Prague’s most familiar monument, connecting the city’s Old Town with the Little Quarter, was the city’s only crossing over the Vltava River until 1741. It is 1,706 ft (520 m) long and built of sandstone blocks. Now pedestrianized, at one time it could take four carriages abreast. Today, due to wear and tear, many of its statues are copies. The Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower is one of the finest buildings of its kind.
THE BRIDGE’S SCULPTORS
The sculptor Matthias Braun (1684-1738), who was born near Innsbruck and learned his craft in Austria and Italy, came to Prague in 1710. His first work, the statue of St. Luitgard, was produced when he was only 26. Other sculptors were Johann Brokoff (1652-17 1 8), of German origin, and his sons Michael and Ferdinand. The latter produced some of Charles Bridge’s most dynamic figures, such as St. Adalbert and St. Francis Xavier, which shows the Jesuit missionary supported by three Moorish and two Asian converts.
Charles Bridge was named after Charles IV, crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, who wanted the bridge to echo the ancient Rome of the Caesars. However, it was not until the late 17th century that statues inspired by Roman sculpture were placed on the bridge.
The statues mainly depict saints, including St. Vitus, the bridge’s patron saint. Cherubs, dice, and a centurion’s gauntlet form part of the statue of The Madonna and St. Bernard Nearby, the Dominicans are shown with the Madonna and their emblem, a dog (The Madonna, St. Dominic, and St. Thomas).
THE LIFE OF ST. JOHN NEPOMUK
The cult of St. John Nepomuk, who was canonized in 1729, was promoted by the Jesuits to rival the revered Czech martyr Jan Hus, whose reformist preaching earned him a huge following in the early 15th century. Jan Nepomucky, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Prague, was arrested in 1393 by Wenceslas IV along with others who had displeased the king over the election of an abbot. John died under torture and his body was bound and thrown off Charles Bridge. He is commemorated by a statue (St. John Nepomuk) and a bronze relief depicting him being thrown off the bridge. St. John Nepomuk is a popular figure and statues modeled on this one can be seen in countries throughout Central Europe, especially on bridges.
St. Adalbert 1709
Adalbert, Bishop of Prague, founded the Church of St Lawrence on Petrin Hill, Prague, in 99 1. He is known to the Czec as as Vojtech.
View from little Quarter Bridge Tower
The tall pinnacled wedge tower gives a superb view of the city of 100 spires.
St. Luitgard, 1710
This statue, sculpted by Matthias Braun, is based on a blind Cistercian nun’s celebrated vision in which Christ appeared and permitted her to kiss his wounds.
Bridge Tower Sculptures
Peter Parler‘s sculptures include St Vitus, the bridge’s patron saint Charles IV, and Wenceslas IV
Thirty Years’ War
In the last hours of this war, the Old Town was saved from the invading Swedish army. The truce was signed in the middle of the bridge in 1648.
St John Nepomuk, 1683
Reliefs on the bridge depict the martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk. Here, the saint is polished bright from people touching it for good luck.
For 200 years, the wooden crucifix stood alone on the bridge. The gilded Christ dates from 1629 and the Hebrew words “Holy, Holy, Holy lord” were paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy
A VITAL INGREDIENT
Large quantities of egg white were needed to strengthen the mortar used in building the bridge and Emperor Charles IV asked everyone with chicken s to supply eggs for this purpose. Legend has it that one village misunderstood and sent wagon loads of useless hard-boiled eggs.
1357: Charles IV commissions Peter Parler to construct a new bridge, replacing the Judith Bridge.
1683: The first statue, of St. John Nepomuk, is placed at the center of the bridge.
1683-1720: Statues by the Brokoffs and Braun are erected along the bridge.
1974: The bridge becomes a pedestrian area and a focal point of the city.
1992: The Historic Center of Prague joins the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.