The Old Town Hall is a complex of several houses adjacent to the Old Town Square. They were gradually connected to a single unit for the purpose of administration of the Old Town of Prague.

Prague, the capital of Czech Republic is often called the „City of a Hundred Towers“ and this is no exaggeration because Prague boasts of nearly five hundred towers, large and small. One of most memorable dominates the heart of the city- the Old Town Square. This is the tower of the Old Town Hall, one of the city´s most noteworthy monuments, not only because of its architectural beauty but perhaps even more so because of the famous horolage, the astronomical clock offering an interesting spectacle every hour on the hour.

History and ArchitectureEditovat

Founding of the Old Town HallEditovat

In 1338 the councillors of the Old Town bought a magnificent patrician house from the family of Volflin od Kamene and adapted it for their purposes. In the course of the centuries the original building of the Town Hall practically disappeared under the addition of later years and the only external remnat of the original structure today is the Portal Gothic stone portal with mouldings in the western part of the building. The burghers of the Old Town extended their original Town Hall towards the west by buying the adjoining house and started the construction of a mighty square stone tower. The tower- then the highest in the city- was completed in 1364 and the following centuries hardly left any traces on the structure.

Expansion of the Old Town HallEditovat

In 1338 the councillors of the Old Town bought a magnificant patrician house from the family of Volflin od Kamene and adapted it for their pusrposes. In the course of the centuries the original building of the Town Hall practically disappeared under the addition of later years and the only external remain of the original structure today is the Gothic stone portal with mouldings in the western part of the building. The burlers of the Old Town extended the original Town Hall towards the west by buying the adjoining house and started the construction of a mighty square stone tower which was completed in 1364 and the following centuries hardly left any traces. The architectural development of the Old Town Hall was far from completed. After a certain interruption due to the tempestuous events of the Hussite movement (1419-1434), in 1458, another house was bought on the west side. It made possible extensive adaptations of the interior. New halls were established in the south wing, but only the council room on the top floor has preserved its original appearance. Internal adapations were reflected in external reconstruction work to be seen on the south facade to this day. Reconstrution of the vestibule on the groundfloor of Volflin house terminated in the construction of a beatutiful new portal in the late-Gothic style which for more than a hundred years marked urban architecture in the Czech lands. The Gothic arch of the portal has archivolts rich in plastic ornaments. Decorated brackets support the outer arch which is a typical late-Gothic ogee arch crowned by an imposing finial. The brackets on either side of the portal terminate in slender pinnacles. The structure dates from the close of the 15th century, but the wooden double door itself dates as late as from the year 1652. The window on the left of the portal was completed a few years later and kept the architectural style. The builder gave up the traditional Gothic arch in favor of a rectangular window, adoring the thickness of the walls with panelled pilasters. A moulded stone cross divides the window into four lights, the upper two of which are decorated the amorial bearing ot the Old Town of Prague and the Czech lion. Between and slightly above them may be seen the symbol „W“ representing the royal initial of Vladislav Jagelon. Rich plastic decorations adorn the top of the window. The window in the south facade is only of a slightly more recent date- the twenties of the 16th century- and already bears traces of the Renaissance style. The central window itself is the only original part, the two smaller wings were added in 1731. It has a high moulded cornice with plastic ornamentation. Brackets support panelled pilasters terminating in capitals on which rests the architrave with the inscription „Praga caput regni“ (Prague, the capital of the kingdom). The window is surmounted by a semicircular tympanum with the armorial bearings of the Old Town of Prague. Generally speaking the lateral windows are kept in the same style as the original Renaissance main window, but the canopies, in the Gothic style, above the pilaster are a disturbing element. Renaissance features may also be seen in another window placed closely above the Gothic portal of Volflin house from the later half ot the 16th century.

The Council ChamberEditovat

A magnificent late Gothic door in the house adjacent to the tower serves as the main entrance to the Old Town Hall.

The far-reaching reconstruction of the Old Town Hall at the turn of the 15th and 16th century included the erect of the east wing adjoining the north wall of the tower. On the site where nothing has remained today but some traces of ruins of the most recent wing of the Old Town Hall, a monumental building was erected at that time in late- Gothic style, housing a vast council chamber with a magnificent net vault that gave the room a very impressing atmosphere of spaciousness. The original structure, however, was badly damaged by adaptions toward the end of the 18th century , and finally disappeared completely, when during the forties of the 19th century a new wing was built in Neo-Gothic style. The original appearance of the east wing in pure Gothic style has only been preserved in old engravings.

