Prague's famous Charles Bridge celebrates its 650th anniversary on Sunday. One of the oldest and certainly one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe, this ancient artery across the Vltava river links Prague's Lesser Town with the Old Town on the right bank and was vital to the development of the Czech capital.
The legendary Stone Bridge in Prague, as it was originally known, is 650 years old and the birthday party will be grand. Prague is doing everything to make sure everybody joins in the three days of revived history, music, crafts, jousts, historic markets and processions that will peak on Monday at 5:31 AM, when the corner stone of the bridge will be blessed by the Archbishop of Prague.
Work on the bridge began in the morning of July 9, 1357 with Emperor Charles IV himself attending the ceremony carefully prepared under his personal supervision. The bridge marked the first ten years of the reign of Charles IV' in the Czech Lands which was a fruitful time for the Emperor and his people. Those years saw the foundation of Prague's New Town, Saint Vitus Cathedral, Charles University as well as Karlstejn Castle. The construction of the bridge was supervised by Petr Parler, a German architect who worked for Charles IV. Helmut Elfenkämper, the German Ambassador to Prague who attended the opening of the Charles Bridge Museum at the foot of the bridge says Charles Bridge is a link in more than one sense:
"Charles Bridge is the most important monument connected with Emperor Charles IV who was of the house of Luxembourg and had a Bohemian mother, and is a historic link between the Czech lands and German-speaking countries, France, Western Europe."
The date and time for the launch of the enterprise was chosen carefully. Legend has it that the stone was laid exactly at 5:31 in the morning. When the numbers of the year, day, month and time are lined next to each other, they form a palindromic number 1 3 5 7 9 7 5 3 1, which was carved into the Old Town bridge tower. It took about 50 years to complete the bridge and neither the Emperor nor the architect lived to see the day. When Parler died in 1397, people could already walk across the bridge, but it was not fully completed until 1407 when the taller of the two Lesser Town bridge towers was built.
Crossing the bridge today, few people realize that the splendid statues lining both sides of the bridge were added many years after the bridge was built. The oldest of them, made in 1683, depicts St John of Nepomuk, a 14th century priest who was thrown off the still unfinished bridge and drowned. On the south side of the bridge, you can see a small cross attached to the railing on the spot where he was thrown into the river. Altogether, there are 32 statues created from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Charles Bridge has been damaged by floods many times. The most serious of them happened in September 1890, when three of the bridge's sixteen spans were destroyed and for two years, wooden constructions replaced the damaged parts. The latest reconstruction took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and now the bridge is to undergo a complete renovation that will start once the festivities are over. Pavel Bem, Lord Mayor of Prague.
"I think it is a unique jewel in the crown of the fantastic and unbelievable history of the city of Prague. It is not only a bridge and a major transportation hub, but it is also a mirror of different and unusual architectural styles which you can see in Prague, encompassing the early Gothic right up to the Baroque period - with its fantastic statues, and I am glad to say that Charles Bridge is going to be renovated."
When was the last time you walked across the bridge yourself?
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