gallery of saints along both sides of its length.
It wasn't always like that but happened over a lengthy time frame from the late 1600's and into the early decades of the 18th century. It was a time of considerable upheaval and change in Europe not least architecturally where the Baroque was taking over from the Gothic style and the Catholic Habsburgs were finding their feet as rulers over a huge empire. The religious group known as the Jesuits were busy in Prague also building numerous churches and it was they, along with monasteries, private patrons, and some other important institutions of the time who hit upon the idea of lining Charles Bridge with statues of their religious patrons and favourite saints along with depictions of famous moments from the life of Jesus. A couple of the thirty statues today are Gothic but the vast majority have the flowing lines so typical of the Baroque style. While many of the statues are well over one hundred years old, none of them are original anymore having been replaced from 1965 onwards by copies - the originals aren't that faraway however and are viewable in the Lapidarium of Prague's Vystaviste exhibition grounds.
The oldest statue is that of the unfortunate Saint John of Nepomuk, who became a martyr when King Wenceslas IV had him thrown off the bridge into the Vltava in 1393. At the time the bridge hadn't even been completed. The poor saint-to-be had put honesty before loyalty by keeping his promise of not revealing the queen's confession to anyboby. The statue, by Jan Brokoff, was completed among the first in 1683. The actual spot from which the saint was flung river wards is today marked by a brass archbishop's cross on the wall of the bridge. It is said that if you place your hand there in such a way as to reach one of the stars your wish will be realised. There is no shortage of tourists with a desire to attempt this, the brass cross has been rubbed to a gold-like gleam. One of the most arresting statues on the bridge is certainly that of Saint Luitgard by the great Mathias B Braun. The sculptor was just 26 in 1710 when he completed this work, which depicts the blind saint kissing the wounds of his saviour and master Jesus.
Along with moments like riding a gondola along the canas of Venice and taking the ride up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Charles Bridge also manages to capture for thousands of people that magical, romantic moment in time. It must be because of its venerable and turbulent history, or its gallery of timeless saints, maybe because of the unforgettable views of Prague Castle which it assures you, but whatever it may be people love to stroll and linger on this wonderful, old stone structure. In late evening, or better again early morning especially during the months of October through March the mist that descends alonng the river enveloping the statues and swirling lightly around you can make one seem as if you have been transported back in time and maybe any moment rattling along the cobbles will come Emperor Rudolf or even Mozart. After all they both crossed the bridge so often too. In any case have your camera or recording devices topped up with plenty of battery power when you are on the bridge, it is one of the most photogenic places in Europe.
Now, where there are people and where there is romance business is sure to follow and all along the bridges length are a tremendous number of vendors and entertainers of all descriptions and that means all the year round too. Painters and artists are perhaps the most abundant group upon the bridge selling sketches, water colours and oil compositions of the views in front of you and all around you. Framed and small miniature efforts which are really very reasonably priced up to impressive large canvasses all compete for your attention and money. Staying with artists there are as well plenty of those talented people who will draw your caricature or your portrait if you will sit with them a while and strike a pose. Usually there artists are quite popular and very, very good, it helps that their prices are a lot lower than many other famous tourist destinations too. Jugglers, singers, dancers and other kinds of street entertainers are to be stopped by and admired also. Elsewhere you will find people at their stalls selling souvenirs, wooden carved mementos, brooches, hand made jewellery and so on. What you won't find on the bridge are food and drink vendors, beggars, or con-men but keep a wary eye out for the latter just in case.
There was no real, unalterable order to the statues on Charles Bridge right down until the twentieth century. Annals of the bridge from the distant past speak of occasions when it was crowded with as many as fifty statues. We do know that some statues fell out of favour and others replaced them as the centuries went by. During the destructive floods of 1890 three original statues toppled into the Vltava and were not replaced with their likenesses. To briefly mention each of the thirty extant statues as of today, we will take you through them as you meet them assuming that you ascend the bridge from the Old Town end. Beginning by looking to your south side you notice the 13th century French priest later canonised as St Ivo, he is known as the patron saint of lawyers and abandoned children. Remaining on the south side next comes Saints Barbara, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Thirdly is the expressive Statue of the Lamentation of Christ, fourth the statue of Jesus' father St Joseph, following them come statues of the famous St Francis Xavier, and after he St Christopher depicted carrying the boy Jesus on his shoulders. The next statue depicts the not particularly well-known - but important to the Jesuits who commissioned it - St Francis Borgia and coming after him is the great Czech favorite and grandmother of King Wenceslas, St Ludmila. Another immortal is next in line he being Saint Francis of Assisi but immediately after come the little-known Saint Vincent Ferrer and Procopius together, followed by St Nicholas of Talentino. The quality of the sculpting really reaches its apex now with the magnificent statue of St Luthgard, Arguablyly the most valuable piece of art on the bridge, the statue of St. Luthgard was sculpted by Matthias Braun in 1710 as a commission from Evžen Tyttl, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Plasy. Coming now to the last three statues along the south-side you can't help but notice the statue of St Adalbert who lived more than one thousand years ago who went from these lands and attempted to convert the Baltic Prussians but they killed him for his troubles. Most people won't know the three saints together represented next, they being John of Matha, Felix of Velois, and Ivan. Completing the south-side statues is that of St Wenceslas the nation's patron saint and whose feast day is a national holiday.
What statuary now awaits us on the north side of the bridge's length? Well, it begins with two individual pieces of genius by sculptor Matej Václav Jäckl from 1709 each one depicting the Madonna, she firstly attending to St Bernard, and then featured alongside Sts Dominik and Thomas Aquinas. Third along the line is the outstanding and very humbling Crucifix and Calvary scene which has the richest history of all the statues adorning the bridge. Next comes St Anne, she believed to be the mother of the Virgin Mary and then come two luminaries of Czech spiritual and academic history Sts Cyril and Methodius who brought the Christian message as well as the Slavic language to these lands. Next is another legendary biblical saint, he being John the Baptist. The following triumvirate of saints they being Norbert, Wenceslas again, and Sigismund are not so terribly important, but the next statue is like a magnet for the tourist hordes, St John of Nepomuk. It is the oldest on the bridge and the most popular with people anxious to touch the bridge here; this is believed to bring good fortune and to ensure that the visitor will return to the city of Prague.
Anthony of Padua near Lisbon in Portugal is next along the line and after he comes St Jude Thaddeus followed by one of the four great Doctors of the Church, Saint Augustine. We are coming towards the end now but before so we will still stop and nod to St Cajetan and after him St Philipp Benitus. The penultimate statue is another hero of these lands called St Vitus after whom of course the cathedral at Prague Castle is named while the final statue features Jesus along with the patron saints of medicine, Cosmas and Damian placed on either side of him.
"If at some point you don't ask yourself, 'What have I gotten myself into?' then you're not doing it right" - Roland Gau