Prague’s Advent-time lamplighter is the world’s tallest, and one of the last

A lamplighter goes up and down Prague’s Charles Bridge in Advent

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 12.12.2019 09:34:25 (updated on 12.12.2019) Reading time: 4 minutes

Prague is one of three cities left in the world to use lamplighters. During Advent, as a way to set the holiday mood, a tall man in First Republic-era outfit goes up and down Charles Bridge to personally light dozens of gas lamps.

People can find him on Charles Bridge, starting around 4 pm at the Old Town Side, daily until December 23. There are also two extraordinary events on December 12 and 17 starting at 6 pm at the intersection of Loretánská and U Kasáren streets, where there is an eight-armed iron candelabra.

The Advent walk called From Candelabra to Candelabra goes past several city-owned statues to end at a second iron candelabra at Hradčanské náměstí. The free guided tour is in Czech.

Jan Žákovec lights a lamp on Charles Bridge. via Raymond Johnston

The trip on Charles
Bridge takes about an hour, as Jan Žákovec stops to chat with
locals and tourists about his favorite topic: gas light. He also
poses for photos and lets small children help by holding the end of
his hook. In photos, Žákovec towers over most people. At just over
two meters tall, he claims to be the tallest lamplighter in the

Prague lamplighter Jan Žákovec on Charles Bridge. via Raymond Johnston

Žákovec is actually the head of the Gas Museum (Plynárenské muzeum), and got the job of lamplighter when gas lights were restored in Prague, as he was the tallest person involved in the historical aspects of gas lighting. His height made it easier for him to reach the lights. His background allows him to explain the history to anyone who wants to ask.

The lamplighter poses for a selfie. via Raymond Johnston

“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,” Žákovec said.

The history is quite
extensive. “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.
In 1985, gas lamps ended,” he said.

The lamplighter poses by the Old Town Bridge Tower. via Raymond Johnston

The first 200 lamps
were lit in 1847 in Prague, and reached a peak of 9,000 by 1940. The
two candelabras by Hradčanské náměstí were the last ones until
the recent revival.

The lights didn’t
stay out long. As tourism became a big industry, the city
administration looked for ways to restore some authenticity to the
city center.

Young people in matching hats cheer as he lights a lamp. via Raymond Johnston

“After 17 years
the municipality returned all the gas lamps to the whole Royal Route,
from the Powder Gate to Old Town Square, to Charles Bridge and Prague
Castle,” he said. The first lights began in 2002, while Charles
Bridge was added in 2010, making it the only gas-lit bridge in the

“There are 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,” he said.

Lighting one of the last lamps. via Raymond Johnston

The system currently
used in Prague doesn’t have an open gas flame. Each lamp has six
mantles. While in the past lamplighters had a burning wick on a long
pole, the modern system is a bit safer. The lamplighter uses a hook
on a pole to pull a ring that releases a valve, feeding gas to the

The light is more
than just a gimmick. The colors are much warmer than the cold blues
of most electric lights. The yellow tones from the gas help to give
Prague its famous Golden City look. “For a normal eye it is better,
it is natural,” Žákovec said.

The lamplighter hooks the pull ring on a lamp. via Raymond Johnston

As he goes from
light to light, he stops to say hello to the regulars on the bridge,
the artist sand vendors who are packing up for the day. This too is
part of a tradition. “In history the lamplighter was a special
person, the one who brings the light. In towns it was often a woman
with dog. She was very popular among children, who would chase after
her. The seniors remember, ‘Oh, when I was young we saw this,’”
he said.

The lamplighter is
still a hit with children. A group all in identical hats cheered as
one lamp was lit. Parents asked if their kids could help. “Of
course, follow me to the next lamp,” was the answer.

Final shots with tourists at the end of the route. via Raymond Johnston

Local people would
ask if the lamps were really lit with gas, and get a bit of history,
while tourists would want photos. Žákovec would often ask where the
people were from as he posed. China, Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, and
Israel were popular answers.

Aside from Prague,
lamplighters still make rounds in Wrocław, Poland, and Baden-Baden,

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