Prague’s gas lamp lighter returns for Advent

Prague's lamp-man Jan Žákovec

One sign that Advent is upon us in Prague is the reappearance of the man who lights gas lamps at some of the city’s most romantic locations. The uniformed figure has just appeared on Charles Bridge for the first time this season.

Prague's lamp-man Jan Žákovec | Photo: Juan Pablo Bertazza,  Radio Prague International

Around 4 pm on Monday visitors to Prague’s famous 14th century Charles Bridge got to experience an unusual sight: A man in an old-fashioned uniform using a two-metre wooden rod to light its historic gas lamps.

Nowadays the city’s gas lights usually work automatically, but during the Advent period leading up to Christmas this method is used to add to the festive atmosphere.

Street lighting was first introduced in 1847, when 200 gas lamps were installed. By 1940 there were reportedly almost 9,000 in the city. Gas light was also used to illuminate Prague’s parks, waterfronts and islands.

In the first half of the last century around 130 lamp lighters were reportedly employed by the city.

Gas-powered lighting was definitively discontinued in the middle of the 1980s, when eight cast-iron lamps on Hradčanské Square and the nearby Loretánská St. in the Prague Castle district were converted to electricity.

Prague's lamp-man Jan Žákovec | Photo: Juan Pablo Bertazza,  Radio Prague International

However, gas lighting was brought back to some of the city’s most historic parts in the year 2002, this time powered by natural gas.

In 2010 they also returned to Charles Bridge, which is reputedly now the only gas-lit bridge in the world.

Today you can see gas lights – currently lit each day at dusk by Prague’s lampář (lamp-man), wearing a peaked black cap and dark red short cape – along the whole of the “Royal Way” running through the historical centre, from the Powder Tower all the way to Hradčanské Square.

Author: Ian Willoughby


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