When you first see the Charles Bridge (Karlův Most), with its Baroque statues and gothic towers, your first thought is probably something along the lines of “I didn’t think it would be this big.” At thirty feet wide and 1600 feet long, it is seems even larger because of the towers at each end and the statutes looming over you as you walk across. The scale of the bridge is all the more impressive when you take into account just how old it is. There has been a bridge on this site for about as long as there has been a Prague. Wooden structures were replaced by the stone Judith Bridge in 1170, which succumbed to a flood in 1342. Construction on a new bridge was started in 1357 by King Charles IV and it would take forty-five years to complete. It would remain the only bridge in town for nearly five centuries.
The bridge incorporated one of the remaining towers from the old Judith Bridge on it’s western end. An additional tower on this side was added after the completion of the bridge. The tower on the Old Town side was built concurrently with bridge. The iconic sculptures, standing tall on their parapets, were not added until much later. The first statue was to adorn the bridge was added in 1683. Incidentally it is that of St. John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the bridge in 1393. Over the next three centuries, more statues were added with the last one coming in 1928. Today, there are thirty statues lining either side of the bridge. As the elements damaged the statues, and their their artistic and historical importance was recognized, all of the statues you see on the bridge are replicas. Not to worry, you can still see the originals at the National Museum.
The bridge provides the most direct (and scenic!) pedestrian route between the Old Town and the Castle, so a visit here is probably already part of your itinerary, even if you did not know it.
The bridge can be a busy place, especially during the day. Musicians, artists, vendors and tour groups all descend on the bridge. To avoid this, go early in the morning or in the evening. Actually, go both times, so you can see the nearly empty city in the cool morning light and lit up at dusk.