130-year-old Letná carousel spins back into operation after restoration

The carousel had been shut down for 16 years due to its critical state but finally the finishing touches have been completed.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 11.07.2022 19:34:00 (updated on 11.07.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

The long-delayed repairs of the Letná carousel have been completed, and it will welcome the public to ride on its stuffed horses and toy cars again on July 12.

The historical monument, now owned by the National Technical Museum (NTM), is one of the two oldest preserved carousels of its type in Europe. The newly repaired carousel was introduced to the public today on the 128th anniversary of its installation in Letná. This is also the carousel’s 130th anniversary, as it had been in Vinohrady for two years before it moved to its current location.

Karel Ksandr, CEO of the NTM, said he was extremely happy that the rare historical monument from the end of the 19th century has been repaired and that after a lot of expense and effort it will bring joy to children and adults alike. “My efforts to save the carousel began more than 30 years ago, so I am very pleased that the carousel will finally spin again,” Ksandr said.

“The operation of the carousel will be adjusted so that we can preserve this monument for the future and future generations,” he added.

From July 12 to 16, the carousel will be open every day, and after that it will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, always from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., from May to September.

Riding the carousel on a stuffed horse or in a toy car is possible for children 2 years old and up, limited by body weight of up to 100 kilograms. Children under 10 years old or smaller than 140 cm can enter only if accompanied by an adult. The price of a 5-minute ride is CZK 80. Tickets can only be purchased on the day of the ride at the carousel.

Ksandr recounted that as a small boy, he rode the carousel many times. “I even remember that when I ran out of crowns from my parents, I begged for more from the passing visitors of Letná park. However, as an adult, the time has come for me to return what I begged back then to the merry-go-round,” he said.

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His efforts to repay his debts to the carousel began in the mid-1990s when he convinced the then co-owner of the carousel, Františka Kořánová, to agree to the repair of the carousel’s roof, which was paid for by a program to maintain city monuments. Sheet metal was used to replace tar paper, which was insufficient to protect the stuffed horses and toy cars in the interior.

In 2004, Ksandr, who at the time was a deputy director of the museum, was instrumental in getting the museum to purchase the carousel with the help of the Ministry of Culture. The carousel was in a critical state, and it operated for two more years before it had to be shut down due to its condition.

“Today is a glorious day when the carousel, despite all the tribulations, is perfectly restored and renovated into working condition, in the form it had in the 1930s,” Ksandr said.

Prague 7 Mayor Jan Čižinský said he was born in Prague and his parents let him and his siblings ride the carousel when it was in operation.

“I remember that my brothers and I fought over the toy cars, on the other hand, the fight over the shakiest horses was not so much. The knights were terrifying, especially when the blinds were slightly drawn and the inside of the carousel was pitch black. I have strong memories of the carousel from my childhood,” he said.

Knights in the carousel. Photo: National Technical Museum.
Knights in the carousel. Photo: National Technical Museum.

The interior’s central turntable column is decorated with three knights in silver-colored papier-mâché armor.

“I am happy that the long-term renovation was successful. I appreciate the fact that we are standing in front of a carefully restored monument, which, however, will not be a static object in a museum display case, but will be given meaning by the next generations of young riders,” Čižinský said.

Restored horses in the carousel. Photo: National Technical Museum.
Restored horses in the carousel. Photo: National Technical Museum.

The carousel, made by carpenter Matěj Bílek, was moved in 1894 from Vinohrady, where it operated for two years, to its current location in Letná.

The merry-go-round has 19 horses of various sizes covered in genuine horsehide stuffed with straw and with glass eyes. The original saddles and bridles were preserved only for four horses named Poly, Flora, Blesk, and Šemík.

In 2014, thanks to the cooperation of the National Technical Museum and the Prague 7 district, an initiative was created to save the carousel and put it into operation, and a public collection was announced. Aside from the public, support also came from the Avast Foundation, the company Wsia, and Prague City Hall.

The demanding renovation of the stuffed horse and interior equipment was completed in 2018. Other repairs proved more difficult, as many technical problems were uncovered. The city for a time was unable to find a contractor capable of making all the repairs needed for such a unique structure. Eventually, the city made a contract with engineer Jiří Kmošek, who had the necessary background.

The Ministry of Culture also contributed significantly to the completion of the repair of the carousel construction. The total amount for repairing the carousel was over CZK 22.7 million, of which CZK 7.6 million was used to restore 19 horses and three knights.

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