The Nusle bridge after thirty years: an absolute necessity

Nuselsky most

It is a major artery into the city, spanning almost half a kilometre and rising an average of forty metres above the ground, the Nusle bridge. Made of the highest quality reinforced concrete, Prague's most dominant bridge spans not a river but the wide Nusle Valley, joining the district of Pankrac with Karlov, leading the city's congested magistrala highway straight into the centre of town. This weekend it will be thirty years since the bridge first officially opened. Most agree that life in Prague today would be unthinkable without it.

Thousands of people cross it every single day without giving it a second thought: to get to work, to go home, or just to get out of the house. They travel by car, bus, or use the metro which runs conveniently along tracks inside; in short, the Nusle bridge has changed the way Czechs in the capital commute and go about their business. The few times the bridge was temporarily closed, either for repairs or during key events, like the IMF/World Bank meeting in 2000, were major inconveniences to surmount.

The Nusle bridge first opened in 1973, fulfilling a century old dream to join the district of Pankrac with Karlov in by-passing the Nusle Valley. Earlier proposals recommending a steel construction bridge went unrealised because of the Second World War, and it was only in 1960 that the project was given to three architects Vojtech Michalek, Stanislav Hubicka, and Svatopluk Kobr. Their design, requiring 20, 000 cubic metres of the finest reinforced concrete, led to a largely utilitarian structure 480 metres long, an average of forty metres in height. With all its grey concrete the overall impression of the bridge is rather drab, but one does get a sense of awe to the bridge's height and expanse when one walks underneath.

The Nusle bridge - opening ceremony, photo: CTK
More serious are some concerns about the bridge's future: the late 1990s saw important repairs to support girders that began to crack under the strain of the metro running through the bridge's inside; the original design had planned for far lighter trains, but Communist politicians pushed through a tender for far heavier Soviet-built trains instead. Repairs saw the track reinforced and some of the girders entirely replaced. Now, critics question the bridge's officially projected longevity: originally it was expected to last for 90 years, officials still say it could last for decades, while more pessimistic observers say the bridge has about one good decade left.

Construction of the Nusle bridge in 1970, photo: CTK
In the past the bridge has also been an unusual focal point - last year saw the bridge make headlines during the NATO Summit -when protestors made their way across the eerily quiet span to demonstrate at police and army barricades guarding the summit venue. And, throughout its entire thirty-year-history, the bridge has also earned a sad legacy: between 200 - 300 suicide jumpers have leapt from the bridge to their deaths since it was first built, regardless of a higher rail and fencing meant to keep jumpers back. A plan to secure netting underneath the bridge ultimately proved unrealistic.