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Czech Republic: Charles Bridge

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Charles Bridge | Czech Republic | Europe

[Visited: January 2012 and many times before]

On a calm winter morning, we hurried from the airport directly to Charles Bridge. From previous visits, I knew that the bridge gets an overload of visitors during the day, and wanted to be there before it was full of people. When we reached the superb Old Town Bridge Tower, we realized we were just in time: there were very few people on the oldest link between Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) and Staré Město (Old Town). But before crossing to the other side, we marvelled at the tall tower above us. It is considered among the most beautiful gothic style buildings in the world, and especially after its reconstruction, it looks awesome. Not only the decorative sculptures and symbols, but also its golden spires. This was not just a watchtower, this was a triumphal arch through which people would have to pass to enter the Old Town. Once through the high arch above us, we found ourselves on the cobble-stone bridge. A familiar sight opened up before us: the wide bridge, lined by statues and lanterns; 15 statues on each side of the bridge.

Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Defining character of Charles Bridge are the statues and lanterns

Beyond the bridge, we now had an unobstructed view of the skyline of the Lesser Quarter, with Prague Castle dominating the view of the other side of the bridge. Baroque statues, mostly representing saints, in various shapes and sizes, decorate Charles Bridge, and in combination with the elegant street lanterns, give the bridge its unique look. It had been more than ten years since my previous visit, but I had visited Prague and Charles Bridge so many times, that seeing the statues on the bridge again also was a walk back down memory lane. Saints with beards and crosses look down over those who walk the bridge, the views of both sides of the city are sweeping and awesome; all together, the bridge just oozes the rich history of the city. Crossing the Vltava was possible since the Middle Ages; after a flood in the mid 14th century washed away Judith Bridge, Charles IV ordered a new bridge built, which was finished just after the turn of the 15th century. For a long time called the Stone Bridge, it got its current name only in the 19th century.

Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): View of Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background from the southern side of the bridge in the Old Town

Being pedestrian-only, Charles Bridge gives a medieval feeling once you set foot on it; amazingly enough, it saw wheeled traffic, for a time even on asphalt and with tramways, until traffic was banned only decades ago. Unlike centuries ago, there are many more bridges spanning the Vltava river nowadays. Fortunately, the bridge has been turned into a historic, protected open-air museum, over half a kilometre long. By the time we were halfway the bridge, it quickly filled with tour groups, mostly Russians and Italians, but many more nationalities were present as well. When we came back after a few hours, it was at times difficult to walk because of all the people and souvenir stalls. That night, we celebrated New Year's Eve on the bridge, which saw fantastic fireworks over the city and Vltava River, but also a crazy crowd, bottles of champagne everywhere, and fireworks launched from the bridge. It was my second celebration of a new year on the bridge, and I remembered the previous time, it had been a crazy event as well. Surprisingly, when we came back early next morning, the entire Charles Bridge had been cleaned overnight, and looked very clean. Still empty, we had a second chance to fully enjoy the romantic, Gothic and medieval charm of the bridge like it was possible in the 1980s when it was never full. Yes, it has become extremely touristy, but with careful planning (ie., very early rising) it is still possible to soak in the sheer beauty of the bridge without too many others around.

Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Cupola of St. Francis of Assisi church with statues and lanterns of Charles Bridge in the foreground
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): West-side bridge tower on Charles Bridge with statue of St. Augustine
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Early winter morning at the eastern tower of Charles Bridge
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): John of Nepomuk statue on Charles Bridge: close-up
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Decorated spires on Charles Bridge on the Malá Strana side of Charles Bridge
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): View of statue of St. John the Baptist on Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Charles Bridge in the early morning with lanterns, statues, and Prague Castle in the distance
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Early morning on Charles Bridge
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Prague Castle with statue of Madonna and St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Dominique Charles Bridge in the foreground
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Towers of Charles Bridge, St. Nicholas Church, statues and lanterns
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Looking towards Malá Strana across Charles Bridge with lanterns, statues, and towers
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Madonna, Saint Dominique and St. Thomas Aquinas represented in a statue on Charles Bridge
Picture of Charles Bridge (Czech Republic): Busy Charles Bridge with crosses, statues, and lanterns

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