The Charles Bridge
Originally a series of wooden bridges in this location were destroyed and eventually replaced by a stronger stone structure which became known as the Judith Bridge. After more flood damage it was basically this structure that was dismantled and moved to more firmer footings in 1357, repaired and formed into what you see today. It was decorated and renamed in the honour of King Charles IV. It has 30 statues (15 on each side) each with it’s own history and unbelievably it still had a tram line running across it up until 1976. The Charles Bridge is surrounded by legends of people living under it, being buried in it and being thrown from it. You won’t have to make any special detour to visit the Charles Bridge because you’ll almost certainly walk over it as you pass between the Old Town and the Lesser Town.
How best to see The Charles Bridge
You can get a closer look at the bridge in a number of ways. Easiest is to take one of the scheduled River Tours that run all year round. Secondly you can hire a row boat or a pedalo and roam around the area between the Charles Bridge and Sophies Palace but you should be aware that there is a weir close to the bridge so take care. Lastly there are a couple of restaurants within 60 metres of the Charles Bridge on both sides of the river (my favourite is Hergetova Cihelna) so you can take in the view and eat at the same time. People looking to take scenic pictures should take advantage of the towers at each end of the Charles Bridge as the tops are the equivalent of a third floor riverside view. You can get the lesser town with the bridge in the foreground or vice versa the Old Town with the bridge in the foreground.
On the Charles Bridge
On the Charles Bridge itself you’ll generally find a crowd of people touching the plate on the Jan Nepomuk statue (I think people believe its for good luck or something but this is not a Czech tradition). The statue immortalises St Jan of Nepomuk who was the queen’s confessor who was thrown off the bridge for refusing to reveal the confessions to the king. Stars were supposed to have exploded from the water hence the ring above his head.
This used to be the original spot on the plaque that people touched (now they touch the plaques on both sides of the statue). Further towards the centre of the bridge is the cross (marked by the wrought ironwork pictured). Now this is a Czech tradition as it marks the spot where it is believed Jan Nepomuk was thrown from. Czechs will place their right hand with a finger on each cross-point and make a wish.
1) Close to the Charles Bridge on the Old Town side is a group of buildings that include the Old Town Water tower (with the clock) and the Bedrich Smetana Museum. The access to these is from Novotneho Lavka. This is an excellent location for a cup of coffee and take panoramic shots of the Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.
2) On the Charles Bridge in the summer will be artists that will draw regular portraits and caricatures while you wait. If you don’t have time to wait, bring a photo and the artist will usually do the job at home. Generally this requires a 50% up-front payment.