Prague's solstice alignment

Whether by chance or by design, the sun sets on Prague Castle

Prague is not exactly Stonehenge but there is a curious alignment at the sunset on the summer solstice. If you stand at the Old Town Tower of Charles Bridge and look toward Prague Castle, the sun crosses the main tower of St Vitus' Cathedral, lighting up the chamber with the crown jewels, goes past the small altar bell tower and sets on the roof before peeking out of the church's apse and then setting again on the roof of the adjacent All Saints' Church.

This year, the summer solstice is June 21. To see the bridge and Castle alignment, you need to be at the base of the Old Town Bridge Tower at about 8 pm to see the sun approach the Castle towers (live streaming CZ, June 21 from 8 pm - click here). The show is over by 8:35. The official sunset time is quite a bit later, but the Castle is on a hill.

The effect can be seen a couple of days earlier and later as well. After that, the sunset begins to head back toward Petřín Hill and won't set by the Castle for another year.

Some people say the effect is a coincidence, and there are several random buildings that line up with the sun on various occasions, depending on where you stand.

Others point out that Emperor Charles IV was instrumental in building both St Vitus' Cathedral and Charles Bridge, and he was known to be interested in astrology. A legend says astrologers picked the time that construction on Charles Bridge began and that it makes a numerical palindrome of odd digits: 135797531, meaning the year 1357 at the 9th day of the 7th month at 5:31 in the morning in Old Bohemian time. Though, some people say this legend is a later invention although the year 1357 is certainly correct.

Architect Petr Parléř was responsible for designing both the cathedral and the bridge.

Charles Bridge, known simply as the Bridge or Stone Bridge when it was built, took the place of the previous Judith Bridge, which was damaged in 1342 in a flood. The route of the bridge changed. The Malá Stana side remained the same, and one of the towers on that side is from the Judith Bridge era. But on the Old Town side, the bridge was moved a few meters downstream. This made the bridge stronger against the current, but it also facilitated the solstice alignment.

Whether the effect is a coincidence or a design urged by court astrologers will remain an open question. Either way, if the sky is not too cloudy the sun going behind the Castle makes for a very nice photograph. 

If you can't make it to Charles Bridge Prague that day, watch live coverage from our friends at Miluju Prahu! / Facebook - for live stream click here June 21, from 8 pm (Facebook, Czech language)

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