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Overhaul: Old Town Square martyr gets much-needed bodywork

For almost a century, the Jan Hus monument has anchored Old Town Square and supported legions of sports fans who climb it in victorious celebration.

Now the statue, one of Prague’s iconic monuments, is in sore shape and in need of a complete restoration. The bronze likeness, recently wrapped in Škoda car advertisements and scaffolding, will be hidden for much of this tourist season and the next while restorers explore invisible damage and wear. The previous overhaul was completed some 50 years ago.

“Monuments and especially architecture suffered during the previous regime. There is still a lack of money, but things are somehow put together,” said Pavel Filip, a metal restorer who is leading the project. During the past half-century, the statue has undergone only minor repairs, he said.

The first step will be to gather information about the statue from the National Museum, Technical Museum and preservationists, Filip said. Then restorers have to get inside the statue, using cameras, to determine the extent of the damage. “We have no knowledge of the internal state or shape of the statue now,” he said.

The examination of the monument will take about two to three months, after which plans will be submitted to City Hall and the Gallery of the City of Prague for approval, according to Filip.

One of the main things researchers hope to discover when they get inside the monument is how the water drainage system works. A 4-meter (13-foot) bronze strip was removed sometime from the statue after World War II, exposing mortar joints and allowing water to seep inside, Filip said.

Besides water leaks and marks from overeager sports fans, the statue has endured damage from more sordid episodes in history. For instance, the monument has 10 to 15 bullet penetrations, rumored to be the work of fleeing Nazis, though Filip can’t verify when the statue was shot.

Based on the research, two sets of plans will be developed: One for the hollow statue and another for a granite pedestal, said Petra Hoftichová of the gallery. City Hall, the National Heritage Institute and the gallery have 60 days after receiving the plans to approve them.

The monument would then be protected during winter and restoration itself will likely get under way next year, Filip said. Hoftichová expects it to take the whole of 2008.

During breaks in renovation, the scaffolding now surrounding the monument could come down for a while, Hoftichová said.

The car company Škoda, which has an advertisement around the scaffolding, will pay for the restoration. Hoftichová expects the costs to be in the tens of millions of crowns but cannot say the exact amount until the research is finished.

The statue was designed by Art Nouveau artist Ladislav Šaloun and was unveiled in 1915, on the 500th anniversary of Hus’ death. Šaloun had created another statue, called “Escape from Life (Fading Song),” in 1905 in preparation for the Hus monument, according to Czech Modern Art, a National Gallery publication. This statue featured symbolic heads that represented different states of the soul.

Hus, one of the most famous figures in Czech history, was the Protestant religious reformer who inspired a reformed church in Bohemia almost a century before the Lutheran Reformation. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1411 and burned at the stake four years later. Pope John Paul II apologized for the death in 1999.

Hus is also known for inventing the system of diacritics, or spelling symbols, in modern written Czech, and was a former rector of Charles University.

The Hus monument project follows a series of other high-profile renovations such as the St. Wenceslas statue, the Jan Žižka memorial and the continuous reparations of St. Vitus Cathedral. This summer, Charles Bridge’s restoration is also slated to begin.

— Hela Balínová and Naďa Černá contributed to this report.

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