Let's hope idea of reviving Charles Bridge toll remains just that

Charles Bridge

In just a couple of weeks' time, Charles Bridge - without doubt one of the greatest symbols of Prague - will be the centre of celebrations. On July 9 it will be exactly 650 years since the laying of the first stone. On this "jubilee" anniversary, Charles Bridge is receiving its first extensive renovations in three decades. But already there has been some discussion about what the future holds for the landmark - and a call for a toll system to be introduced to reduce traffic.

Charles Bridge
At 5:31 am on July 9 1357, the great Charles IV himself personally assisted in the laying of the foundation stone of the bridge that today bears his name. That precise time was specified by royal astrologers and numerologists. And perhaps they got something right, as the bridge has stoutly withstood the vicissitudes of time - and repeated flooding - over the last six and a half centuries.

Today, though, some are asking if Charles Bridge can survive a few more centuries in good nick if the phenomenal number of tourists that cross it every year goes unchecked.

A Czech historian recently proposed one possible way to help preserve Charles Bridge: he believes the authorities should charge people to cross the structure, thus reducing traffic. Opinion seems to be divided on the idea. The strongest argument against is that Czechs would refuse to pay, effectively barring them from one of their best-loved national monuments. Many Czechs already feel that the centre of Prague is "for foreigners"; that's a feeling which would no doubt be compounded by such a levy.

As far as I am aware, the only such tariff exacted in the city at the moment is at Prague Castle's Golden Lane. But that doesn't really lead anywhere except the end of Golden Lane. By contrast, the only quick and practical route from the Old Town Square to Malostanske namesti involves crossing Charles Bridge. I personally would feel fleeced if forced to cough up some cash to walk its 516 metres. But then again, going the long way round would be a royal pain in the zadek.

The idea of a Charles Bridge toll is not without precedent. The wonderfully named Knights of the Cross with the Red Star levied a toll to fund their religious order, which was based nearby. Later a fee was charged by the Old Town authorities. That practice was ended in 1814 - and I for one hope it remains in the annals of history.