Prague fined for bungled Charles Bridge renovation

The renovation of Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most significant landmarks, has been hampered by serious mistakes, some of which are irreversible. That’s the verdict of a regional authority on preservation of historical monuments which reviewed the progress of the renovation, and fined Prague City Hall over three million crowns.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Damage to the original stones; too many new stone blocks; little respect for traditional stonecutting methods; unsuitable mortar; wrong jointing of the stones; and the use of modern, untested materials. These are some of the mistakes made during the reconstruction of the famous 14th century Charles Bridge. The Plzeň regional authority, which reviewed the renovation to avoid bias, fined Prague City Hall over 3.25 million crowns, or more than 170,000 US dollars, for the bungled job. The author of the review, Petr Jirásek, is the head of the authority’s monument care department. He says some of the wrong choices cannot be fixed.

“One of the irreversible mistakes is that too many original stones were replaced. Also, the room underneath the roadway was excavated and filled with concrete poured onto the already existing layer of concrete that was put in place during the previous renovation. To be honest, the extent and the number of faults identified really surprised us because in renovations of other national monuments, for example in our region, we really try hard to avoid all these new materials and techniques.”

The renovation of the historical 14th century bridge has been dogged by controversy since it began three years ago. Several Prague-based NGOs have filed complaints to the City Hall, particularly about the handling of the original stone blocks. But the city of Prague has for the most parts rejected their complaints – with one exception. Last year, City Hall fined itself 54,000 crowns, or less than 3,000 US dollars, for not having carried out a historical survey of the monument. Conservationist Petr Jirásek from the Plzeň regional authority says the damage has been done, but the crucial part of the whole project is yet to begin.

“We believe that the cultural and historical value of Charles Bridge has indeed been damaged. But let me say again that it is only partial; it only concerns the first phase of the renovation between 2007 and 2009. Also, some of the procedures we believe were faulty can be reversed. So we cannot say that Charles Bridge has been destroyed, that’s certainly not the case. But some really serious mistakes were made.”

Prague City Hall which hired the British firm Mott MacDonald to do the job has refused to take the blame and said it would appeal the fine. Meanwhile, architect Martin Krise from the preservationists group, the Club for Ancient Prague, says that either way the city should hire a more experienced company to finish the job.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“What’s important is that the firm must be really professional, and we have been saying this from the start. Also, the workers who handle the stones must know how to do it. And it’s visible on the railings of the bridge that they have absolutely no idea how to work with the stone. So it will jeopardize the bridge if the same firm continues and goes on to renovate the fundamental structures of the bridge – the arches and the pillars.”

The final and most important phase of the renovation, which will involve all pillars and arches of the 515-metre long Gothic bridge, should be finished by 2020.