Old-fashioned gas lamps make a comeback to Prague

Nobody will be surprised to hear that street lighting in Prague runs on electricity. But for how long? Because many consider old-fashioned gas lighting to be much more romantic, the municipality of Prague has decided to bring back gas lamps to some parts of the Old Town to recreate the atmosphere of the historic city.

A cold blurry yellow light with tones of blue and green. And an almost inaudible but constantly present hiss of the gas flowing in. Many say that gas lamps bring back the spooky atmosphere of old times. The plan of reintroduction of gas lamps was launched two years ago, in 2002. There is already one little lane near the Old Town Square lit exclusively by gas and other should follow soon. I spoke to Janka Houserova from the Museum of Gas Works run by the Gas Company Prvni plynarenska.

"After seventeen years gas street lamps came back to Prague. The municipality of Prague plans to restore gas illumination along the entire length of the Royal Road, which runs through the historic part of the city up to the Prague Castle. So these are the plans - quite big I say."

I also asked her about her opinion on the gas lighting. "I hope we will be able to see more gas lamps in our towns, castles and parks, but just as romantic decoration."

But the plans change quickly, according to the changes in the budget. The instalment of new gas lamps is an expensive task, because the original lamps are in a very bad condition. Also running gas lighting is expensive compared to electricity due to stricter regulations.

The new technical design of lamps allows both remote as well as manual switching. The fans of gas lamps hope there will be enough money to bring back to life the old fashioned lamp lighters. As many will remember, they walk along the street and light the lamps one by one with a long bamboo stick.

The designs of gas lamps in Prague are extremely valuable from the architectural point of view. One of the most beautiful lamps is in front of the Prague Castle. It is a statue of a woman holding eight lamps and it is almost 140 years old.

Street lighting in Prague dates back to 1847. Mrs. Houserova explains what happened next.

"The end of the 19th century was marked by the onset of electricity and electric lighting gradually replaced gas lamps. And what were the reasons for that? Lower luminance of gas lamps and much higher costs of installation, operating and maintenance compared with electric lamps."

Since gas was used almost exclusively for purposes of lighting, it seemed that it would come to a quick end. I asked Mrs. Houserova, what happened to the gas industry in the Czech lands after elimination of gas lighting.

" Of course it was influenced. When electrical light came into use, it was clear that gas lighting cannot be compared to it. But gas found other uses, such as ironing, cooking and it was also used to run engines. An interesting fact is, that generators which produced electricity run on gas."

Along with whole variety of old-fashioned lamps, the Museum of Gas Works displays many of the appliances introduced after gas was no longer used for lighting purposes.