Old Town Hall viewing gallery reopens

The first phase of repairs to the Old Town Hall tower have been completed

After several months of renovation, the viewing gallery on top of the Old Town Hall tower has reopened. The first phase of the renovation of the entire Old Town Hall, which began in April, has been completed. The next two phases will focus on repairing the chapel and the Astronomical Clock.

“The renovation of the Town Hall is divided into three basic phases so as to minimize the interruptions in operations. We have kept to our plan and from now on visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful view from the tower,” City Councilor Jan Wolf (Three-party Coalition) said on the City Hall website.

The tower was badly damaged at the end of World War II, and repaired in haste at the time. “After World War II, the need for rapid reconstruction was evident, and the state of the art [for repairs] was not sufficient. Now, however, there has been a correction, and in the first phase the tower has been restored to its pre-war and historically true state,” he said.

“The Old Town Hall renovations should be complete in September next year, which carries a significant symbolism in connection with the celebrations of 100 years since the founding of an independent Czechoslovak state, the peak of which will naturally be on October 28,” Wolf said.

The first phase was focused mainly on the tower and roof trusses. The most visible change for visitors is new grilles. All the windows of the gallery were removed from the original railing, and high grilles with a spacing of about 20 cm were added to prevent possible suicide attempts. The spacing between the grilles does not prevent taking photographs or looking around.

The gallery also has new lighting and plaster to replace the damage. Adjustments were made to the floor and drainage of the gallery0

There is new slate on the roof, and some ornamental details have been regilded.

The renovation of public toilets at the Old Town Hall’s ground floor has also been completed. The original ones were in a very poor technical condition. Considering that it is perhaps the most visited facility of its kind in the whole country, the emphasis was placed on high-quality work, both in the preparatory phase and in the implementation, City Hall said.

The goal was to create a modern space within a historic building. Architects used three basic elements of the immediate surroundings. The stone mosaic in the entrance from Mikoláš Aleš, the glass sculpture by Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová and typical brass details from the Town Hall. The result is an open space with a travertine mosaic complemented by original brass elements and glass surfaces created from bubble glass developed just for this project.

The layout of the toilets was modified and extended compared to the original. The women’s facilities were newly given a larger section with a distinctive wash basin and a large mirror. The facilities feature indirect light. Even the symbols for men and women have been redesigned.

There was also a complete renovation of technical aspects of the space, including new air-conditioning systems.

The next part of the renovation will be the repair of the astronomical clock, which will begin in January. The machine will get a different drive, and post-war repairs will be changed back to the original design. There will be a complete restoration of all mechanical parts of the Astronomical Clock, which was virtually destroyed at the end of World War II.

The renovation of the entire Old Town Hall tower should be completed by the fall of next year.

The renovation is carried out by the Association of the Restoration of the Tower of the Old Town Hall in Prague, composed of the firms Avers and Subterra. The renovation price is Kč 47,995,000 (excluding VAT).

The roots of Old Town Hall go back to 1338 when the town councilors bought an existing building on the square and converted it to civic use. The tower was completed in 1364. Expansion and modification of the Old Town Hall continued over the centuries.

The Astronomical Clock, also called the Orloj, was first built in 1410, redesigned in 1490 and again in 1552–72. Its last major repairs took place after World War II. The figures of saints, which make an appearance every hour during the day, had to be replaced with new ones. There was a minor repair in 2005 to some of the lower statues.

The Orloj is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. The astronomical dial is a type of mechanical astrolabe, showing the positions of the sun, moon, and planets relative to the zodiac constellations. It also shows common civil time, Old Czech Time and Babylonian time. A ring on the bottom rotates once a year and indicates the name of a different saint for each day.

A wing of the Old Town Hall burned down at the end of World War II as well. The wing has not been replaced and is now filled with grass and benches as well as merchants' stalls. Several efforts have been made to replicate the building or make a new one, but so far nothing has happened due to strong public opposition to tampering with the square.

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