Charles Bridge (Karlův most in Czech) is a stone 14th century Gothic bridge linking the two banks of Vltava river and two sides of Prague. It is one of the oldest bridges in Central Europe. This magnificent structure is one of the city’s finest attractions, and is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town. It was actually called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most in Czech) during the first several centuries.
The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. The entrance to Charles Bridge is marked by towers at both ends: the Old Town Bridge Tower on the east bank and the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and the Judith Tower on the west end. Both Old Town Bridge Tower and Lesser Town Bridge Tower can be climbed for a view of Prague and the bridge from above.
The bridge is also popular with Czech artists, musicians and souvenir vendors whose stands line both sides of the bridge year-round.
From Charles Bridge visitors enjoy fairytale views of the Prague skyline. The wide expanse of the river flows beneath it, flanked on both sides by elegant buildings. Prague Castle towers above in its eminent position. A great time of day to come to the bridge is at sunset when one can enjoy a breathtaking view of the fully lit Prague Castle against the evening sky. By night the Charles Bridge is a quiet place. But during the day it throngs with people. Street artists sketch and musicians play. If you want to have it all for yourself, visit the bridge in early morning or later evening.
Charles Bridge was built by Emperor Charles IV is one of the many monuments that were built during Charles’ reign but it is not the first bridge that ever connected the Prague banks of the Vltava. Another bridge used to stand in its place – the Romanesque Judith Bridge, named after the wife of king Vladislav I, which was the first stone bridge over the river. It was built in 1172 and collapsed in a flood in 1342. Charles Bridge was built a little bit to the south of the place of the former Judith Bridge
The foundation stone of the new bridge was laid in 1357. Charles IV’s favourite architect and builder, Peter Parléř, oversaw the majority of the work. It is said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge.
In 1378, Charles’ remains were taken across the new bridge to Prague Castle to be buried in the Cathedral of Saint Vitus.
During the centuries, the bridge has witnessed wild times, from the Hussite Wars to the foray of the Passau army in 1611 to the period after the Battle of the White Mountain when the heads of twelve Czech noblemen decapitated in Old Town Square on 21 June 1621 were hung from the battlements of the Old Town tower as a warning for ten years. During the siege of Prague by the Swedish army in 1648, it was the place of the fiercest clashes.
For many years the only decoration on the bridge was a simple crucifix, but later the Baroque style contributed to the appearance of the bridge and the result is a wonderful collection of statues, located above each pillar of the bridge. Most sculptures were erected between 1683 and 1714.
During the 1848 revolution, students built barricades here. In 1870 the bridge was officially named Charles Bridge in 1870.
The avenue of 30 mostly baroque statues and statuaries (75 individual statues) situated on the balustrade forms a unique connection of artistic styles with the underlying Gothic bridge. They depict various saints venerated at that time. The most prominent Bohemian sculptors of the time took part in decorating the bridge, such as Matthias Braun, Jan Brokoff, and his sons Michael Joseph and Ferdinand Maxmilian. Now many of them are copies and the originals can be seen in the Lapidarium of the National Museum, as floods and catastrophes over the centuries damaged the originals.
The north side of the bridge from east to west:
- Saint Bernard – The copy of the Matěj Václav Jäckel from 1709. It was donated by the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Osek, Benedikt Littwerig. A group of St. Bernard, the founder of the Cistercian Order, kneeling and adoring the Madonna, is situated on an asymmetrical tripartite pedestal. Little angels holding the abbot’s infula and attributes of Christ’s sufferance, which are also the saint’s attributes, are below the Madonna and on the left edge of the statue.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas and St. Dominique – The copy of the Matěj Václav Jäckel from 1707. Originally sponsored by the Dominican Convent of St. Giles in the Old Town of Prague. In the centre axis of the statue is the statue of Madonna with Little Jesus giving the prayer beads to St. Dominique, the founder of Dominican Order, who kneels on the left part of the pedestal among the emblems of his dignity. In the right part, symmetrical to St. Dominique, St. Thomas stands, the most important member of the Order just after its founder, the famous philosopher and creator of the scholastic philosophy. Books, a quill, a chain with shining sun and a little angel holding a hive are the attributes symbolizing the historical importance and characteristics of his personality.
- The Crucifix and Calvary – Heterogeneous group of sculptures both by origin and by composition. This statuary is one of the most historically interesting ones on the bridge, it 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 bronze Hebrew inscription on the crucifix (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts”) was added in 1696 from the fine of a Prague Jew, Eliass Backoffen, who jibed at the cross. The cartouches on the cross pedestal contain trilingual inscription about this incident – the work of an anonymous sculptor marked GH comes from 1707.
