Story about Petrin observatory tower in Prague

Recently I came across a book called “A book about old Prague” which was written by PhDr. Jiri Horak. It is a book full of short stories from history of Prague and it is so interesting that I decided to translate some of the stories for you. This one is about Petrin observatory.

In 1826 -1843 Count Karel Chotek had a position of the highest Czech burgrave and we can call him a good spirit of Prague. He made a lot of praiseworthy deeds for modernization and development of Prague. One of these deeds had seemed initially trivial, but future showed how its realization was lucky. In 1839 Prague municipality bought not a big space on the top of the hill Petrin near by the church of St. Laurence from St. Vitus’ canonry. They kept a hill of soil piled up so a big hummock appeared. The place was chosen clever and everyone who visited Petrin wanted to see a view of Prague. However the hill seemed to be too low all the same.

The Club of Czech Tourists

Petrin Observation Tower In 1888, Vojta Naprstek established the Club of Czech tourists. In the second year of club’s working, they visited Paris. In that time, just finished the Eiffel Tower was the biggest sensation, its height was 321 metres. Participants of the tour were excited. Club’s clear profit from this tour was 1031 golds and 86 kreutzers and they decided that this profit would be the basic deposit for a building similar observatory tower in Prague. They did not solve the place where the observatory should have been, it was clear that it would be on Petrin hill, but they solved the height. 60 metres high observatory with basis 197 metres above surface of Vltava river and 334 metres above surface of German Ocean should have been higher by 34 metres than St. Vitus‘ Cathedral. So the observatory tower started to be built.

The whole construction weighed 175 tons and was made of malleable iron from Kladno and Bohemian and Moravian machine factory in Liben constructed it according to engineers Frantisek Soucek and Julio Soucek. Petrin observatory was opened on 20 August, 1891. It became the most visited place in Prague, mostly by school trips. Under the observatory in Czech tourists‘ pavilion, there were built mirror labyrinth and panoramic picture illustrating fight of Swedes in the Charles Bridge in 1648. Some people, mostly modern poets of the twentieth century, liked the new observatory and belauded it, but on the other hand some people did not like it. For example the director of the National Museum Subert said thet it was the biggest abhorrence built on head of Prague and the professor Ruth, expert at history of Prague and the author of Chronicle Royal Prague said that observatory was not suitable to character of whole surroundings.

Black Friday

But the observatory had its Black Friday. It was on Tuesday 5 July, 1938 when the fire started. The whole wooden covering of upper walkway burnt off. It happened due to electric short-circuit. Petrin observatory was repaired fast but one year after on Thursday 16 March 1939, imperial chancellor Adolf Hitler looked from the window of Prague Castle of prostrate city. Just appointed state secretary of Bohemia and Moravia Karl Hermann Frank stood one step behind him. Hitler’s eyes stopped at Petrin observatory. “Iron construction has to disappear,” said Führer. “It disturbs. The magnificent construction have to be built here which corresponds to significancy of this city.”

But everything was in quite a different way. In 1953 Czech crown disappeared from the top of the observatory and was changed by 20 metres high antenna of the first television programme. First floor was not for public, because there were operators who supported transmission of television signal. But trial period finished in 1990 and television transmitters were moved to a new tower in Mahler gardens in Zizkov. Then Petrin observatory was reconstructed and from 1993 it is available to the public.

© 2008 |