Repairs starting on Old Town Hall

The observation deck will be closed and the Astronomical Clock will stop temporarily

Repairs to the Astronomical Clock and Old Town Hall have started. The scaffolding will be finished next week and work will be from the top down. Repairs will take place in three phases. The chapel, the gallery and the clock will be repaired. Total costs are estimated at Kč 50 million.

The observation deck on Old Town Hall will be repaired in the first phase. It will be closed to the public as of June 1 and should reopen by Dec. 31.

To make up for the closure, tickets that include a tour of the historical halls and rooms in the Old Town Tower will also be valid for the observation deck in the New Town Hall next to Karlovo náměstí.

The second phase of work will be the chapel. So far, only preliminary work has been done. A survey will determine the extent of the structural damage from the end of World War II when there was a fire. Cracks were visible on the floor and walls, and further damage that was never repaired is most likely hidden.

The third phase will be repairs to the Astronomical Clock. It was damaged in World War II and was quickly repaired after the war. Most of the 20th century modifications will be removed. The workings of the clock will be returned to their condition from 1860. The repairs to the clock mechanism will begin in January 2018. After dismantling, it will be taken to the workshop of clockmaker Petr Skála.

Work on the clock should take half a year. The electric drive will be removed and replaced with one that relies on oak barrels and stone weights, Skála said.

Since the clock is such a big tourist attraction, the city plans to find some substitute. A videomapping showing the movements was mentioned, but that would only work at night. Another idea is a photo wall or large video screen showing the clock face.

All of the repairs should be finished by July 2018, so that the tower and clock are functioning in time for the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia in October.

A legend states that stopping the clock signals a pending catastrophe such as a war, but in reality that has not been the case. Some tragedies can be found for each of the years it stopped, but similar ones can be found on other years when the clock was running.

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.

The clock had fallen into disrepair in the 18th century and underwent a large renovation in 1797–91, and the rotating Apostles were added around this time. Another repair took place in 1865–61, and the sound of the rooster was added. The clock was also made more accurate. More repairs took place in 1912.

The clock was damaged by fire in 1945, and repairs took until 1948. The figures of Apostles had to be replaced with new ones. At that time the colored background for the clock was replaced but with errors in the design. The errors were fixed in 1979. Further repairs took place 1984–86. 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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