- Saint Anne – The copy of the Matěj Václav Jäckel from 1707. Original sculpted at the expense of count Rudolf of Lisov, the hetman of the New Town of Prague. The saintess, the Virgin Mary’s mother, holds blessed little Jesus and in front of her and to the left Virgin Mary is shown as a young girl.
- Saint Cyril and St. Method – The original by Karel Dvořák from 1928–1938, erected by the Ministry of Education. The statue represents the brothers originating from Thessalonica, the Apostles of the Slavs, who came to Moravia in the 9th century to preach the gospel about the Christ; they baptize the pagan Czechs and Moravians. The statue stands in the place of the former statuary of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1711, which was displaced by the floods of 1890 and can now be found in the Prague lapidarium.
- Saint John the Baptist – The original by Josef Max from 1857. The saint is shown as a preacher with a golden cross and a font from a shell on his side. The statue of the Baptism of the Lord by Jan Brokoff from 1706 stood in this position between 1706 and 1848.
- The bronze-cast plate signifying the place, where St. John of Nepomuk was reputedly thrown down into the Vltava river, is embedded in the banisters between the St. John the Baptist’s statue and the next statue. This event happened on March 30, 1393 at the King Wenceslas IV.’s bidding, because the saint, who was as a General Vicar of the Prague Archbishopric the confessor of his wife, Queen Sophia, refused to tell him her confessional secrets.
- Saints Norbert, Wenceslas and Sigismond – The original by Josef Max from 1853. Made under the patronage of the abbot of Strahov Monastery, Dr. Jeroným Zeidler. The Gothic Revival pedestal carries the standing figures of three saints – the Czech national patrons. St. Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian Order and the archbishop of Magdeburg, stands in the middle, St. Wenceslas to the left and St. Sigismond to the right. Originally the statue of St. Norbert with blessed Adrian and Jacob by Jan Brokoff used to stand there.
- Saint John of Nepomuk – The original from 1683. The oldest and perhaps the most popular of the statues. St John of Nepomuk was a Czech martyr saint who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV by being thrown into Vltava from the bridge. The Viennese sculptor Mathias Rauchmüller formed a clay sketch of the statue, Jan Brokoff then made a wooden model in 1682 and finally Wolfgang Jeroným Heroldt the bronze casting in Nuremberg in 1683. The sculpture traditionally envisages the saint as a bearded canon with a starry gloriole, with a martyr’s palm and a cross in his hand. The figure stands on a tripartite pedestal, in which three bronze-cast plates portraying scenes from the life of St. John of Nepomuk: Queen’s confession and saint’s throwing-out into the Vltava river. The inscription says that the statue was placed on the Bridge on the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the John of Nepomuk’s martyrdom.
- In modern times it has become traditional to touch the bridge here; this is held to bring good fortune and to ensure that the visitor will return to Prague.
- Saint Anthony of Padua – The Baroque original by Jan Oldřich Mayer from 1707, sponsored by Krištof Mořice Withauer, councilor of the Prague Castle burgraviate. The statue of the Franciscan saint with a lily in his hand stands on a simple square pedestal adhered to a pedestal, on which a little Jesus stands. Two stone vases are situated on both sides of the statue and the right one is decorated with reliefes showing the scenes from the saint’s legend.
- Saint Judas Thaddeus – The Baroque original by Jan Oldřich Mayer from 1708 sponsored by František Sezima, knight Mitrovský from Nemyšle and Jeřichovice. A typical presentation of one of the Apostles, who died by martyrdom when spreading Christianity. Holding a bulky cudgel and a book, it is placed on a huge Baroque pedestal.
- Saint Augustine – The copy of the Jan Bedřich Kohl’s original from 1708, paid for by the Augustinian convent of Saint Thomas in Prague. The patron of Augustinian Order, the Alexandrian bishop and an excellent philosopher living between 354 and 430 is shown in his pontifical vestment holding a book and a burning heart, in the famous scene with a little angel, who tries to replace the sea with a shell.
- Saint Cajetan – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1709, sponsored by the convent of Theatins in Prague. The statue represents the saint, one of the founders of the Order of Theatines, in his order vestment, holding a book and standing on a pedestal with an obelisk, which is covered with clouds and angel’s heads and a picture of the heart on its top. The obelisk is the symbol of Holy Trinity.
- Saint Philip Benitius – The original by Michal Bernard Mandl from 1714, made from Salzburg marble and donated by the Servites convent in Prague. The statue is the last work of the author and it represents St. Philip Benitius, the fifth General of the Order of Servites in the ecstatic pose wearing his order vestment and holding a book, a lily and a cross. By his legs there is the crown of the Pope. The clay sketch of the statue can be found in a museum in Salzburg.
