Over more than 700 years, nine bridges were built in succession at a single spot along Europe’s Neckar River, where the waterway weaves through the German city of Heidelberg. Beginning with the earliest structure completed in 1284, the first eight bridges were made of wood and were consecutively destroyed by various fire, floods, and storms over the centuries. The last of this group collapsed in 1784, prompting Prince Karl-Theodor to commission the ninth, and last, bridge to span the Neckar at Heidelberg. Finished in 1788, the Karl-Theodor Bridge was built out of red sandstone over the foundations of a mid-sixteenth-century predecessor. It has a medieval-style gate and nine arches below the walkway as well as two towers above, which were adorned with sculptures of the prince and Roman deities. On March 29, 1945, German troops blew up three of the bridge’s arches and two of its pillars, features that were restored after the end of World War II. The arches of the Karl-Theodor were raised in 1969 to accommodate the flow of traffic on the new autobahn below.
2002 World Monuments Watch
As early as 1987, the German Office for Preservation of Works of Art acknowledged the need to repair and restore the Karl-Theodor Bridge but was unable to finance a project. The major structural problem was that the sandstone bridge was not sufficiently resistant to moisture: water penetrated the interior causing deterioration and weakening. The individual stones needed to be reconditioned and treated with cement-supported sealing. World Monuments Fund placed the Karl-Theodor Bridge on the Watch in 2002 and secured a grant to help sponsor its complete restoration. The funding supplied by WMF was used for the consolidation and reconditioning of the balconies, the restoration of the sculptures, and the installation of concrete slabs and new sealing. The statues of Prince Karl-Theodor and the accompanying deities were thoroughly but delicately cleaned and the sandstone was replaced where it had become too corroded. Restoration of the bridge was complete by late 2006.
The Karl-Theodor Bridge stands alongside Heidelberg Castle, the Holy Ghost Church, and the Haus zum Ritter as one of Heidelberg’s most famous, architecturally significant, and culturally valuable monuments. In a city with a rich history that attracts legions of visitors, it was important to ensure the bridge’s survival for posterity.