Prague Astronomical Clock
Or as they are also called, Pražský orloj (The Prague Eagle). This clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town Tower, located on the square of the same name.
“Old Town Square is the place that is a must and practically the first place a person visiting Prague for the first time should visit,” a friend and all the guidebooks found on the Internet told me. I saw no point in resisting and went there immediately after visiting the Charles Bridge, which was a convenient decision, because they are very, very close to each other.
You know, on the one hand, the square is one of the most crowded places in the city because of the abundance of tourists, but on the other hand, it met all expectations: the famous Tyn Church, a Christmas tree (the first time I was in Prague just for Christmas), souvenir stalls and charming beauty of a creation of watchmakers – Prague chimes!
A Historical Digression
If you avoid the maze of history of religious debates in the Czech capital, then I can summarize that the Old Town (now the district of Prague “Old Town” or Prague 1) acquired the right to have its own city hall in 1338. The building on the Old Town Square was bought for that purpose, and later, in 1364, the famous tower was added to it. The clock was installed in approx. 1402, or at least the first references to it date back to that time.
But careless maintenance of the mechanism quickly put them out of order, after which the entire structure had to be replaced. That’s when the Orloi was made.
The oldest part of the Orloj (the mechanism and the astronomical dial) was created in 1410 by craftsman Mikuláš based on the designs of mathematician and astronomer Jan Schindel. Eighty years later, the Prague watchmaker known as Hanusz added a calendar dial and the first moving figure, Death.
You have no idea how many times this amazing piece has been forgotten and left unattended! Countless times the clock stopped, and another craftsman repaired it, bringing something new to the design.
In another preventive work of the period 1629-1650, the mechanism of the clock was moved lower, and other wooden figures were added to the company of Death. At the same time, the system of rotation of the moon appeared.
In the 18th century, the Eagle was so neglected that they even wanted to throw it away for scrap. But, to my and your happiness, Professor Strnad of the Observatory secured the necessary funding to repair it. And once again moving figures of the apostles were added.
In 1865-1866 the clock underwent a major overhaul: parts of the movement, astrolabes were repaired, a chronometer was installed for greater accuracy, a rooster figure was added, and the artist Joseph Manes painted the calendar dial.
It would seem that the adventures of this historic relic were over, but the Second World War broke the usual order: a shell hit the Old Town Hall and it caught fire. The wooden figures, of course, did not survive it; the calendar dial also burnt down, and the astronomical dial collapsed to the ground. Fortunately, the value of the Orloi had already been recognized, and by 1948 it had been fully restored. Remarkably, the craftsmen tried to repair the old parts, so that ¾ of the clock is authentic.
Well, we have got acquainted with the prehistory, now let’s go back to the present.
How to get there
You can get to the Prague Astronomical Clock by getting to Old Town Square. Read here how to do it.
If you are already there, the Týn Church will help you get your bearings.
The Old Town Hall is situated on the opposite side of the square.
What are the chimes remarkable for?
In addition to its historical and cultural value, the Orloj stands out from many of the city’s static landmarks. “What is it?” – you ask. Read more about it.
As has already been said, all the sculptures decorating the clock did not appear all at once. As far as I understood from the stories of the locals, originally each of them had some meaning or comparison to the realities of a certain time. But because of the many restorations, few can remember their true meaning. For example, the rooster and the angel were conceived as amulets against supernatural forces. But now they are nothing more than static decorations.
So why do tourists from all over the world come here in such great numbers day after day, despite the fact that the whole composition has lost its secret meaning? For the show, of course!
There are two windows on either side of the angel: it is there that a little show takes place every hour.
The skeleton standing to the right of the clock pulls a chain, the bell tolls, and the casements open, revealing the twelve apostles one by one.
Hundreds of camera flashes illuminate the square in those moments! At one point I began to look not at the clock, but at the tourists-it was a curious sight, with faces of admiration, interest, and idle curiosity. And I did not see indifference in any of them. Imagine, many of them are watching the show for a long time. It doesn’t bore you, and quite the contrary – each time you try to see or notice something new.
By the way, one can watch the chimes also from above, from the observation deck. I will tell you about it a little bit later.
It is an astrolabe with a clock mechanism. The clock illustrates the geocentric system of the world: the Earth is in the center and the Sun and the Moon revolve around it. And although this system is clearly outdated, it still remains for many tourists and residents of the city not as a reminder of the fallacy of this version, but as a beautiful fairy tale, embodied by the masters of the past in the famous Prague Chimes.
Symbol of the sun at the end of the “hand” makes one turn per day, but this is not the most interesting part. The point is that the sun is moving away and back towards the center of the circle as the year progresses, as I understand it, symbolizing the height of the sun’s position above the horizon.
As for the symbol of the moon: the ball is painted on different sides in different colors, indicating the phase of the lunar cycle. The ball rotates in different directions for the full cycle – 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes and 3 seconds.
There is also a disk with the signs of the zodiac. It rotates with an offset from the center and shows in which zodiacal constellation the sun and moon are located.
The current clock face is new. The previous one, unfortunately, has not survived. It was created during the XIX century reconstruction, which I mentioned above. In the center – the coat of arms of Wladyslav II, then a disc with the image of 12 zodiacs, and finally on the outside – a disc with 365 graduations, each of which shows a calendar day of the year.
The discs (except the central disc) rotate and an arrow fixed at the top shows the current day.
