Throughout summer, this landmark crossing can get so choked with pedestrians that many locals prefer to take alternative routes across the river. But not us. Despite plenty of griping, we’re in love with Charles Bridge. A walk across is a swoony stroll through a four-dimensional picture postcard; the fourth dimension being time. King Charles IV ordered this bridge to be built and, heeding court astrologers’ recommendations, the foundation stone was laid at 5:31 on the morning of July 9, 1357, a time that was considered auspicious because it corresponds to the numerical palindrome 1357 9.7 5:3.1. In the Middle Ages, people believed that truth and divinity could be deciphered from the orderliness of the heavens, which, according to the old Pythagorean system, could be expressed mathematically. For the next five centuries, until 1941, Charles Bridge was the only Prague bridge connecting the two banks of the Vltava. Mostly between 1683 and 1714, the Jesuits (who understood marketing and promotion better than most) lined the bridge with thirty statues of saints. The entire collection is the work of just eight sculptors, including Ferdinand M. Brokoff and Matyáš B. Braun, two masters who are considered to be among the best carvers of their time. The do-gooders represented on Charles Bridge were a particularly unlucky lot: St. Ludmila holds the veil with which she was suffocated; St. Judas Thaddeus is palming the club with which he was fatally beaten; St. Vitus stands beside the lions who ate him; and St. John Nepomuk is positioned near the spot from which he was thrown into the river. The 1683 statue of St. John of Nepomuk, situated near the bridge’s center, is the oldest sculpture here. It’s also one of only two cast in bronze; the others are carved from stone. Nepomuk played confessor to the wife of 14th-century King Wenceslas IV. According to legend, Nepomuk outraged the King when he refused to release the details of the Queen’s confession — something about her lover, perhaps? The clergyman’s throat was slashed and his body was tossed into the river from the middle of Charles Bridge (the spot is marked by a small bronze cross embedded into the top of the wall). The truth, however, is far more mundane: Nepomuk was on the wrong side of a power struggle with the King concerning the appointment of a new archbishop. But fact shouldn’t get in the way of a good story and it’s the myth that endures in this statue’s two pediment reliefs, both of which now shine brightly from the millions of hands that touch it each year for good luck. Ironically, John of Nepomuk is now the Patron Saint of swimmers.

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