Sunday, 12 February 2017

Prague Landmarks #6 - The Astronomical Clock

My initial intention with this series of Prague landmarks was not to pick the most obvious places, but to focus on some of the less well known and less obvious ones. It's fairly safe to say that the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square is probably the most well known and obvious sites in the city, but I've decided to include it now...because it's just about to disappear. That is to say, it is just about to undergo a huge year long maintenance programme and for the time being is going to replaced by a video representation.

The clock is one of the most iconic images associated with Prague - and justifiably (in my opinion at least). The impact it makes the first time you see it lasts a lifetime, and even having walked past it hundreds of times, I still find it impossible not to sneak a peek when I'm nearby.

There is so much history about the clock it would be impossible to do it justice in such a short post. Trying to explain the science behind such a phenomenal piece of engineering would be even more difficult. Instead I'll focus on the basics and point you towards one of the books or pamphlets available on sale inside the clock tower. 

It has now been determined that the original clock dates back to 1410 by Mikuláš of Kadaň, but it has been modified and added to many times over the centuries. The clock shows four types of time:

  • Old Czech (Italian) time displayed by the Gothic symbols on the outer rings
  • German (Local) time marked in golden Roman numerals along the edge of the astrolabe
  • Planetary time shown by the 12 blue Arabic numerals
  • Sidereal time designated by the star on the zodiac ring
Additionally the clock displays the position of the sun and moon and other celestial events such as solstices.

The calendar dial which is situated underneath the clock was painted by the Czech painter Josef Mánes (1820-1871), although the original was badly damaged by exposure to the weather, the current copy was unveiled in 1882 .

St John the Evangelist (left) and St Thomas (right)

The statues of the apostles which appear from the windows above the clock appear to date back to 1793. The originals were destroyed by fire in 194 and replaced with the current set between 1946 and 1948. They appear so briefly that the best way to see them is to take the trip into the clock tower and find them in their little cubby hole where you can really appreciate their eerie beauty.

There are too many details all around the clock to describe them all but it wouldn't be right not to single out the orchestrator of the chiming ceremonies - the wooden sculpture of Death.

Death (the skeleton) and Delight

Every hours, when he rings his bell, and the hourglass turns it launches the apostles forty second journey outside into the elements, before the windows close and the rooster crows and flaps its wings (generally to the sound of applause from the gathered throng down below).

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