- Saint Vitus – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1714, donated by Matěj Vojtěch Macht of Löwenmacht, the dean of the Vyšehrad canonry. St. Vitus as a Roman soldier with a Middle Age princely cap on his head stands on a loose architectonic pedestal in the shape of a cave, from which lions as the saint’s attributes creep out. In this scene the image of the saint as a Roman patrician martyred for his belief is connected with the history of his shoulder relic, which was acquired by Czech Duke St. Wenceslas as a significant cult object and for which he founded the Christian cathedral in the Prague Castle. These relics, together with others acquired by Charles IV in 1355, are embedded in the cathedral building.
- Holy Savior with Saints Cosmas and Damian – The original by Jan Oldřich Mayer from 1709, made at the expense of the faculty of medicine of the Charles University. The statue shows the twins Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian standing by Christ, wearing university gowns and holding a martyr’s branch and a drug pot. They had medical skills, which they used when Christianising pagans. Both the saints died together by martyrdom and they became the patron saints of medicine.
The south side of the bridge from east to west:
- Saint Ivo – The copy by Fr. Hergesel from 1908 according to the Mathias Braun’s original from 1711, the original is deposited in the Lapidarium of the National Museum. The statue represents a loose group expressing the important saint’s feature of the spiritual judge, who defends socially weak people against the injustice of the powerful. There is a group of an old man and a mother with a child behind the figure of St. Ivo and an allegorical figure of Justice on the other side. St. Ivo was also the patron of lawyers and of the Faculty of Law at the Prague’s Charles University, which financed the construction of the statue.
- Saints Barbara, Margaret and Elizabeth – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1707. Although there is an inscription saying IOANN BROKOFF FECIT (made by Jan Brokoff), the style of the statuary is evidence that Jan’s son Ferdinand is the true author. St. Barbara stands with a martyr’s coronet, a goblet and a tower in the centre of the statue, on the right side St. Elizabeth embellished with royal attributes gives alms to a poor man and on the left St. Margaret stands also with a martyr’s coronet, with a cross and a dragon. The mark of Jan Brokoff, the owner of the statue workshop, is under the foot of St. Barbara.
- Pieta – The original by Emanuel Max from 1859, commissioned by the Old Town’s public authorities. The group represents the Virgin Mary and St. Mary Magdalene bemoaning the dead Christ, above whom stands St. John the EvangeliSt. The empty cross overhangs the group. In the 15th century there used to stand a Column of the Crucifixion, which was destroyed by flood-water in 1496. In 1695 the statue of Pieta carved by Jan Brokoff was built in the place; this was removed to the Monastery of Gracious Nurses under Petřín hill in Prague in 1859 and replaced by the current statue.
- Saint Joseph – The original by Josef Max from 1854, sponsored by Josef Bergmann, a tradesman in Prague. The statue of the saint accompanied by the little Christ stands on the Neo-Gothic architectonic pedestal. This statue replaced the older statue of the same saint by Jan Brokoff from 1706, which was damaged during the battles on the Bridge in 1848 and placed in the Lapidarium of the National Museum.
- Saint Francis Xaverius – The copy by Vincenc Vosmík from 1913 according to the Ferdinand Max Brokoff’s original from 1711. The original sculpture was commissioned of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy of Charles University, but fell into the river during the floods of 1890. The statue represents the loose group of the East Indian and Japanese princes baptized by the saint. The bodies of a Chinese, a Tatar, an Indian and a Moor form the pedestal of the statues. St. Francis lifts a cross and in front of him an Indian prince with pages on their knees ready to accept the baptism. The statue belongs amongst the most important art works on the Bridge, both from the compositional and the sculptural point of view. The witnesses of the scene are a young boy holding a scallop with water for baptism and a man wearing a cloak with a book. His face belongs to the sculptor of the statue, F. M. Brokoff.
- Saint Christopher – The original by Emanuel Max from 1857, sponsored by Václav Wanek, the portreeve of Prague. The statue represents the saint, the pilgrims’ patron carrying little Christ on his shoulders. According to a legend St. Christopher was a huge pagan who accepted Christian religion and who carried pilgrims across the river as expiation. The statue was originally conceived by Count Antonín Sporck, who wanted to build a marble statue as tribute to Charles VI in 1720. A plan of this was created by Matthias Braun, but was not executed. The statue is situated in the place where a guardhouse for the Bridge with a guardian maintaining law and order used to stand before.
