Vltava River: Swans, Bridges, Ferries and Symphonic Poem

The Vltava River is the longest river in the Czech Republic, beginning its 300km journey with its source in the depths of the Bohemian Forest until it joins the Elbe River at the town of Melnik, 40 km north of Prague. Along the way, The Vltava River cuts Prague in two. On the west bank side are Mala Strana and Hradcany and on the east are side Stare Mesto and Nove Mesto. These are the four most visited neigbourhoods of Prague and if you want to visit all four you will have to walk across Charles Bridge, the most storied of Prague’s 18 bridges.

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Vltava River and Flooding

The Vltava River is unpredictable and floods regularly due to heavy rainfall in central Europe. The last major flood was in 2002 when the water rose more than 7 meters and large parts of Prague were inundated. The historic centre narrowly escaped the disaster and since then flood defenses have been installed.

The Karlin district was almost completely flooded as well as many metro stations. Repairing the metro escalators was a difficult task. Some were replaced with new ones that move much more slowly than the old ones. The National Theater, which is right on the Vltava River, and the zoo in the Troja district, were also damaged.

The Karlin district benefited from the 2002 floods. The heavy damage accelerated the renovation plans of the district. A new business district has sprung up along the river and the rest of Karlin has also been renovated and is now a popular area to live.

Read about the Karlin district, fast-moving escalators and the National Theater

The 2013 Floods

In 2013, flooding struck again, but not as severe as in 2002. The newly-installed flood barriers that extend for 20 km along the Vltava River proved their worth. It includes seven kilometers of mobile barriers around the historic centre, which can be put into effect immediately.

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Vltava Symphonic Poem

Ma Vlast (My Fatherland) is a cycle of six symphonic poems composed by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). Each poem describes aspects of the countryside, history or a legend of Bohemia. The second poem, Vltava, is the most famous and the music takes you on a journey along the Vltava River. You start at the spring, then travel through forests, meadows and fields, with a peasant wedding on the way, water nymphs sitting in the moonlight, the rapids, the Vltava River widens and flows past Vysehrad towards Prague and ends in the Elbe River.

Listen to Ma Vlast


High Water Marks

High water marks indicating the height of the water in the Vltava River are found in several places.

1. Kampa Island
On the north side of Na Kampe Street under the bridge that leads to Charles bridge, there is a commemorative plaque at waist height: Výska vody 4.žáří 1890 (water level on September 4, 1890), and above it, a plaque indicating the water level in 2002.

2. Vyton
On the stairs at Rasinovo nabrezi, which goes to the lower embankment, is a plaque at step height that reads: povoden 8/14/2002 (flood)

3. St Agnes Convent
Next to the entrance gate to the St Agnes Convent, on Dvorakovo nabrezi, is a high water mark at knee height that indicates the water level in 1820 and 2002.

4. Mala Strana
Against a white wall of Nosticova Street 4 is a high water mark at shoulder height with only the date: 14.8.2002

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Vltava River: Swans, Ducks and Beaver Rats

Swans and ducks bob all along the Vltava. Two places where you can get close to the water are on the north side of the Kafka Museum with a view of the Manes Bridge. The second place is the islet that lies in the middle of Legion Bridge. Besides the swans and ducks, there are also beaver rats or coypu. These rodents look like beavers and were imported from South America for their fur. Some of the escaped or were released. The animals bred in the wild and survived. They are herbivores and have nothing to do with common rats.

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The Bridges of Prague

The first and most famous bridge spanning the Vltava River is Charles Bridge, built in the fourteenth century. Seventeen other bridges connect the banks, including 4 railway bridges and 3 foot bridges.

All bridges in the Prague centre are named after famous people. The order from north to south is:
1. Hlavkuv most – named after Josef Hlavka, philanthropist
2. Stefanik most – Milan Stefanik, meteorologist and mathematician
3. Cechuv most – Svatopluk Cech, writer
4. Manesuv most – Joseph Manes, painter
5. Karluv most – Charles IV
6. Most Legii – Legion Bridge
7. Jiraskuv most – Alois Jiraska, writer and politician
8. Palackeho most – Frantisek Palacky, historian

More about Bridges in Prague

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Ferries and the Vltava River

Prague’s ferries are a perfect way to see Prague without tourists. You will need a valid public transport ticket, which you can also buy directly from the ferryman. Bicycles and strollers are transported free of charge. Most ferries do not start until spring, only the Sedlec – Zámky and V Podbabě – Podhoří ferries operate all year round.

These are the lines:
Prague 1: Sedlec – Zámky
Prague 2: V Podbabě – Podhoří
Prague 3: Lihovar – Veslařský ostrov (Dvorce)
Prague 4: Císařská louka – Kotevní
Prague 5: Císařská louka – Výtoň
Prague 6: Lahovičky – Nádraží Modřany
Prague 7: Pražská tržnice – Ostrov Štvanice – Rohanský ostrov
Prague 8: Troja – Císařský ostrov

Photos Marianne Crone

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