Petřín Tower celebrates quasquicentennial

Petřín Lookout Tower, one of the most prominent landmarks of Prague celebrates its 125th anniversary 

Prague's Little Eiffel Tower on Petřín Hill opened to the public on Aug. 20, 1891, or some 125 years ago. The idea to build the tower was launched in 1889 by members of the Club of Czech Tourists who had visited the Exposition Universelle in Paris, which aside from the having the actual Eiffel Tower also introduced the phonograph.

Aside from Little Eiffel Tower, it is called the Petřín Observation Tower, Petřín Lookout Tower and (in Czech) Petřínská rozhledna.

There is a day of events planned for Aug. 20, starting at 11 am. Among other things, there will be a velocipede club in 1890s outfits with their big-wheeled bicycles, a magician for children, contests, a workshop, photo opportunities and a concert at 5 pm by OOZ orchestra. The celebration ends at 8 pm.

The next day, Aug. 21, will have events starting at 10 am related to the anniversary of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion, and a concert at 5:30 by the band His Angels.

Back in 1889, the tourist club members set out to raise money from the public and get permission from the city to build the tower in time for the 1891 General Land Centennial Exhibition, which also saw the construction of new buildings at Výstaviště in Holešovice. The funicular in Petřín was built at the same time, and was just renovated in time for the anniversary.

The tower was supposed to stand on a different part of the hill, directly lined up with what is now the Legions Bridge (most Legií) but was different bridge at the time. For structural purposes it had to be put on a more stable spot. The tower was built according to a design by architect Vratislav Pasovský along with engineers František Prášil and Julius Souček from Czech and Moravia Machine Works (Českomoravská strojírna).

Building the tower and funicular in such a short time was quite a task. Some land was for the funicular was was owned by the archdiocese of Prague. Patents for the funicular had to be licensed from a Swiss firm as well. And there was a flood in September 1890, which delayed the project. Excavation began March 16, 1891, and construction May 20. The tower was finished July 2.

The foundation reaches 11 meters below ground, and overall some 175 tons of steel was used. Inside there were 299 steps and a gas-powered elevator. Originally the tower had a copy of the Czech crown on top. The tower top was damaged by fire in July 1938. In 1953 it became a TV tower and antennas were installed. It remained a TV tower until the Žižkov Tower started operation in 1992. The tower was fully renovated in 1999.

The tower actually has little in common with its Parisian namesake. The Prague tower has an eight-sided base, while the Paris one is on a square base. The Prague version is also smaller, just 63.5 meters tall compared to 324 meters for the original. Petřín Hill, though, rises to 318 meters, so the height of the observation decks of both above the respective city's basic ground level is comparable. Both are steel towers with exposed frameworks, but the Paris one stands on four legs with an open plaza at its base, while the Prague one has an entry chamber filling its base. Stone and brick was more popular for towers at the time, so both towers being steel was enough to link them in people's minds.

From the top of the Petřín tower, one can see distant mountain ranges in Bohemia in good weather.

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