Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Karlův Most

(František Fridrich, Karlův most, povodeň v květnu, 1872.)

The sandstone bridge Kamenný Most, renamed Karlův Most in 1870, replaced Juditin Most (built 1158-1172), also of stone, destroyed by floods in 1342. Petr Parléř and Jan Ottl began building the bridge for Emperor Charles IV in 1357, and it was completed probably by 1402. Jan Nepomucký (c.1345–1393) was thrown off the bridge; in 1911 Jaroslav Hašek failed to throw himself off. The former features amongst the saints lined along the parapets. His arrival in 1683 was followed over the next couple of centuries by Ivo, Bernard, Barbara, Margaret and Elizabeth, Mary, Dominic and Thomas Aquinas, Joseph, Anne, Francis Xavier, Cyril and Methodius, Christopher, John the Baptist, Francis Borgia, Norbert, Ludmilla, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Vincent Ferrer and Procopius, Bruncvik, Jude Thaddeus, Augustine, Nicholas of Tolentino, Luthgard, Cajetan, Adalbert, Philip Benitius, John of Matha, Felix of Valois and Ivan, Vitus, Wenceslas, and Cosmas and Damian. Christ appears twice among them. With the dangers of falling into the Vltava (the fate of Francis Xavier in 1890), cannon fire (Joseph in the revolution of 1848), and other perils, the originals began to think better of an obviously precarious life and moved to the exhibition grounds (Výstaviště) in Holešovice, leaving behind stone ghosts of their former selves.

Floods have threatened the bridge over the centuries, the most severe recorded damage being in the floods of September 1890, which took two years to repair. The additional danger of adding too much salt to eggs has prompted the current repairs, begun in August 2007, involving the re-laying and sometimes replacement of the sandstone ashlars. The bridge meanwhile remains traversable.

The pile of stones on the wooden pallet preserved its arrangement the weeks I passed, and often I stopped to admire the elegant transition from the order at the base to the haphazard placements atop. The signs of a numbering system for the temporarily extracted sandstone blocks was vaguely reassuring.

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