Imperial Memory and the Charles Bridge: Establishing Royal Ceremony for Future Kings
Kunsttexte.de/ostblick: No.3 (2012)
Though bridges have been admired throughout history, the multitude of roles that they performed in the past has often been overlooked in art historical research. In the Middle Ages the role of bridges went beyond the practical and as cities grew near rivers, bridges became the main streets of their medieval urban centers. It was common for chapels, houses, towers and other buildings to cover bridges; and for ceremonies such as punishments, coronation processions and even jousts to use them as their stage. Due to ‘a preference for the uncluttered’ in the 17th and 18th centuries, very few medieval bridges survive to illustrate these scenes. Therefore, using the example of the Charles Bridge in Prague, this article aims to redefine these structures, by looking beyond their practical quotidian functions and investigating the roles they played in medieval ceremonies instead.
The History behind the Charles Bridge Built during the reigns of Charles IV (1346-1378) and his son, Wenceslas IV (1363-1419), the Charles Bridge crosses the river Vltava in Prague, joining the Old Town on its eastern side, the commercial hub of the city, and the Hradčany and Malá Strana on the west, where the castle and cathedral are located (fig. 1). These two sides were connected by only one bridge until the 19th century and this bridge served as a main street, depended upon by everyone, despite the dangers that plagued it throughout the centuries. The planning of the 14th-century bridge, begun after the collapse of the earlier Judith Bridge in 1342, was commenced in 1357 under Master Otto, and finished by Peter Parler and his workshop in c.1380. A tower on the Malá Strana, which had belonged to the Judith Bridge, was incorporated into the new stone struc- ture, and a further tower, with extensive sculpture, was built to aggrandize the Old Town side of the Bridge.