Underwater remains of Prague’s first bridge explored by researchers

Photo: Andrea Kiss

Before there was the Charles Bridge, Prague was served by the Judith Bridge, which was destroyed by flooding in 1342. New research carried out by divers has been mapping the remnants of the bridge beneath the Vltava with a view to ensuring their continued preservation.

Photo: Andrea Kiss

For a few days in mid-January, tourists on Prague’s Charles Bridge got to experience a highly unusual sight.

Just a few dozen metres to the north, a team of scientists and divers were carrying out archaeological research on the remains of the Charles Bridge’s predecessor.

The early medieval Judith Bridge was named after the wife of its builder, King Vladislav II.

Barbora Machová is the coordinator of the team that has been examining its remnants.

“The foundations of the Judith Bridge comprise an oak frame and sandstone blocks.

“That means it was one of the first stone bridges on the territory of today’s Czech Republic – previously all the bridges were wooden.

Charles Bridge construction model with Judith Bridge on the right,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“The Judith Bridge was destroyed by flooding in the first half of the 14th century, when it was replaced by the Charles Bridge.”

Ms. Machová is an expert in the highly specialised field of underwater archeological research.

She says her project is the continuation of the first noteworthy modern examination of the Judith Bridge’s remnants, which took place a few decades back.

“This research has actually been going on since the end of the last century – since the 1980s or the 1990s, I believe – when the first geo-radar measurements were taken.

“Periodically teams of divers return. In around 2014 there was renewed interest in the Judith Bridge after a period of relative disinterest.

“But otherwise it has been receiving attention for a very long time.”

Barbora Machová says a key finding in January’s research was that the best-preserved underwater pillar is not deteriorating.

“At present, there are 13 pillars of the Judith Bridge. Some of the pillars and arches have been preserved on both banks of the Vltava.

“What we’re interested in is the pillars that are in the water. The 11th pillar is completely preserved.

Photo: Czech Television
“We knew about it from the earlier research. However, it had only been photographed, and this year we were able to carry out geo-radar measurements for the first time.

“We discovered that it hadn’t been damaged by the ever-increasing level of traffic on the river.”

The heavy boat traffic on the Vltava for most of the year is the main reason explorations are carried out in the winter months.

Indeed the intensity of river transport is a key reason for the research, which is also closely documenting the state of the underwater parts of Charles Bridge in a bid to ensure their preservation.