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Powder Tower - Opening of Celetná Street into Na Příkopě Street, Old Town

Powder Tower

Opening of Celetná Street into Na Příkopě Street, Old Town

One of most important monuments of late Gothic Prague, this majestic stone tower was built on the former road from the Old Town in Prague to Kutná Hora where silver was mined. The construction of the Powder Tower was started on 30th March 1475 on the site of an old gate called Mountain or Odraná Gate which was one of the 13 gates of the former Old Town fortifications which no longer existed back then; the fortifications was no longer useful after the New Town was founded (1348) and it gradually fell apart. It was the bad condition of the old gate, found right next to the Royal Court – a monumental royal residence found where the Municipal House is now – that made the Old Town councillors build the New gate whose function was rather representative than defensive; it symbolized the wealth of Old Town citizens and an increasing power of the townsmen and it also became an impressive entrance into the city and a dignified starting point of the Royal Route. The foundation stone was laid by the Czech king Vladislav of Jagiello himself, the costs were covered by the Old Town community. The construction was firstly headed by master-mason Václav of Žlutice who was strongly influenced by the one century older Old Town Bridge Tower of architect Petr Parléř (which was sort of a counterpart to the New tower on the west side of the Old Town). According to the councillors Václav was considered to be insufficient for a building of such importance so he was soon (1478) replaced by Matěj Rejsek. The foundations of the Powder Tower run up to 9 meters deep below the current street level. The tower has a square floor plan, full walls on the north and south side are 2.1m wide at the bottom. In 1568 it was connected by a wooden access balcony to the Royal Court and its interiors probably formed part of the court; on the first floor a fireplace was even preserved.

During a period of religious conflicts, king Vladislav of Jagiello feared for his life and moved back to the Prague Castle in 1483 and the glory of the Royal Court diminished quickly. The Old Town people quickly lost interest in finishing the tower construction so eventually they had it provisionally roofed at the height of 42 m. Apart from collecting toll in the tower gate, the tower lost any purpose and it wasn’t until 1715 that the interior spaces became used for storage of gunpowder (hence its name – Powder Tower). Rich sculptural decorations of the tower were seriously damaged in 1757 during the Prussian occupation of Prague and in 1799 it was brought down because loose pieces were falling off, representing a danger to the pedestrians; a complete demolition of the wall was even considered. The very few preserved original reliefs have rather comical themes: for instance on the south-east corner there is a relief of a young man openly offering money to a girl, on the west side there is a relief with a girl hitting a guy after he tried to get under her skirt. A self-portrait of Rejsek was preserved too, bearing a Latin text saying Oh townsmen, do not allow bad people who live lawlessly to cause violence to me, a fine container – as if the architect anticipated the future fate of the tower.

In the 1870’s it was decided that the tower would be restored and finished off, in a purist pseudo-Gothic style based on a plan by J. Mocker who also fully respected the design of both bridge towers and the Old Town Hall tower. Mocker built a steep hip roof with four corner steeples in 1878-86, he also removed the tower clock from 1823 and placed a narrow viewing gallery there. Then he remodelled the orignal Gothic façade arcadings and inside the tower and also in the gateway he created net and netting vaults. The outer sculptural decorations (statues of rulers, saints, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, Adam and Eve and symbols of Czech lands) were designed by W. W. Tomek and made by B. O. Seeling, J. Veselý, J. Strachovský, K. Dvořák, J. Čapek, L. Šimek and A. Wildt. In 1911 the Powder Tower was connected to the newly built Municipal House by a connecting block whose shape immitates the architectural style from Mocker’s period.

The Powder Tower is now 65 m high, the viewing gallery is 43 m high and can be accessed by 186 stairs. Inside the tower there is currently an exhibition dedicated to the Prague towers, in the penthouse there is an exhibition of photogaphs of L. Sitenský. On the first floor remainders of the original sculptural decorations of the tower can be seen inside.

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