Charles Bridge: Royal Route Part II
Start: Kruznicke Square
Welcome to this tour of the Royal Route. On this walk, we're going to go across Charles' Bridge to Malostranske namesti, or Lesser Town square. You should be in a cobbled square, facing the tall Gothic archway leading to the Charles' Bridge.
Before we get started, let me give you a brief description of the space you're in. Right now, you're standing in Krizovnicke Square, the last plaza on this side of the Vltava River. It's actually a wide terrace built in 1848, incorporating the last arch of Charles Bridge. The Old Town bridge tower stands high above you, and the vista of Lesser Town and Prague Castle climbs to the western horizon.
To your right is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Monastery of the Knights of the Cross with a Red Star. Look up at its towering green dome, and series of statues.
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On your left are a group of old commercial enterprises that supported the bathhouses and spas operating here since the Middle Ages.
The statue in the center of the square commemorates King Wenceslav or Charles IV.
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So let's get started. Walk towards the bridge tower. As you do, pay attention to the stone and sculpture decorating the tower's Old Town side, which is facing you.
Old Town bridge tower
Now walk under the grand arch of the Old Town bridge tower, and start making your way across. This is often considered to be one of the best examples of civil Gothic architecture in the world.
Statues and Swedish assault
Stop here, and look out over the bridge stretching in front of you.
Charles Bridge is 621 metres in length and nearly 10 metres in width. Its 16 arches are flanked by 30 statues. The statues were originally Baroque, and were erected around the 1700s, but all have since been replaced by replicas.
Have a look at the first pair of statues. On your left is St. Ivo, the patron saint of lawyers. The statue on your right is of the Madonna attending to St. Bernard.
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The bridge's construction was started in 1357 under King Charles IV, and was finished in the beginning of the 1400s. It was the only means of crossing the Vltava River until 1841. So for centuries it made Prague an important location in the trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.
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Now turn around and look up at this side the Old Town tower bridge. You can see that most of the decorations on this wall have been damaged or destroyed, and were never replaced.
When you've had a good look, keep walking across the bridge. I'll tell you how the damage was done as you go.
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In the fall of 1648, Charles Bridge was the setting of the final battle of the Thirty Year's War. A Swedish mercenary army had occupied Prague castle, Lesser Town and the western shore of the river. The forces defending Old Town held off several attacks that raged across the bridge, and the Swedish army never took this part of the city. The damage you saw was caused by Swedish musket and cannon fire.
Carry on walking and I'll be with you soon.
Carry on walking.
The Vltava River has seen many floods over the centuries, when the river flowed with twenty, or thirty times its normal volume. So Charles Bridge has suffered many disasters over its nearly seven centuries. The worst occurred in the fall of 1890, when tons of floating debris dammed up the bridge's superstructure. The pressure toppled three arches and their resident statues into the raging torrent. Repairs took two years.
So many of the statues along the bridge fell victim to floods, the Swedish cannon fire of 1648 and the Hapsburg's onslaught of the 1848 revolution across Europe. Many have been changed and others replaced by different themes.
History of the valley
Around 1000 AD, London, Paris, and Prague were approximately all the same size, large towns all located on both sides of a broad river. The Romanesque foundations and walls throughout the Prague you see before you were followed by the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Look to your left. Those farthest hills that loom over the Vltava are home to the Celtic hill fortress of Zavist, its 9km of walls dating back to 400BC.
The bridge has seen many changes too. Horse-pulled trams crossed it in 1870, and later, electrified ones. The asphalt was removed in 1978, and now only pedestrians cross the original cobblestone roadway.
St John of Nepomuk
Now stop for a moment. Have a look at the statue on your right-hand side. This is of St. John of Nepomuk, and it's the oldest and best known statue on the bridge.
John of Nepomuk was appointed the vicar-general in 1389, and found himself in the middle of a power struggle between Church and king. He was tortured to death four years later, and his body was thrown from the bridge into the river. Soon after, he was proclaimed a martyr, and was canonized in 1729. In modern times it has become traditional to touch the statue to bring good fortune, and to ensure the person will return to Prague. This is a bronze replica of the original, as you can see from the plaque which has been brightly polished by many visitors.
