Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge is a famous historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. This new bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) or the Prague Bridge (Pražský most) but has been the "Charles Bridge" since 1870. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava (Moldau) until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city's Old Town and adjacent areas. This "solid-land" connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.

The bridge is 621 m long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Charles Bridge saw a steep rise of heavy traffic. The last day of the horse line on the bridge was 15 May 1905, when it was replaced with an electric tram and later, in 1908, with buses. At the end of World War II, a barricade was built in the Old Town bridge tower gateway. A capital repair of the bridge took place between 1965 and 1978, based on a collaboration among various scientific and cultural institutes. The stability of the pillars was reassured, all broken stone blocks were replaced, and the asphalt top was removed. All vehicular traffic has been excluded from the Charles Bridge since then, making it accessible by pedestrians only. The repair cost 50 million crowns.

During the 1990s, some people started criticizing the previous reconstruction of the bridge and proposing further work. As of the beginning of the new millennium, most of the experts appeared to agree that the previous reconstruction had not been flawless but disputed the need for further interference with the bridge. However, after the disastrous floods of 2002 (which themselves caused only minor harm to the bridge), support for an overall bridge reconstruction grew. It was decided that repair and stabilization of the two pillars (numbers 8 and 9) on the Malá Strana side of the bridge would be done. These are the only river pillars that were not repaired after the 1890 floods.

The reconstruction was a gradual process that closed off parts of the bridge without closing the span entirely. Performed from 2008 to 2010, the work included bolstering the pillars and building a new hydroisolation system protecting the bridge. It also encompassed the replacement of many of the stones in the bridge walls, a matter which was controversial due to a heavy-handed approach adopted by the restoration team. The result has been criticised by conservation professionals all over Europe. Dozens of new replacement "stones" do not match the historical ones they are next to.