Delayed Charles Bridge repairs to begin this year

February 7, 2007

City officials to launch year-old plan in spring

A long-promised reconstruction of Charles Bridge, which has been damaged by leaks and chemical corrosion over the years, is to finally get under way this spring.

If that timetable sounds familiar, it’s because city officials made the same announcement in early 2006, only to drop renovation plans — which involved closing part of Prague’s famous span for most of tourist season — because of changes to public bidding laws.

Now, City Hall says the first phase of the multimillion-crown project will begin in April or May, depending on weather, and last two years.

During this stage, workers will focus on repairing leaks to protect the bridge from water damage and rebuilding the span’s walking surface and stone walls, according to Ondřej Šefců, the lead architect and overseer of the National Heritage Institute.

This phase should cost about 200 million Kč ($9.2 million), which the city is expected to pay, he said.

Gas lamps will be installed, replacing the electric lamps now on the bridge, according to Jan Kněžínek, who is on City Hall’s committee for monument preservation and tourism.
Save for emergency work after the 2002 floods, the last time the 650-year-old bridge was repaired was between 1965 and 1974.

But the material used was of poor quality, as was the workmanship, Josef Štulc, Šefců’s colleague, said.

Since then, rainwater and melting snow, mixed with salt used to thaw ice, have caused leaks and corroded the structure. City workers are no longer allowed to salt the bridge.

Not to worry, though: The bridge is completely stable, both Štulc and Šefců say.

“We can’t talk about the bridge being in a state of disrepair. It needs to be done now, when it is high time to do it and when the renovation costs are not so high,” Šefců said.

The second stage will entail repairing the pillars that support the span, the bridge vaults and the “coat,” or surface, of the bridge. This work should take five to 10 years, and is expected to happen in additional phases.

Meanwhile, Šefců said, part of the bridge will be closed, reducing the number of people — now about 30,000 to 50,000 — who stroll across it every day.

About three-quarters of the bridge is original, and architects will seek to maintain the same visual and physcial qualties in their reconstruction, Štulc said.

“I think it will be no big problem,“ he said.

New museum

The reconstruction will coincide with another Charles Bridge development: the opening of a museum dedicated to the famous span.

Director Zdeněk Bergman, who is funding the 500-square-foot (45-square-meter) museum, said he expects to open it June 15 in St. Agnes Monastery, at the foot of Charles Bridge.
The museum will have exhibits about the history of the bridge’s contruction and the statues that top it.

It will also feature copies of medieval building machines and explanations of modern construction techniques. Part of the museum will be dedicated to Judith Bridge, the older span that Charles Bridge replaced.

The Judith was Prague’s first stone bridge, built in the first half of the 12th century. It collapsed in a 1342 flood. Construction of Charles Bridge began 15 years later, after it was commissioned by Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

It took another 50 years before the structure was completed. Now, four decades after the first attempt at a modern reconstruction, the city will revisit and finish the project.

Hela Balínová and Naďa Černá contributed to this report.

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