The Charles Bridge in Prague is a celebrity in its own right.
An iconic part of the city’s landscape, it has been a star in international movies, the location for many photoshoots, and it is an absolute must-see sight for tourists. However, the Charles Bridge is a relatively modern addition to Prague compared to the city’s history. Considering that the Prague Castle was built in the 9th century, the Charles Bridges’ 1357 birth year means that Prague was without it for almost as long as it has existed. So, what came before the Charles Bridge?
Before the Charles Bridge, there was the Judith Bridge. Named after King Vladislav II’s wife, Queen Judith, the Judith Bridge was built in the 12th century and was the first stone bridge to cross the Vltava. Before the Judith Bridge was built, a wooden footbridge would have allowed people to cross the river. A stone bridge for this point in history was an impressive feat, and it is suspected to be one of the first in Central Europe.
The beautiful Romanesque bridge had twenty arches and stood at a shorter height than the current Charles Bridge. From existing evidence such as remaining archways, archaeologists and historians can conclude many facts, such as the style in which the bridge was built. Nevertheless, many mysteries surround the Judith Bridge, and work continues today to uncover more information.
One of the bridge’s mysteries is the architect. He is suspected to be Italian and to have been brought to Prague by the King himself. Extraordinarily, it is known that the bridge’s namesake, the Queen herself, had a hand in the building of the bridge and oversaw the construction. Furthermore, despite that a stone bridge at this point in time would have been a rarity, the bridge is seldom mentioned by name anywhere except certain historical records. While this may seem odd, it is possible that specifying the bridge by name would have been seen as redundancy due to its importance and renown.
The Judith Bridge held incredible significance to its time, just as the Charles Bridge does today. A critical aspect of the bridge was a hospital connected to the bridge on the Old Town side. The hospital was founded by St. Agnes of Bohemia and run by The Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. Not only do they have an awesome name, but they are an all-male, Catholic order with a Czech origin, are based in Prague, and they still exist today! They were tasked with taking care of the Judith Bridge, requiring them to collect tolls and monitor who crossed it. How can a historical site be complete without an accompanying enigmatic order?
Unfortunately, the Judith Bridge was washed away by a flood in the 14th century, and little remains of it today. Archaeologists suspect that some of the bridge’s remains were used in new constructions, such as the houses built along the Vltava’s shore. Regardless, the Judith Bridge loss led to the Charles Bridge, and I am sure many of us cannot imagine Prague without it.
If you would like to learn more about the Judith Bridge, you can visit the Charles Bridge Museum. For a more in-depth look, you can read the recent archaeological findings on the Judith Bridge’s construction (in Czech). Finally, you can even follow The Knights of the Cross with the Red Star on Instagram.