On The Bridge.
At each extremity of this famous bridge rises a noble gate-tower dating from the fifteenth century. These, with another similar structure in the city, called the Powder Tower, rank among the architectural treasures of the world. More picturesque portals than exist in Prague cannot be found. One has, alas! some difficulty in securing suitable positions from which to observe them. The busy world encroaches now as recklessly upon their precincts as it does upon the Florentine Campanile and Duomo. Still, one can usually find some moderately tranquil corner on the bridge, or possibly the doorway of a quiet shop, from which to study them at leisure. Yet how one envies the good citizens of Prague, whose windows open on such fine perspectives! What massiveness exists in those square-cornered battlements! What lightness in their slender pinnacles and tapering belfries! What strength, and often beauty, in their statues of old saints and sovereigns! What richness in their fine stone carvings and armorial bearings! And how original and striking are their high-pitched roofs, spread out like banners to the sun and sky! All are magnificent relics of Prague's mediaeval glories, and justify the love and pride of the Bohemians, as well as the admiration of all foreigners. The richest and most splendid of these gates is that which bears the rather prosaic title of the Powder Tower. It is the last grand remnant of Prague's ancient wall, which once, together with a moat, enclosed the city, flanked by thirteen towers. That wall exists no more; its turrets have been razed; and the deep fosse, upon the edge of which once stood the Powder Tower, is filled, and forms to-day the brightest of the city's boulevards.
Does this denote the permanent advent of the age of peace, and the immediate transformation of all swords to plowshares? Alas! no more than the discarding of old suits of armor and the flintlock musket meant the end of war. Of course, these towers played a prominent part in Prague's eventful history; and, since so many of the pages of its annals have been stained with blood, some of the souvenirs of its grim battlements are ghastly. Thus, after the decapitation in 1621 of many Protestant nobles, the executioner hung his victims' heads upon the great Bridge Tower, and left them there to horrify the passers-by for ten long years. At one end of the bridge, whose corner-stone he laid with his own hands, stands the bronze statue of Charles IV., the ablest king Bohemia ever had. Exceptionally intelligent, he had been educated in Paris, had married a French princess, spoke the language of that country fluently, and was as just as he was generous, and as magnanimous as he was wise. He was the son of gallant John of Luxemburg, who, as we have already seen, died on the battle-field of Crecy. In the same year that he inherited from his father the Bohemian throne, he was elected sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire, at that time the most powerful and responsible position in the world. Hence it is worth remembering that even outside the limits of Bohemia a Czech king held, for more than thirty years, at least a nominal, and in many respects an actual, supremacy over a territory reaching from the North Sea to the Arno, and from the Rhine to the frontiers of both Hungary and Poland! His critics claim that Charles was wont to favor his own kingdom at the expense of the empire, and that the latter was, at best, only an annex to Bohemia! If so, he was but human. He loved Bohemia, and strove with all his might to make its power paramount, and Prague the principal imperial city. What he accomplished here was truly wonderful. So much did he encourage building, that he was said to have made of Prague a city of palaces.
A large, new, residential quarter was added by him to the capital, and while he reigned, no country in all Europe had more numerous and handsome churches. One of his greatest acts was the creation here of a university, closely resembling that of Paris; and none can blame Bohemians for reminding us that the first university in the whole German Empire was founded by a Czech, and in the capital of Czechs! This institution Charles divided for convenience into four linguistic parts, - Bohemian, Polish, Saxon, and Bavarian. From these and other nations students were invited, and lectures were delivered to them in their different languages. So many were the youths who flocked here from all foreign lands, that the good people of Prague became alarmed lest prices for both food and lodgings should prove ruinous. Nor was this all. He also gave to this institution a valuable library. He cordially invited to his court all men of learning and accomplishments. He founded an association of the painters, sculptors, wood - carvers, and goldsmiths in his kingdom, and strove to make it an academy of arts. Distinguished men of letters, too, were welcome in his capital, and Petrarch, who resided here for several months, in 1356, was the recipient of the highest honors; just as the great astronomers, Tycho Brahe and Kepler, were graciously protected here two centuries later by another royal patron of the arts and sciences, Rudolph II. It was, indeed, while studying in Prague, that Kepler discovered and published his famous laws of planetary motion, which caused him to exclaim with reverence and awe, "O God, I think Thy thoughts after Thee!" Charles also freed Bohemia from ecclesiastical dependence on the German diocese at Mainz, made Prague the residence of an archbishop, and so exalted the Bohemian capital, that it became one of the most renowned and influential cities in the world.