Square of the Knights of the Cross (Krizovnicke namesti)

The early Baroque Church of St. Francis (kostel sv. Frantiska Serafinskeho) was built in 1679 – 1685 on the foundation of the original Gothic church according to the design of French architect Jean Baptiste Mathey. His plans were of vital importance to the origins of Czech dynamic Baroque.

The Church of St. Francis

The church has two levels. The Baroque masonry of the lower church, with its stalactiform grotto accessible from the Gallery of the Knights of the Cross (Galerie krizovniku), contains the exposed remains of the original Gothic cathedral. The upper church has a wealth of painted, sculptured and skilfully crafted adornments that are dominated by the frescos of Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner and Jan Krystof Liska, who, together with Michael Leopold Willmann, created the altarpieces.

Today the Gallery of the Knights of the Cross is situated in the neighbouring early Baroque building of the hospital and general's seat of the Knights of the Cross with a Red Star. Gaudentio Casanova had it built according to plans that Carlo Lurago drew up in 1661.

The Gallery houses a collection of excellent specimens of European goldsmithery from the late Gothic era to the 20th century. From here it is also possible to enter the lower church and the well-preserved first pillar of the former Judith Bridge, the predecessor to Charles' Bridge.

The statue of St. Wenceslas

There is an early Baroque statue of St. Wenceslas (sv. Vaclav) atop a vine column on the southeast corner of the church. It is the work of the founding father of Czech Baroque sculpture, Jan Jiri Bendl, and dates back to 1676. The column originally stood before the bridge tower.

In 1778 it was relocated to a customs house and wine authority office, demolished long ago, in front of the tower. In 1848 it was moved again to its present-day location. Remnants of the original pavement of Judith Bridge surround the column.

The square as it is known today originated in 1847 with the demolition of a vintner's lodge and the coverage of the shoulder of the Vltava at this location. A monument honouring Charles IV as the founder of the University of Prague was then erected in front of the hospital and general's seat of the Knights of the Cross. Allegories of the historical university's faculties of theology, medicine, law and philosophy sit atop a pedestal under a Neo-Gothic awning. Sculptor Ernst Julius Hahnel designed the monument in 1844.

Old Town Bridge Tower (Staromestska mostecka vez)

The Old Town Bridge Tower

The square around the Old Town Bridge Tower and its gateway open to vistas of the panorama of the opposite bank of the Vltava River, dominated by Prague Castle. The tower stands on pillars between the first and second spans of Charles Bridge. It was designed for defence purposes, but it served primarily as a grandiose triumphal gateway to the Royal Road used for coronation processions, visually leading up to Prague Castle.

Master craftsman Petr Parler, the architect of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, designed the structure and its sculptural decorations. Work on the tower began in 1357, at the same time as the construction of Charles' Bridge, and was completed after 1400. In 1648 Swedish gunfire destroyed the sculptural adornments on the western side. On the eastern side the remarkable set of statues by Petr Parler and the stonemasons of his Masonic Lodge have been preserved.

Over the gateway, within the extraordinary net vaulting, there are panels arranged in the form of a three-aisle cathedral on the sides of which sit Emperor Charles IV and his son Wenceslas IV. St. Vitus, the country's patron saint and the patron saint of Prague's Cathedral, stands between them on a model of the bridge. The country's other patron saints, St. Adalbert and St. Sigismund, stand above them. The two coats-of-arms of the lands of the Crown of Bohemia can be seen in the lower tier.

The tower's triumphal symbols also include a division of the atmosphere into terrestrial, lunar, solar and astral planes, thereby depicting the basic elements of earth, water, fire, and air (terra, aqua, ignis, and aer) and encompassing astronomy and astrology in its framework. At the summer solstice the sun, when observed from the gateway of the Old Town Bridge Tower, sets over St. Vitus Cathedral at the exact location under which the relics of St. Vitus are buried.

The 47 metre-tall tower is open to the public daily from 10:00 to 19:00. Upstairs there is a screening of the documentary Charles' Bridge – a ray of light through the centuries (Karluv most – paprsek staletimi).

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