Charles Bridge represents the oldest Prague Gothic bridge connecting the Old Town and the Lesser Town. Initially it was simply known as the Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge. The bridge has actually been known as “Charles Bridge” since 1870.
The first wooden bridge has been documented as early as in the 10th century. This wooden bridge was destroyed by the big floods.
The first stone bridge was built very quickly sometime between 1158 and 1172 on the order of King Vladislav I and it was named in honor of his consort Judith.
Judith´s Bridge was also damaged by the great flood in 1342 after which Charles IV decided to replace the ruins with a stronger bridge which happened between 1357 and 1402.
It is 516 metres long and about 10 meters wide, and was built of sandstone blocks under the supervision of the architect Petr Parléř. The bridge is decorated with 30 sculptures and groups of statues. On both ends of the bridge there are the bridge towers – the Old Town Bridge Tower and the Lesser Town Bridge Tower. All of them offer beautiful views of the Vltava river, the Prague Castle complex and other bridges.
Public transport was used across the Charles Bridge for a long time. In 1883 there was a horse tram which was replaced in 1905 by an electric tram until 1908 and was later also replaced by buses. Since 1965 Charles Bridge has been used purely by pedestrians.
On one side of the bridge you can see the Lesser Town Bridge Tower which formed a part of Judith’s Bridge. Its present Renaissance appearance dates back to 1591 when the tower had to be rebuilt after the fire. In the course of these modifications, the tower was lowered by one storey and was adorned with beautiful Renaissance gables. The higher tower was established on the site of an older tower in the second half of 15th century during the reign of Jiří z Poděbrad (George of Poděbrady).
Charles Bridge serves as an extraordinary gallery in the open air – displaying its rich sculptural decoration. The oldest sculpture was dedicated to St. Jan Nepomucký (John of Nepomuk). It represents the work of the well known Baroque sculptor Jan Brokoff. It is 2.5 metres high. It was designed after the wooden model which is stored in the church of St. John of Nepomuk on the Rock. The final sculpture was made from bronze in Nuremberg. Jan Nepomucký used to be a favoured saint of poor people. The story goes that he refused to tell the confessional secrets of Queen Žofie to her husband King Wenceslas IV which led to him being tortured to death. The main attributes of the Jan Nepomucky sculpture include five stars above his head, surplice, cross and a palm of torture. According to legend stars appeared on the water surface above his head after he had been thrown from the bridge into the river. Stars are the sign of the Latin word „tacet“, which means keep silent. On the bridge rail you can find a five star cross marking the place from where Jan Nepomucky was thrown to his watery grave.
We should also mention the legend about the construction of Charles Bridge. Charles IV endeavoured to build this bridge as strong as possible so it’s said that raw eggs, curd and wine were mixed into the mortar. Some of the surrounding towns were thought to have misunderstood the order of the ruler, and sent hard boiled eggs as well as cheese.