Old Town Hall Tower
There is now a museum inside, exhibitions are held there and there is a special room for the registration of marriages.
Unfortunately, I did not manage to visit the exhibitions, but to go up to the observation deck – this minimum was done. Which I will now tell you about.
Opening times and ticket prices
You can buy a ticket for the observation deck at the ticket booth inside the town hall. The cost in the summer of 2015 was as follows:
- students, children under 15 years old, pensioners – 2.5 euros (70 kronor);
- Adults: 4 euros (120 kronor).
Opening hours: from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays, other days from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The last lift is 20 minutes before closing time.
You can go up in the elevator or on foot, I advise you to go up and save time, but go down the stairs to explore the information exhibit, placed on the walls. From it I learned that during the war, Old Town Square was almost a key gathering place for the Nazis, many buildings were occupied and later destroyed.
For example, the tower building was rebuilt, if memory serves me correctly, three times, and the last time was just after the war. In my opinion, this is interesting historical information, which can be given 10-20 minutes. The information is in English and Czech.
Here we are at last at the top. First you’ll have to stand in line to get in if there are a lot of people who want to enter. But it’s worth the wait, because the views are amazing!
By the way, this is where I think the photo printed on many postcards from Prague was taken from (below).
You can also see the Prague Metronome.
By the way, notice which way the flow of people at the observation deck moves, if there are a lot of them. Unimaginative tourists trying to go against everyone are annoying. You don’t want to become one of them, do you:)
I want to note: if you think that, after reading the descriptions and photos, you’ve almost visited some places in the world in general and Prague in particular, this is a huge misconception. Do not deny yourself the pleasure, look at everything live and get a huge portion of pleasure. Other details about Old Town Square I will tell you in the next article. I wish you good luck!
Astronomical Clock in Prague
Astronomical Clock in Prague (other names encountered no less frequently: Prague Chimes, Old Town Orloj) is one of the symbols of the Czech capital. The medieval tower clock is located in the center of the city, on Old Town Square. The clock crowns the ancient Old Town Hall.
The Orloj clock in Prague is the oldest such mechanism in the world and it continues to work and show astronomical data accurately even today. The oldest part of the clock mechanism and dial was created in 1410.
The exterior of the Prague Orloj Chimes has 3 main components (arranged vertically). The central dial has an astronomical purpose. It shows the sidereal time, time of sunrise and sunset, lunar phases, as well as the time (not only the current time in Central Europe, but also the old Czech and Babylonian time). The arrangement of the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon on the face of the dial represents the ancient Greek world system (according to Ptolemy), according to which the Earth is at the center of the universe (in this case in the center of the dial), and the Sun and the Moon revolve around it. On either side of the dial are figures moving at specific times. The accuracy of all the elements has earned the watch the nickname “The Prague Planetarium”.
Above the central dial are 2 windows – also for the show of moving figures. The lower dial serves as a calendar, which gives an idea not only of the current date, but also of Christian holidays. The calendar dial of the clock is decorated with 12 medallions (by month), which depict scenes of medieval village life. The outer disc is divided into 365 sectors by day.
The first clock on the Old Town Tower was installed, according to references, in 1402. But as a result of improper maintenance or poor construction, they failed and could not be restored. In 1410 the watchmaker Mikuláš from the village of Kadiné made the most ancient parts of the famous clock – the astronomical part and the internal mechanism. The most precise mechanism was designed by the scientist Jan Schindel, who became famous for his achievements in astronomy. The sculptural compositions were made by Petr Parlerz, a famous Czech sculptor. According to historical documents, the watchmaker received not only a house and money for his work, but also an annual allowance for life.
The next mention of the Prague clock dates back to 1490. At that time, the renowned Prague watchmaker Jan Růže repaired the mechanism and added a new dial (lower) and the famous figure – Death. It became the first moving figure in the composition of the clock. For 400 years, it was Jan Růže who was considered the author of the clock in Prague’s Old Town Square. The mistake was corrected only in the middle of the 20th century.
In 1659, the figure of Death was supplemented with other moving sculptures. In the 18th century, the mechanism stopped being repaired; the main clock in Prague stood motionless for several decades. In 1787, the clock tower in Prague was rebuilt and the entire mechanism was nearly thrown into scrap iron. However, the citizens, led by a professor from the Prague Observatory, solicited funding to repair the clockworks. The clock mechanism was partially repaired, and at the same time wooden statuettes in the form of apostles were installed. The overhaul took place in 1865-1866.
During the last days of the war with the Nazis (8 May) the Prague chimes were badly damaged. The clock had a rebel radio that broadcast motivational proclamations to the people against the Nazis. A German detachment decided to destroy the radio and bombarded the tower with anti-aircraft guns. The wooden figures and calendar dial burned out and the central dial collapsed from the tower. The clock was fully restored and reinstalled in 1948. Today, the Prague Astronomical Clock is comprised of ¾ of the original, original elements.
When Prague Astronomical Clock Beats
The clock on the Old Town Square strikes every hour from 09.00 to 23.00. When Prague chimes, there is a unique show with the figures. The figures to the left and right of the central clock face come into motion. They are represented by rather creepy characters: Death (the skeleton figure), Turok (the turbaned figure), Greed (the sculpture with the purse) and Vanity (the figure with the mirror). In addition, the 12 apostles come out. The procession of wooden figures goes from one window to another above the central clock face in a minute while the clock strikes.