The Town Belfrey by St. Nicholas´Church
from 7. 12. 2016
The City of Prague Museum opens the final part of the permanent display – Custos Turris / City Warden. This second stage completes the presentation of the tower which was used as a watchtower or town belfry. The visitors will learn about the arduous life of tower wardens, the history of the building and its misuse during the communist regime.
Although town belfries were inseparable parts of medieval and early modern towns, they are only little known. The City of Prague Museum has installed a permanent exhibition to present this phenomenon of historic towns. The visitors will learn about the importance of town belfries in medieval and early modern towns: to oversee and protect them against natural disasters and enemy armies.
Town belfries as a new phenomenon spread in the Czech lands in the 16th century in connection with the upswing of towns. Astronomical clocks and clock machines were placed on the towers back then. During the 18th century, the first truly functional fire safety regulations were announced and enforced, which also applied to the designing of municipal belfries which were fully equipped to comply with the needs of the town watchtower service.
Although it might appear at first sight that the tower is part of St Nicholas Church, it never belonged to the church; it always lied within the authority of the Lesser Town of Prague. The Baroque belfry, simultaneously used as a fire lookout tower and clock tower, was built along with the Church of St Nicholas. Replacing the former Gothic town belfry, the structure was designed and built by a renowned architect, Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer.
The visitors can take a look into the tower warden’s flat of the second half of the 18th century which includes a smoke kitchen – the only publicly accessible one in Prague. This part, which opened last year, continues with a signalling room – where the tower warden did his job. The belfry was used until the 1 December 1891 when the signalling part of the tower was cancelled. The tower warden Karel Landa (1841–1909) continued to work at the tower, having been entrusted with the everyday winding, oiling, and cleaning of the clock. Because he lived in the tower alone, he merged the two flats into one.
The interior of this room corresponds to the first half of the 19th century. The second flat of the tower warden dates to 1891 when the signalling function was cancelled and the warden looked after the clock. The exhibition also presents the Baroque sewage system, and visitors may admire the bell chamber with a bell chair and St Nicholas Bell of 1576.
The tower also played an important role during the Prague Uprising when the Wehrmacht soldiers monitored the barricades on Karmelitská Street. Beginning in the 1960s, the purpose of the structure changed into an observation post of the State Security to watch the adjacent foreign embassies. The ‘Kajka’ on the very top of the tower shows the tower’s misuse by the totalitarian power. The State Security used Kajka until 1990.