The Powder Tower or Powder Gate (Prašná brána in Czech) is a 65 metres high late Gothic tower on the edge of Old Town on Náměstí republiky, right next to the Municipal House. It is one of Prague’s most important medieval monuments. Here is the beginning of the Royal Way which leads through the Old Town over the Charles Bridge, through the Lesser Town and up the hill to the Prague castle. The future kings of Bohemia used to enter the town through this gate when they were on their coronation parade. This parade went on the traditional Royal Way to the Prague Castle, where the coronation took place in the Saint Vitus Cathedral.
The original tower on this site was built in the 11th century, it was one of Prague’s 13 original city gates, which was built in a ditch around the town´s ramparts, about 9 metres below the present ground. The tower was originally called “Horská” Gate, because there was the beginning of a road, that led from Prague to Kutná Hora where silver was mined for the royal coffers. Because of its poor state of repair, this later became known as the “Shabby Gate” (Odraná brána in Czech) from the middle of the 13th century.
At that time, it was still part of the city’s fortifications, but after the New Town was established by Emperor Charles IV, the fortification in this place lost its importance. The tower’s significance however grew at the end of the 14th century, when Wenceslas IV had a complex of courtyards constructed in its vicinity, on the site where the Municipal House stands today. It was called the Royal Court and the tower thus became the starting point of coronation processions.
Consequently, in 1475, the erection of a new symbolic tower gate started during the reign of King Vladislav II. The Architect Matěj Rejsek ran the construction of this ornate late Gothic tower and decorated it with sculptures. The tower was constructed to follow the design used by Peter Parler for the 14th century Old Town Bridge Tower. It contributed to the beauty of the neighbouring Royal Court. Construction of the tower was interrupted between 1477 and 1485, when riots forced King Vladislav II to flee the city.
When the Royal family moved from the Royal Court in the Old Town back to the Prague Castle in 1488, the Powder Tower was left unfinished. Some building work was done in 1592, when the new spiral staircase was built. In the subsequent centuries the town council regarded the tower as useless and several times considered its demolition. However, the Powder Gate remained important to the Bohemian kings – until 1836 the Bohemian monarchs would pass through the Powder Gate on their way to St. Vitus Cathedral to be crowned.
The current name of the tower dates from the 18th century when it served as a storehouse for gunpowder.
The monumental tower was severely damaged during the Prussian occupation in 1757. Many decorative sculptures were damaged and later removed. In 1823 a clock was placed at the top of the tower. Prašná brána was finally rebuilt between 1875 and 1886 by the architect Josef Mocker. In the 1990s the Powder Tower, like many other historical buildings in Prague, was beautifully renovated.
The Powder Tower is 65 metres high, and a 186-step spiral staircase leads up to the viewing platform 44 metres above the ground. The Powder Tower gate was erected on the bottom of a defensive moat that was nine metres below today’s street level and a bridge originally led up to the gateway.
Above the gateway, in the direction of Celetná Street, stands a statue of George of Poděbrady together with the Jagiellon monarch Vladislav II, who were kings of Bohemia during the relevant era. On the other side of the tower, in the direction of Náměstí Republiky, the building is adorned with statues of the great Czech monarchs Charles IV and Přemysl Otakar II. They are surrounded by symbols of countries, over which they reigned. In the level of the second floor, there are statues of Bohemian patrons and saints.