Prague Gas Lamps

Prague Gas Lamps

Since 1723 the city had maintained oil-lit street lighting on the Royal Road between Republic Square and Prague Castle. In 1846 within the fortified city walls of Prague you would still have found thousands of other private street lamps lighting roads, junctions and the entries to buildings. These all had to be manually filled and lit by a small army of lamp lighters. It was the following year 1847 that we saw the first Prague Gas Lamps.

one of the original 19th century prague gas lamps in front of prague castle
One of the grander Prague gas lamps on Hradcany square in front of the castle main entry

The first mains gas was produced by a private company based in Karlin and they ran a network that included many houses and businesses. The city signed a contract for 20 years and on September 15th 1847 the system went live. Prague was lit initially by 200 Prague gas lamps mostly on the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, Republic Square and the streets that linked them. Within two years the gas network had increased to 5Km and the number of lamps passed 500 which increased again to 1800 lamps of many different types by the 1850s. In 1867 as the private contract expired, the city set up it’s own gas works with all street lighting Prague Gas Lamps in the city being standardised and the number increased to almost 3000.

Electricity Arrives

a pair of free standing prague gas lamps in the old town
A free-standing pair of Prague gas lamps in the Old Town

You’d think that with the arrival of electricity in the 1880s that the Prague Gas Lamps would be replaced. Far from it. From around the time of the First World War the system had become remotely controllable with the introduction of a gas pressure switch in each lamp (bye bye gaslighters). Gas continued to be the primary means of street lighting in the city until 1940 when it peaked at a little over 9000 lamps. There followed a gradual reduction in the use of gas for street lighting until in 1985, on Hradcanske Namesti in front of the Prague Castle (pictured at the top of this post), the last of the original gas lamps from the 1850s were converted to electric.

The Comeback

On October 31st 2002 nine Prague Gas Lamps were activated in Michalska Street and the network expanded into neighbouring streets in the following years. With this success the Prague Gas Lamps system was rolled out end to end along the Royal Road from Republic Square to Prague Castle including Charles Bridge. At the time of writing there are more than 700 Prague gas lamps.

The Modern Prague Gas Lamps

one of the single wall mounted prague gas lamps in the city
Prague gas lamps are often single and wall mounted – you can actually see the gas pipe in this picture

All the street lighting in the Prague Historic Districts looks old because the lamps are replicas of what was used by the city back in 1867. You can tell if a street light is powered by gas because the glass in the lamp is clear and inside you see what looks like a gold pipe with golf balls at the top. Those “golf balls” are the parts that heat and become luminous. If you are into Lumens then the LED light in your living room is probably rated at around 700 lumens. Prague Gas Lamps are rated at 1720 lumens. This is not especially bright for street-lighting so that’s why you’ll find they are placed fairly close together in the streets compared with electric lights. They are not completely free of electricity because the modern-day control switches are electric although these can be manually over-ridden like at Christmas when you see the guy light the gas lamps on Charles Bridge.

The Future

The Paris Climate Accord means that Czech will eventually have to decommission all it’s coal-fired electric power stations and increase it’s gas/hydrogen infrastructure so expect that Prague gas lamps will be an increasing part of the city for many years to come.

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