The Destruction by fire of the East and the North WingEditovat

In the end the proposed reconstruction of the recently erected east wing and the addition of a further north wing was carried out. Both these wings were destroyed by fire in the Prague Uprising of May 1945 and only the torso preserved so far, adjoining the tower gives a slight idea of what this part of the Old Tow hall had looked like once. Reconstructions also affected the historical core of the entire Town Hall complex. The interior of all three houses forming the south wing was reconstructed and Mikeš house, the third in the row, was renovated from the outside as well. Two high Gothisizing gables and oriel were added to the facade and the architect Gruber adjusted the entrance by adding two semi-circular arches. Further renovations from the year 1879 gave the facade a neo- Renaissance appearance and two high windows were added on the second floor, one of them bearing the inscription „Dignitatis memores-ad optima intenti“ (Bearing in mind your dignity-do your best) on the architrave.

The CockEditovat

In 1835 the south wing was further extended by the addition of a fourth house, „the Cock“, bought by the Town Council that year. Beneath this very old building a Romanesque hall from the beginning of the 13th century has been preserved, on the first and second floor are late-Gothic halls with Renaissance ceilings. The facade was renovated in the first half of the 19th century in Empire style.

The Minute HouseEditovat

Towards the end of the 19th century further buildings were added to the Town Hall block, the most noteworthy of which is the „Minute“ house. This originally Gothic house dating from the beginning of the 15th century was decorated at the beginning of the 17th century by a series of sgraffito design representing classical and biblical themes. Most of the later reconstructions remained to the Interior of the house and on the whole respected the historical exterior of the south wing.

Interior of the Old Town HallEditovat

The Town Hall chapel in the tower, consecrated in 1381.

The arragement of the rooms is in keeping with the imposing appearance of the Old Town Hall from the outside.

The two entrance hallsEditovat

The spacious entrance hall was established during the reconstructions at the end of the 15th century. The hight late-Gothic vault still further increases the impression of spacioousness of the entrance hall. Two large mosaics, by Vojtěch Ignác Ullmann, a czech architect, after the design by Mikuláš Aleš (1936-1939) on the lateral walls as well as the decorations of the vault are impressing. The theme of the mosaic on the western wall is taken from national mythology. It shows Princess Libuše foretelling the glory of Prague. On the opossite wall is an allegory entitled „Slavdom´s Homage to Prague“. The ornaments of the vault contain coats-of-arms and symbolic depictions of great events from the nation´s history. Modern renovations of the second entrance hall have changed the old architecture. There is a bronze statue (1885) by the czech sculpturer J.V. Myslbek. It also deals with a mythological theme, representing the legendary singer Lumír accompanied by the allegorical figure of Song.

The first floorEditovat

The staircase designed by architect Jan Bělský (1853-1854) is leading to the first floor. Here the rooms have been adapted to serve the holding of wedding ceremonies. The interior is in the late-Gothic style from the first half of the 16th century. The facade is dominated by a wide Renaissance window. The vaults are decorated with paintings by Cyril Bouda, a czech painter and illustrator.

The third floorEditovat

The historically most valuable rooms are on the third floor. The Renessaince portal with intersia door is from the year 1619. It is framed by red polished marble from the end of the 16th century. Two smooth columns with shaft-rings support an entablature with gabled cornice containing a relief bust of the king and a cartouche with the inscription „Senatus“. The portal is crowned by the armorial bearings of the Old Town flanked by allegorical figures representing Right and Justice. The counterpart to the old portal is formed by a new entrance of whit marble bearing the inscription „Presidium“ from 1945. Passing through the portal, the vestibul is entered. It is decorated with lunette-shaped pictures by Václav Brožík from the second half of the 19th century.

The Session ChamberEditovat

LEGEND TO THE SECOND-FLOOR PLAN OF THE OLD TOWN HALL: 1.Entrance Hall, 2.Session Chamber, 3.Jiřík Hall, 4.Old Council Chamber, 5.Public Hall, 6.Town Hall Chapel, 7.Torso of destroyed East Wing

All vestiges of old architecture have been wiped off in the adjoinin session chamber by renovations in 1879-1910. The chamber is dominated by two large canvases, the work of painter Václav Brožík. One represents Master Jan Hus´s courageous defence before the Council of Constance in 1415 and the second one the election of Jiří of Podebrady in 1458. More interesting and historically valuable is the adjoining Jiřík hall in the late-Gothic style with remants of the wall paintings dating from the end of the 15th century. The work of restoration carried out by P. Janák in the years 1936-1938 has preserved all discovered historical parts of the decoration and thus also the original atmosphere of the room.

