STITCH LINES...... Ramblings on life as a quilter, stitcher, traveler, photographer, gardener and lover of books, cats and fine chocolate....

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Karlův Most - Charles Bridge

When you travel to a new country where the language has NO resemblance to your own - none at all- it is always a bit of a challenge at first to "find your way". Czech certainly does not sound at all like English, although they do use the same alphabet we do. You feel totally at a loss to read street signs, directions, names on buildings... But it doesn't take long to start picking up a few words here and there. I had done a good deal of reading and some online research before our trip, and most of all I had studied the map of central Prague so I knew what was where, which was very helpful. Most of our exploration was on foot, so you quickly start to recognize the words for bridge (most), square (náměstí), castle (hrad) and other "landmarks". Before long you are recognizing those key words on signs and the "announcements of stops" on the tram.
As there are a number of bridges over the Vltava River ( 8 in central Prague, a few more further out), the word "most" (bridge) was one of the first we learned. The Karlův Most - Charles Bridge - is undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks in the city. It is for pedestrians only and offers an entertaining 500 yard stroll across the river. Morning, afternoon or night, it is always crowded in the summer. Bridges had been built on this same spot previously but all had been destroyed by floods. After a major flood in 1342 Emperor Charles IV decided against repairing the old bridge yet again, and commissioned an entirely new bridge to be built. It was Prague's only bridge across the Vltava for over 400 years!

Originally known as the Stone Bridge, it soon became known as the Charles Bridge. Charles IV is not only on the 100Kč bill, but also gave his name to Charles University, Charles Square, the bridge and several more prominent spots around town... Charles was the Holy Roman Emperor who chose Prague from which to rule his vast empire during the 14th century. At the Old Town end of the bridge sits his statue, holding a contract establishing the university, the first in Northern Europe. Charles IV was responsible for laying out the plans for the city, and also built many churches and monasteries.
The Czech people love their legends and of course there are legends around the Charles Bridge. Charles IV was known to have a love of numerology and astrology, and according to legend, the first foundation stone for the bridge was laid early in the morning of July 9th in 1357.   Written out in digits - the year, month, day, hour and minute, it's a numerical palindrome - 135797531. Coincidence? A later discovery that the end of the bridge on the Old Town side aligns perfectly with the tomb of St. Vitus (in the cathedral) and the setting sun at summer solstice, leads one to think that Charles definitely "had a plan."

The bridge is anchored on both ends by Gothic bridge towers; the Old Town tower features sculpture showing the 14th century hierarchy of kings, bishops and angels. Today the bridge is lined on both sides with sculptures, but in the 17th century there was only a cross (which is still there.) The gilded Hebrew inscription celebrating Christ, was paid for by a fine imposed on a Prague Jew - the result of a rivalry within the Jewish community - fellow Jews turned him in for mocking the cross.

The other statue of great interest is that of St. John of Nepomuk - the national saint of the Czech people. I mentioned earlier how the King had him tortured and eventually murdered by being thrown off the bridge for refusing to divulge the Queen's confession. A bronze plaque marks the spot where he was "thrown overboard" (photo below).  Supposedly when he hit the water, five stars appeared, so all his statues include five golden stars around his head. At the base of his statue are two bronze plaques, polished brightly by the caresses of passersby- touching one gives good luck and touching the other ensures you will return to Prague one day. (Yes I touched them both! Not taking any chances!!) The other bridge statues date for the late 1600's and early 1700's. Some today are replicas.

Looking downriver towards Old Town and Jewish Quarter

Looking downriver from the Charles Bridge, you see wonderful views of the Castle Quarter, the giant metronome at Letna Park which replaced of the 50' statue of Stalin, more bridges and river traffic and Old Town. The beige building with green roof is the Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic.

Looking upriver towards National Theatre

Looking upriver you will see icebreakers which protect the bridge abutments from ice damage, weirs and locks, the National Theatre, the Kampa Museum, many tour boats, paddle boats and canoes,  and more of the city (and yes, more bridges). The weir you see here stretching across the river was built during the 1800's to make the river navigable for ships.

Besides all the pedestrians on the bridge there is no shortage of  "entertainment"- musical and otherwise. The bridge is lined with vendors selling sketches, paintings, photography, jewellery and other crafts, musicians, puppeteers, and artists who will sketch your portrait or caricature. There is no shortage of spots to part with your Czech crowns.

Speaking of money, that's another thing
that takes a little concentration at first... There are about 18 Czech crowns to the dollar. It takes a while to get used to what seems like a high price on items, but you soon learn to do a quick conversion in your head. 100Kč is just a little over $5.00. 70Kč was a common price for a bottle of water- that's about $4.00. A cone of gelato was usually 30Kč- almost $2.00 We quickly learned an easy way for

a rough conversion- drop the last digit and cut the rest in half- so if something was 650 Kč - drop the zero and halve 65 - roughly $33.00 (actually $36.00) so that worked well to give us a quick idea of the rough price of something. Their bills are the same size as ours. Coins were for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 crowns. Although this looks like a very large amount of money sitting on my bed, it's actually just over  $100.00.

On the bridge, looking to Old Town 

As you can see it was impossible to get photos on the bridge without lots of other tourists and visitors in the photos.... Everyone loves walking the bridge.... Day or night, you always have company...

On the bridge, looking to Mala Strana and Castle Quarter

As I strolled along, I could not help but wonder how many thousand or million feet had walked right where I was walking... Had Charles IV himself stepped where I was stepping.. or Jan Hus, or St. John of Nepomuk... It is so incredible to be in a city with such history, I was totally in awe.... Our country is a mere babe in comparison...

Good Night, Charles Bridge


"I love to walk a city, whether I've been there once or a hundred times
before. It's amazing what sort of
inspiration you'll find when you
steal a second glance."
~ Erin Hiemstra

1 comment:

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams said...

My niece went to Prague and her photos have always made me wish I could go and visit.

It looks like a great trip.


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