Advent lamplighter returning to Charles Bridge this holiday season

From tomorrow evening through the Christmas season, the gas lamps on Prague's Charles Bridge will be lit by hand at dusk every night.

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky Published on 27.11.2021 14:06:00 (updated on 28.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

While Christmas markets in Prague have been closed for the holiday season this year due to restrictive anti-coronavirus measures, another popular advent tradition will return to the Czech capital from tomorrow evening.

Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 28, the famed lamplighter of Prague will once again light up the gas lanterns on Charles Bridge. He'll return every evening at dusk throughout the Christmas season, until Thursday, December 23.

Residents of Prague and visitors to the Czech capital are invited to observe the lamplighter on his route, which will begin at Křižovnické náměstí on the Old Town side of Charles Bridge at dusk (around 4:05-4:15 p.m. depending on the date).

The lamplighter will light up one side of the bridge as he crosses to Malá Strana, then the other side as he makes his return. A total of 46 gas lamps on Charles Bridge will be lit during the nightly procession.

While lamp lighting on Charles Bridge took place in 2020, the number of trips made was strictly limited due to restrictions in place at the time. Current regulations allow for the full event to take place in 2021, though spectators are asked to observe sanitary and social distancing measures.

Gas lamps have a long history in Prague, and were used to light the city's parks and streets from 1847. At the height of their usage in 1940, there were more than 9,000 gas lamps in the Czech capital.

Over the next half-century, however, Prague's gas lamps were slowly replaced by electrical ones. The last gas lamps in Prague, at Hradčanské náměstí and Loretánská street, were converted to electric in 1985.

Lamplighter on Charles Bridge in Prague. Photo: iStock / wrangel
Lamplighter on Charles Bridge in Prague. Photo: iStock / wrangel

In 2002, a project initiated by Prague City Hall brought back traditional gas lighting in the historic center. By 2010, the lights on Charles Bridge were converted back from electricity to gas, making it the world's only bridge lined by gas lamps. Now, the entire Royal Route from Prague Castle to the Powder Tower is lined by gas lamps.

Prague's lamplighter is one of the last in the world, and almost certainly the tallest. An employee of Prague's Gas Museum, Jan Žákovec stands at over two meters tall (about 6'8") and got the job due to his height: he has less distance to reach the lamps than other lighters.

During the holiday lamp lighting on Charles Bridge, Žákovec is dressed in a traditional uniform that Prague lamplighters wore in the 19th century, a black wool coat with brass buttons and a red cape. During the lighting, he offers spectators some trivia about the history of gas lamps in the Czech capital.

“All the year long [the lighting] is automatic but during Advent time we want to show to tourists and others in Prague the work of lamplighters and the history,” he told us two years ago.

“The tradition of lamplighters in Prague lasted 150 to 155 years. In the 1920s and ’30s there were around 130 lamplighters, then after the Second World War the number went down.”

“There are now 700 gas lamps in Prague. We are 10th in the world. Number one is Berlin with 30,000. Second is Dusseldorf with 15,000. London has 1,200 gas lamps around Buckingham Palace and Westminster.” 

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