On Wednesday afternoon, the rising floodwaters of the river Vltava were just a couple of metres below Prague's famous medieval Charles Bridge, which has been closed to the public since Tuesday morning. Preservationists, Prague citizens and tourists have been keeping their fingers crossed that no harm befalls the historic bridge. What you may not know is that - over 100 years ago - several parts of Charles Bridge were actually washed away in tumultuous floods. Ian Willoughby has the story.
The damage done to Charles Bridge at at the end of the 19th century - when the medieval body of the bridge was seriously damaged in one of the worst floods of all time on the Vltava - was described by a contemporary newspaper as the worst catastrophe to ever visit Prague, after the 1881 burning down of the National Theatre. At four o'clock on the morning of September 3, 1890, cannons were fired from Vysehrad, warning citizens of Prague of the coming floods; the river was already two metres higher than its usual level, and rising.
In the end three arches of Charles Bridge were swept away - the greatest damage being done by logs and loose rafts and wooden swimming piers. Along with the fifth pillar on the Old town Side of the bridge, valuable statues of St Ignatius Loyola and St Francis Xavier also disappeared into the Vltava.
Almost three weeks later, when the water had subsided, it was possible to examine the bridge. Rebuilding work was extremely difficult. The damaged pillars had to be completely rebuilt; the ruins were so solid that they could only be shifted by dynamite and removed from the water using steam powered machinery. It was another fourteen years before repair work on Charles Bridge was finished completely.
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