- Saint Francis Borgias – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1710, commissioned by the imperial Burgrave František z Colletů. The composition is in the shape of triangle on the richly developed and decorated plinth with the saint’s attributes. St. Borgius, the third Jesuit’s General, wearing his friary vestment is spiritually tied together with two figures of angels holding his attributes. The course of the saint’s life decorates the plinth.
- Saint Ludmila – The copy of the statue from the Mathias Braun’s workshop from the period after 1720. The statue was transported to the Bridge after 1784, when the statue of St. Wenceslas fell to the river. The statue depicts St. Ludmila teaching her grandson, St. Wenceslas to read the Bible. She holds a veil as the symbol of her death by strangulation. The plinth shows the relief of the murder of St. Wenceslas.
- St. Francis of Assisi – The original by Emanuel Max from 1855, donated by count František Antonín Kolowrat Liebsteinský. Three isolated figures of St. Francis and two angels in the Academic Classicism of the 19th century stand on the Baroque-revival pedestal. The statue stands in the place of the similarly composed older statue, the sculptor of which was the Lesser Town sculptor and inn-keeper František Preis.
- Saints Vincent Ferrer and Procopius – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1712, commissioned by Romedius Josef František, the count Thun and lord of Choltice. One of the most artistically important pieces on the bridge. The statue stands on a high pedestal decorated with the busts of a Turk, a Jew and Satan, who symbolize the powers proselytised to Christianity, which St. Vincent was famous for. According to a legend St. Procopius, one of the first Czech patrons and the first abbot of Sázava Monastery, ridged up a Devil’s furrow with a devil in plough. To the left of the statuary is St. Vincent in the Dominican vestment reviving a corpse, to the right then St. Procopius in the abbot vestment standing on a devil. The relief of the pedestal shows the Great Assize and St. Procopius’ ploughing.
- On the crest of the main Bridge pier under the statuary of St. Vincent of Ferrara and St. Procope stands the statue of Bruncvík, who was the Czech King according to legends.
- Saint Nicolas of Tolentino – The copy of Jan Bedřich Kohl’s original from 1708, paid for by the Augustinian order convent of Saint Thomas in Prague. The figure of the saint friar, whose benefaction to the poor is represented in the statuary by an angel with basketful of bread.
- Behind this statue an entrance to two-ply Gothic Revival stairs connecting the Charles Bridge with the Kampa island is situated. It was built in 1844 in the place of some older stairs from 1785 according to the design of the architect Josef Kranner.
- Saint Luitgarda – The copy of the Mathias Bernard Braun’s original from 1710, commissioned by Evžen Tyttl, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Plasy. One of the most famous and artistically the most important statue on the Charles Bridge belonging to the top art works of Baroque sculpture represents the Vision of St. Luitgarda, Cistercian nun from the Convent of St. Trond, who, when praying, had a vision of Christ coming loose from the cross and letting her kiss his wounds.
- Saint Adalbert – The copy of Josef Michal Brokoff from 1709, sponsored by Markus Bernard Joanelli, the councilor of the Old Town of Prague. St. Adalbert, who lived between 956 and 997, descended from the house of Slavníkovci and he was the second Prague bishop. He died by martyrdom as a missionary to the northern Prussians. He was one of the national patrons and at the same time also the patron of Czech clergy. The statue shows him as the bishop with the crosier and the mitre, standing on a base decorated with angels and the emblem of the donor. The chronogram of the Charles Bridge is placed on the lower part of the plinth.
- Saints John of Matha, Felix of Valois, and Ivan – The original by Ferdinand Max Brokoff from 1714, sponsored by František Josef Thun, the lord of Klášterec nad Ohří. One of the most popular bridge statues and also the most capacious and expensive one. It was built in honour of two founders of the Trinitarian Order, the Order taking care of buying out and gaining Christians from unbeliever’s power. The pedestal of the statue is formed by a cave, in which three chained Christians ask God for salvation. On the side of the cave window a Turk is on guard – this is one of the most famous Prague plastics. St. Felix holds the cartouche with one hand while presenting the other hand to a liberated Christian. Above the Turk the figure of St. John of Matha with a deer, whose vision prompted foundation of the Order. St. Ivan kneels above St. Felix.
- Saint Wenceslas – The original by Josef Kamil Böhm from 1858, sponsored by the Institute of the Blind at Klárov, Prague. The sculpture shows the portrait of St. Wenceslas, the main patron of the Czech Crown Lands, praying with a standard, a princely cap and his emblem of an eagle.
- Until 1822, various little shops stood on this part of the bridge.
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