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Czech Republic: Prague Astronomical Clock

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Prague Astronomical Clock | Czech Republic | Europe

[Visited: December 2011 and many times before since August 1987]

Prague is full of not-to-be-missed sights, and one of them is the Astronomical Clock. Attached to the Old Town City Hall on the Old Town Square, it inevitably draws lots of visitors. Many city halls have a clock, of course, but in the case of Prague, in style with the beauty of the rest of the old city, the clock of the Old Town is strikingly unique. When you first see the clock, the combination of bright colours, may different parts on different dials, and decorations overwhelms. This clearly is not just a clock to tell the time, but it gives a lot more than that. In fact, it is not at all obvious what the current time is. The lowest dial is the calendar, which was added in the 19th century: it shows the signs of the zodiac in the inner ring surrounding a seal containing a castle; around the zodiac, you can see rural scenes of Bohemia representing the seasons.

Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Dials of the Astronomical Clock of Prague indicating time, zodiacal sign, and more

The main dial is the original clock: functionally, it is like a planetarium, and shows the position of the sun and moon, the it shows when sunrise and sunset are to be expected, as well as the sign of the zodiac. A golden hand, with sun on its arm, points to Prague time. There also is a hand with a star: it shows the position of the vernal equinox, and thus tells the stellar time. The astronomical dial is surrounded by four sculptures representing the things despised most by medieval Czechs: vanity (with a mirror), greed (with a moneybag, before World War II, a jew), death (represented by a skeleton), and pagans (represented by a Turk). While this conjunction of dials and hands is a sight in itself, the best moment to see the Astronomical Clock is on the hour. At first, the skeleton rings a bell, inverts his hourglass, after which the two shutters above the dial open. Behind each window, 6 apostles appear, parading before and nodding to the spectator. At the end, the shutters close, and the golden cock above crows; finally, the hour is struck.

Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Astronomical Clock on the tower of the Old Town City Hall

The first version was installed by clockmaker Mikuláš in 1410, and included the mechanical clock and the astronomical dial. It was later improved by other clockmakers, sculptures were added, and the Apostles that appear every hour were added only in the mid-19th century. The Astronomical Clock did not work flawlessly: it stopped many times, survived wars (it suffered damage in the last days of the Second World War), but was always repaired. In 2010, a celebration was held to commemorate its 600th birthday, and the clock is ticking on. Actually, it is thought that the very future of the city is in question in case it would stop working. The Astronomical Clock is just one more proof that the old town of Prague is a medieval paradise.

Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Calendar with signs of the zodiac and scenes representing the seasons, surrounded by statues
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Golden cock announcing the hour, with a parade of Apostles underneath
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): The Astronomical Clock is about to strike 3: looking up at the tower of the Old Town City Hall
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Signs of the zodiac around Prague Castle, surrounded by rural scenes of the seasons
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): The feature that strikes most visitors first: the astronomical dial representing Earth, Sun, and Moon, as well as the signs of the zodiac
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): Next to the calendar, the Chronicler and Angel
Picture of Prague Astronomical Clock (Czech Republic): The hour is struck by a skeleton representing Death

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