Go ahead and touch the statue for your share of Prague luck. When you're done, carry on making your way across the bridge. I'll catch up with you a little further along.
Keep walking. We're almost across!
The shoreline of the river in front of you is the island known as Kampa. Apparently, Spanish troops camped out here in the early part of the Thirty Year's War. They called it their campus - or Kampa, in Czech. In the early days of Charles Bridge, Kampa was just a low-lying sand bar. But a huge fire devastated the Castle and large parts of Lesser Town in 1541. During the reconstruction, rubbish and debris were brought here to stabilize the shoreline and elevate the ground. Soon, permanent buildings arose. The largest was the Lichenstein Palace off to your left, finished in 1698. Hotels, taverns and homes soon circled the square below.
Look at the stairs to your left, but don't go down them. When you've had a look, just continue straight along the bridge.
Wooden stairs were constructed down to the island as its population and commercial interests flourished. In 1844 a grander stone staircase was necessary. It was destroyed by the massive flood of 1890, and was replaced by the larger one you've just seen.
Carry on heading along the cobbled bridge.
Carry on walking. The channel below you is called Certovka, or Little Devil, and it defines the eastern side of the island of Kampa. It was excavated in the 1100s by the Order of the Knights of Malta. This was to provide water for several mills along its almost 900m course. Two medieval mills still exist. Today, the lower portion of the canal is bordered by many grand residences and hotels. It presents a Prague vista often called little Venice.
Keep going towards the two bridge towers before you.
Carry on going straight. The two towers in front of you represented the first solid ground on the river's shore in the mid-14th century. Everything behind you was low islands and sand bars. These towers served as customs and inspection facilities for commercial trade and traffic traveling back and forth across the river.
Walk through the archway, which was built in 1411. Then continue straight down the cobblestoned street ahead.
The lower tower is Romanesque. It was built in the early second quarter of the 12th century as part of the fortifications of the west bank of the Vltava River. The higher tower was built after 1464 in the late Gothic architecture of the Old Town Bridge Tower.
Keep walking down the street.
Carry on walking.
The houses numbered 5, 7, 9 and 11 on your left were rebuilt in both the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Their current appearance is High Baroque, from the 1st third of the 18th century. In Medieval times they formed part of a much bigger building, the court of the Archbishop of Mainz.
You're walking on Mostevska, or Bridge Street. This has been one of Prague's significant transport arteries for centuries. It gained its urban character after a fire in 1503, and during the times under Rudolph II.
This street was full of pubs and taverns, and was known for fighting, brawling, thievery and murder. At the beginning of the 1800s, there still was a painted warning sign of a chopped off hand hanging across the street.
Malá Strana: Lesser Town
Mala strana, or Lesser Town, existed as a settlement below the castle in prehistoric times. It became more established after the 9th century. It grew into a town with its current layout under Charles IV in 1257. In the following centuries, this quarter deteriorated. But it gained its current beauty in the 17th and 18th centuries with new Baroque palaces and churches. Few buildings have been built since the end of the 18th century, so this is a unique example of a truly Baroque city.
To Malostranské náměstí
Okay, let's head to Malostranské náměstí. Do you see the building across the road ahead, with arches and large wooden doors on the ground floor? That's where I'll meet you next. So carefully cross the road across the pedestrian crossing on your right. Then cross the tram tracks to the building on the other side. I'll catch up with you there.
Right, to the Square
Now turn right, and walk to the open square.
Malostranské náměstí: Lesser Town Square
Now stop here, and turn to face the square.
This is the main square of Lesser Town, known as Malostranske namesti. It was a marketplace at a crossroads between the Castle and the traffic crossing the river. The square was laid out in 1257. In the 17th century it was divided into two parts by the St. Nicholas Church and the adjoining Jesuit College. These are the two large buildings you can see in front of you and to your left.
Well, that's the end of part two of the Royal Route. If you want something to eat or drink, there's a Starbucks on your left, and many restaurants opening onto the square. Behind you is a tram stop, with connections going both north and south.
Thank you, and goodbye!