Strolling crosswise over Charles Bridge is everybody's favorite Prague activity.

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In any case, by 9 am it's a 500m-long fairground, with an army of visitors squeezing through a gauntlet of hawkers and buskers under the impassive gaze of the Baroque statues. In case you want to experience the view of the Charles Bridge at its the best time, attempt to visit it at daybreak.

In 1357 Charles IV charged Peter Parler (the planner of St Vitus Cathedral) to rebuild the twelfth-century Judith Bridge, which had been washed away by floods in 1342. (You can see the main enduring curve of the Judith Bridge by taking a vessel trip with Prague Venice.)

The new bridge was finished in 1390 and took Charles' name just in the nineteenth century – before that it was referred to just as Kamenný most (Stone Bridge). Notwithstanding flood harm, it withstood wheeled traffic for 500-odd years – much appreciated, legend says, to eggs mixed into the mortar (however ongoing examinations have disproved this fantasy) – until it was used for pedestrian-only after World War 2.

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The first monument erected on the bridge was the cross close to the eastern end, in 1657. The first statue – the Jesuits' 1683 tribute to St John of Nepomuk – inspired other Catholic thought. And throughout the next 30 years, this symbol was strongly popular, and it was known as ecclesiastical billboards. New ones were included the mid-nineteenth century and one (or more replacements for some lost to floods) in the twentieth century. As the first of the statues were carved from soft sandstone, a few weathered originals have been rebuilt with duplicates. A few originals are housed in the Casements at Vyšehrad; others are in the Lapidárium in Holešovice.

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The most well-known figure is the monument to St John of Nepomuk. According to the legend on the base of the statue, Wenceslas IV had him trussed up in armor and thrown off the bridge in 1393 because he had refused to divulge the queen’s confessions (he was her priest).

Though the real reason had led to the bitter conflict between church and state; the stars in his halo allegedly followed his corpse down the river. Tradition says that if you rub the bronze plaque, somedays you will return to Prague. A bronze cross set in the parapet between statues 17 and 19 marks the point where he was thrown off.

At the Staré Město end of the bridge, look over the downstream parapet at the wall on the right and you’ll see a carved stone head called Bradáč (Bearded Man). Once the river level rose above this medieval marker, Praguers knew it was time to head for the hills. A blue line on the flood gauge nearby indicates the level of the 2002 flood, no less than 2m above Bradáč!

Finally, be careful! Pickpockets occasionally work the bridge, so keep your purse or wallet safe.