The Old Town City Hall which is known especially for the Astronomical Clock which is frequently featured on the covers of Prague tourist guides, dominates the Old Town Square. However, the Astronomical clock is not the only attraction of this old building.
Place of major events
The Old Town City Hall was also a place of several major historical moments. In 1458, the Czech estates elected George of Poděbrady Czech King in a situation where there was no heir to the throne. That was a true election and not just a formality. In 1621, an execution of 27 representatives of the rebellion against the Habsburgs took place at the City Hall (now commemorated by a large bronze plaque with the names and crosses on the pavement).
Founding of the Old Town City Hall
The Old Town City Hall is the oldest such building in the Czech Republic. King John of Luxembourg gave the Old Town elders a privilege to build a city hall in 1338. The distinctive tall tower was added soon and in 1380s, the Gothic chapel was built. Even that was not enough.
Several houses were embedded into the city hall during the centuries and several eras left their mark in the building. However, in May 1945, heavy fighting during the Prague Uprising took place at the Old Town Square. The City Hall was badly damaged, caught fire and large part of it burnt down. After the war, several alternatives were considered but it was decided to clear the debris and repair only the rest of the City Hall.
Legendary astronomical clock
By the end of 14th century, the Old Town councilmen wanted to impress the visitors (as you can see, tourists were taken into account early!) and ordered the astronomical clock. The clock started working in 1410. A legend says that the elders did not want another city to obtain such a technical wonder and had the author called Master Hanuš blinded. Master Hanuš then allegedly damaged the clock as a revenge stopping it for long decades. Recently found historical documents have revealed that the author was Mikuláš of Kadaň and the astronomical clock – being truly a high tech gadget of that time – was prone to jamming and stoppages. Moreover, Mikuláš of Kadaň was well rewarded for his work.
Another legend says that if the clock stops a war would break out soon. It was also said that if anybody meddles with the astronomical clock, he (or she) dies or loses sanity. Josef Mánes, painter who made the central clock face with the zodiac in 19th century, indeed became insane afterwards. However, he there were many others who laid their hands on the clock (especially after 1945, when the astronomical clock was also badly damaged) and experienced no ill effects.
Old Town City Hall today
Nowadays, the Old Town City Hall offers several attractions and is one of the reasons why the historical centre of Prague is one of the UNESCO sites. Of course, the astronomical clock is the most popular and you definitely must see it. However, it is important to be there on time as the show – rotation of the figures of the apostles and moving of other figures at the clock – runs only once an hour.
Quite popular is also the lookout gallery of the tower which offers view of the historical centre of Prague with dozens of towers. Inside, you can see the unique Gothic chapel and several halls from late Gothic era. The decorations include elements from 14th till 20th century. There are also catacombs under the ground which were originally the first floor but the surface of the streets was elevated by several metres to prevent flooding.
The Old Town City Hall is hard to miss. Its distinctive tower can be seen from afar. The city hall stands at the crossroads of many routes through the historical centre and soon your walks must take you there.