Europe’s Longest and Most Beautiful Medieval Bridge
Much of Prague’s present architectural beauty was achieved during its 14th-century glory days under Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Moravia and Holy Roman Emperor. It was Charles who established a university in the city and commissioned his namesake Charles Bridge in 1357, Prague’s most beloved and recognized icon.
There are fourteen other bridges that span the swirling Vltava River (which overflowed its banks in the unprecedented floods of 2002), but the view from the foot of this pedestrian bridge on the east bank is nothing short of wondrous, encompassing the remarkable mélange of architecture on the hilly slope of the Malá Strana (Lesser Town) that leads up to Prague Castle on the opposite bank. Thirty-six Baroque saints, the majority added in the 17th century, line the bridge’s graceful sixteen-arched crossing.
The ritual of visiting the landmark bridge at many different times of day is a must. Early morning on the swan-studded Vltava means having the bridge to yourself while the guardian statues hover like ghosts shrouded in the lifting mist. Midday brings on a mass of residents, tourists, buskers and other street performers, and T-shirt vendors (“Czech ’em out!”). At night, the spirit of an ongoing block party winds down and the bridge becomes magical, even spellbinding.
Within arm’s reach of the bridge, the romantic boutique inn U Trí Pstrosu (At the Three Ostriches) offers oak-beamed guest rooms and excellent dining with a view. Formerly Bohemia’s first coffeehouse, its massive centuries-old walls keep out the noise of the crowds. Ask for a corner room for the best views.