During the day, bells ring, cocks crow and 15th-century statues dance on the hour while crowds of tourists watch from below.
Marionette artist Vojtěch Sucharda carved the 12 wooden figures that emerge from the clock every hour – they replace the ones destroyed by German artillery in 1945.
On the Old Town Hall’s ground floor is an exhibition space which features temporary shows.
Behind a brass plaque marked with the year 1944 is a pot of soil from the Dukla battlefield. German artillery gunned down 84,000 Red Army soldiers in this Slovak pass in one of the most grievous military miscalculations of World War II.
In the pavement on the town hall’s eastern side are set 27 crosses in memory of the Bohemian nobles who were executed for their role in the Thirty Years’ War. After the Battle of White Mountain, the men were publicly hanged, beheaded or drawn and quartered here.
The small chapel adjoining the Mayors’ Hall was consecrated in 1381 in honour of Sts Wenceslas, Vitus and Ludmila. Wenceslas IV’s emblem and his wife Eufemia’s initial adorn the entrance portal. In the nave is a model of the Marian column which stood on the square until 1918 and may be rebuilt.
The elevator to the viewing gallery of the tower won a design award in 1999. Oddly enough, its space-age design works harmoniously with the stony surroundings. It also permits wheelchair access to the top of the tower – a rare consideration in Prague.
The parapet under the Old Town Hall’s roof affords visitors a unique view of the square and the Old Town below. A little pocket change will buy you two minutes on a miniature telescope, with which you can admire the Prague Valley.
The cellars of the Old Town Hall were once ground-floor rooms. The town was subject to flooding, so more earth was added to keep the burghers’ feet dry. The spaces were used as granaries as well as debtors’ prisons.
Retreating German artillery unloaded their guns on the Old Town Hall’s north wing to avoid carrying the shells back to Berlin. After the war, the wing was torn down. Now the area is lined with stalls selling Czech handicrafts.
Prague’s Old Town received its charter and fortifications from John of Luxembourg in 1338, but its town clerk had to wait nearly 150 years for an office. The Old Town Hall was cobbled together from existing houses over the centuries until it comprised the five houses that stand at Staroměstské náměstí 1–2 today. The town hall’s eastern wing once stretched to within a few feet of St Nicholas Cathedral, but in 1945 German artillery bombardment reduced it to rubble. The 69.5-m (228-ft) tower was built in 1364, and in 1410 the imperial clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň created the basic mechanism of the Prague Orloj, or Astronomical Clock. In 1552 Jan Táborský was put in charge, and by 1566 the clock was fully mechanized.
1. Solar clock
2. Lunar clock
3. Josef Mánes Calendar
5. Angel and the Sciences
6. Vanity, Avarice, Death and Lust
8. Hourly shows
9. Mikuláš of Kadaň