The Council ChamberEditovat

The old council chamber flanking the session chamber on the other side is one of the most beautiful rooms of the entire Town Hall. Though renovated many times it has preserved its original late-Gothic character datin from about 1470. The wooden coffered ceiling, polychromed in the second half of the 16th century, rests on moulded beams strenghtened in 1638 by the addition of strong gilded chains. The walls are adorned by Gothic wooden panelling, a number of emblems, the armorial bearings of the Old Town . Both entrance portals are in late-Gothic style. The most precious feature of the interior, however, is a wooden sculpture of Christ Suffering from the beginning of the 15th century. It is placed on a bracket decorated with the bust of an angel and the inscription „Juste iudicate filii hominis“ (Judge justly, O Sons of Man), as an injuction to the councillors sitting there. The statue is in the „beautiful style, the climax of Czech Gothic at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. The other sculptures of the old council chamber are of a more recent date: the Madonna is from the 16th century, St. Wenceslas and St Ludmila from the 17th century and the statue of John the Baptist from the 18th century. The Baroque stove with gilded grille and the statue of Justice bearing the date 1736.

The Town Hall ChapelEditovat

The former public hall and the Town Hall Chapel are reached through a metal-fitted door. The public hall, once destined for the sessions of the assemblies of the Town Council, was probably built in the second half of the 15th century just like the council chamber. Unfortunately it was completely destroyed during the fire in May 1945. The Town Hall chapel in the tower, consecrated in 1381, suffered a similar fate. Only the magnificent portal, one of the oldest preserved monuments, has survived. Interesting is the moulding of the wall, the semi-circular arch with rich mouldings is supported on slim columns terminating in Gothic pinnacles. Above the portal is an interesting emblem, often repeated on structures dating from the reign of Wenceslas IV. This consists of a kingfisher and the letter „E“, surrounded by what looks suspiously like a carefully pleated and knotted small serviette. Both the style and the Wenceslas´s emblem indicate that the portal was built by the royal stonemasons´ lodge.

The Hall of ArchitectsEditovat

Prague Institute of Planning and Development belongs under the Magistrate of the Capital City of Prague and ensures the preparation and organization of exhibitions in the Hall of Architects at the Old Town Hall and co-organizes informational events in the field of architecture, urban planning and spatial development. The exhibition hall is located on the fifth floor in the attic of the Town Hall. This space is newly refurbished and equipped with modern technology, which serves the events. Seminars, conferences and various exhibitions are held here. Permanent exhibition: Model of the Capital City of Prague from the end of the 20th century at a scale of 1: 1000. One of the last exhibitions: Do you know Prague? City in the maps, charts and numbers (October 1 – March 31, 2016), PRAGUE: planning and development of the metropolis in the 21st century (October 2, 2014 - June 26, 2015). The exhibitions are usually free of charge. From April 2017, the proctor has moved to the new area of the Center for Architecture and Urban Planning (CAMP) at Vyšehradská 57, Prague 2.

The HorologeEditovat

The horologe is the most fascinating feature of the Town Hall, it was first built in the first decade of the 15th century.

The horologe is the most fascinating feature of the Town Hall, it was first built in the first decade of the 15th century. In 1410 its first version was constructed by the skilled clockmaker Nicholas of Kadaň in collaboration with the astronomer Jan Šindel. Later reconstructions changed the first horologe completely, but written records confirm the it already possessed all basic features. The first far-reaching reconstruction was undertaken in 1490 by the clockmaster Hanuš, an old town locksmith, who produced an excellent timepiece based on the pendulum system. The architectural decoration date is from this time, too. This consisted of a system of slender late-Gothic columns that framed it and rich plastic decorations of both figural anf floral motifs. There are a lot of stories about the horologe but the only true element is probably the part about the clockwork not functioning properly. At that time there were only few clockmasters skilful enough to keep such a complicated timepiece in order and this is evidently also the reason why after master Hanuš´s death the horologe stopped. The learned Jan Táborský of Klokotská Hora repaired and perfected the Old Town horologe in the years 1552-1572. His adjustments have survived the passing of the years and though some changes were made in the external apperance of the horologe, its fundamental features have remained unchanged.

The most recent repaires were made out after the Second World War when the badly damaged original figures were replaced by Vojtěch Sucharda´s charming statues.

The statues of the HorologeEditovat

The horologe consists of three independent units: the moving figures, the astronomical dial and the calendar dial. The figures are set in motion on the stroke of every hour by very complicated mechanism. First Death the Reaper on the right of the horologe starts to move, ringing the death-knell with his right, raising an hourglass in his left and beckoning to his neighbour the Turk. The Turk, however, shakes his head, indicating his unwillingness to follow Death. These figures were added to the horologe in the 17th century and recall historical events highly topical at that time. Central Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries was constantly under the threat of Turkish invasion.



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