Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Prague Orloj

The Prague Astronomical Clock or Prague Orloj is a medieval astronomical clock located on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic.

There are three main parts: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the sun and moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the apostles and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

The eastern wall of the same building.

The oldest part of the Orloj, the mechanical clock and astronomical dial, dates back to 1410 when it was made by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, the latter a professor.

Around 1490, the calendar dial was added and clock facade decorated with Gothic sculptures.

The Orloj stopped working many times in the centuries after 1552, and was repaired many times. Some speculate that the government purposely gouged out the original maker's eyes in order to prevent him from making a similar clock for another country. Legend has it after this he died touching the clock, at which point the clock stopped working and remained unrepairable for a number of years. In the 17th century moving statues were added, and figures of the Apostles were added after major repair in 1865-1866.

The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 and 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising, when the Axis forces tried to burn the building. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the Orloj and the calendar dial face. The machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored, and the Orloj started working again in 1948.

Of course, across from the clock - Starbucks.

The astronomical dial is a form of mechanical astrolabe, a device used in medieval astronomy.

At the outer edge of the clock, golden Schwabacher numerals are set on a black background. These numbers indicate Old Czech Time with 24 indicating the time of sunset, which varies during the year from as early as 16:00 in winter to 20:16 in summer. This ring moves back and forth during the year to coincide with the time of sunset.

The calendar, below the clock, was added in 1870.
You can hardly see it, but around the edge is a slot for every day of the year.

When we were there, it was the start of the Easter market and also the start of Spring Break for the teenagers of Europe. The square was crowded with people - mainly teens - and, of course, the clock was a main attraction. I'll tell you more about the Easter market another day.

The four figures flanking the clock are set in motion at the hour, these represent four things that were despised at the time of the clock's making. From left to right in the photograph, the first is Vanity, represented by a figure admiring himself in a mirror. Next, a figure holding a bag of gold represents greed or usury. Across the clock stands Death, a skeleton that strikes the time upon the hour. The fourth figure is supposed to represent the infidel and wears a turban.

There is also a presentation of statues of the Apostles at the doorways above the clock on the hour, so of course, we took a little video for you. This way, you can save that pesky airfare and jet lag to see it. The video is 45 seconds long. Enjoy!

I have more to tell you about this magical city of Prague, and I promise I'll get around to it soon!


  1. They just don't make 'em like they used to, do they?


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