Prague’s medieval Astronomical Clock is more than 6oo years old! Most noteworthy, it’s the oldest clock in the world still ticking away the hours! Perhaps Czech clockmakers could teach the Swiss a thing or two. Seconds before the turn of each hour, the Astronomical Clock puts on a display, attracting a large number of people. If you’ve seen it once, that’s plenty. It’s not a thrilling display but everyone loves it anyway. With a little knowledge of the legend of the Astronomical Clock in Prague and what each of its components symbolise, you’ll find an otherwise underwhelming display, actually quite interesting.
Legend of the Astronomical Clock in Prague
For centuries everyone thought the clockmaker was Master Hanuš. The legend of the Astronomical Clock in Prague would have us believe that Prague’s town councillors were afraid that Hanuš would make similar pieces for other towns. This would destroy the tourism that the Astronomical Clock attracted. Even back in medieval times it was popular! To prevent this happening, they arranged for a henchman to blind Hanuš with iron pokers. He sought revenge, as anyone might. Despite his lack of vision, he immobilised the clockwork. Although nobody knew how the clock worked, it didn’t stop the town councillors from hiring people to try. For the next 100 years, anyone that tried to get the clock to tick again either went mad or died!
Turns out that the Astronomical Clock in Prague was actually the creation of Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel. Gotta love a good story though!
The Symbolic Components of the Astronomical Clock in Prague
The Astronomical Clock is made up of 3 component parts:
The Calendar Dial
First of all there’s the newest part of the clock, the Calendar Dial. The Prague Old Town symbol is in the centre, surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. The rotating outer circle marks each day of the year and the current date is indicated at the top. All too small for my ageing eyes though! The whole dial is flanked by 4 sculptures: an astronomer, a historian, a philosopher and an angel.
The Astronomical Dial
The Astronomical Dial, and the muse for many a souvenir, is the main component. It looks a little complicated compared to your standard Timex! The face depicts the fact that in medieval times the world was flat and the centre of the universe. As such, the earth is at the centre of the dial. The sun and the moon orbit the earth. The dial tells the time in old Czech time, common civil time and Babylonian time. Look, the long and the sort of it is if you want to know what time it is, look at your own watch. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.
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Procession of the Apostles
And the grand finale and the reason that anyone visits Prague – the hourly appearance of the 12 apostles. The show goes something like this:
A few seconds before the hour, the skeleton flanking the Astronomical Dial, pulls a cord to ring a bell. The other 3 statues all shake their heads. The blue windows above the Astronomical Dial open up and the 12 apostle come out in procession.
The windows close, the gold cockerel above the windows, crows and flaps his wings.
The chimes of hour ring out.
The once excited crowd watching from below, look at each other blankly before beginning an unenthusiastic applause.
I did say it was somewhat underwhelming! Regardless of this, everyone loves it! The legend of the Astronomical Clock in Prague, its ornate structure and its sheer age, make this one of the must see sights in Prague.
Traveller top tips: the Astronomical Clock in Prague strikes on the hour. However, the procession of apostles only takes place between 9am and 9pm. Try to avoid the throngs of eager tourists and early birds at 8am. Unless you want to just giggle at their utter disappointment when nothing happens!
Top tip for you road trippers: Prague may not seem a likely road trip destination but Czech Republic at large, certainly is! Prague is one of the most beautiful of all the European capital cities. There’s an abundance of amazing architecture, fantastically controversial artwork and all so reasonably priced. As a result, it would be a huge loss to miss out on a visit to Prague on your Czech Republic road trip!