Prague Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall is the major feature of the historical Prague Old Town Square, marking the very center of the medieval City of Prague. Once hosting the City administration offices, it serves as tourist attraction, wedding hall and exhibition area these days. Its tower provides magnificent view of the historical city center. Astronomical Clock on the southern facade of the tower is the single most attractive sight of Prague, filling the adjacent part of the square with huge crowd of tourists eager to hear the chime and see the parade of Apostles and performance of other Clock figures each hour. The Hall is also one of the very few buildings in the whole Czech Republic which display scars of the Second World War on its walls.

History and Composition

Old Town Hall became the administrative center of the Prague Old Town in 1338, following the approval of Bohemian King John of Luxembourgh to establish it. The Hall passed many architectural periods throughout its existence. Originally it was made up of two wings - Western and Northern ones. The Western wing is composed of a block of six houses from different eras which were gradually added to it: the Gothic Wolflin House with Tower and chapel on the Eastern corner, the Western House with wedding hall, two Council Houses, Rooster House and Minute House. Those Gothic houses had been built on remnants of former Romanic houses which are still visible in their basements and cellars.

The former Northern wing facing the Tyn Temple was destroyed during local battle at the end of the Second World War. The collapsed remnant of the building was repaired in the seventies, preserved, and the blank windows were furnished with a grille and memorial plaques.

The Hall was utilized as the City administrative center until the Second World War. Only the wedding hall remains in official administrative use these days, the rest of the Hall is left to tourists and cultural enthusiasts.

Detailed description of the Old Town Hall houses

The core part of the Hall is the Gothic corner house of Wolflin Stone dated back to the end of the 13th century. It has a richly decorated Gothic portal and a window with the emblem of the Old Town and of the Bohemian kingdom. A mighty prismatic tower was annexed to this house, 69.5 m high, completed in 1364, on which the Astronomical Clock was installed later.

Within the body of the tower on the first floor, a chapel was built with richly decorated bay, consecrated in 1381, and preserved until today. The chapel used to be open for public through the first floor of the city hall’s tower; at present, you can see a chamber with the astronomical clock’s apostles from this place. The chapel is made up of a crosswise aisle and a pentagonal bay. On the outside of the bay corner, there is a copy of a remarkable Gothic statue of the co called Old Town Madonna, and excellent example of sculptural art from the end of the 14th century. The bay is one of the most beautiful monuments of Czech Gothic from the 2nd half of the 14th century.

Ogive arcades of the former cloisters are applied on windows of the council houses of the Western wing. The next house to the left, so called Western house, is decorated by a beautiful Renaissance three-fold window with an inscription Praga caput regni (Prague, head of the kingdom). It was built after 1526. There is a full coat of arms of the Old Town of Prague cut in stone Above the window. Under the main cornice, there is a band with 19 emblems cut in stone, with the coat of arms of the Old Town of Prague repeated in the middle.

There is an inscription above the windows of the next house with a new-Renaissance facade and two high windows leading into the large assembly hall which reads in English: Mindful of dignity, strive for the best. The original set of the merchants’ houses has been preserved in the interior layout of the cellars and the city hall’s ground floor, including Gothic ribbed vaults, arbors and passage ways from the 13th and 14th centuries. The basement of the corner Rooster House features an original two-piece Romanic ground floor dating back to approx. 1200 AD. Standing out of the line is the Minute House with a cloister, originally Gothic, re-built in Renaissance, decorated by figural sgraffiti dating back to the beginning of the 17th century, discovered under the Baroque plaster only in 1905.

The Council Hall is the most valuable relic of the medieval city hall and the center of all the former course of events, which was established in the second half of the 15th century. The entrance to it is decorated by a Renaissance marble portal with an inscription Senatus. There is a preserved beam ceiling with rich Renaissance paintings on the coffers dating back to the 2nd half of the 16th century, and with gold-plated chains.

Prague Astronomical Clock

However, no matter the beauty of the Hall houses, the most attractive part of the Old Town Hall is definitely the astronomical clock on the southern facade of its tower. Please see the separate article on it.

The Romanesque-Gothic underground of the Old Town Hall.

The town hall underground gives insight into the time of the beginning of the Old Town. The city level was then several metres lower than today's level. The city terrain had to be artificially increased due to frequent flooding, so that already in the 13th century the original ground-floors of the houses became undergrounds. The oldest part of the Old Town Hall's underground is the Roman hall from the 2nd half of the 12th century, preserved are also the foundations of the tower, a hundred years younger. Wells and a cisterns for rainwater are located there. Naturally, there used to be prisons under the town hall, two of them can be seen even today. The use of the underground space by prisoners is evidenced by their names engraved on one of the Gothic portals. A sacred place with a cross of charred beams reminding the last days of the Second World War when the Old Town Hall was largely destroyed is also part of the underground.

The Old Town Hall is a National Cultural Monument.

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