The Prague astronomical clock and its history

Prague’s astronomical clock, known as Orloj, is a medieval jewel located in the Old Town Square. This iconic watch is not only a technical marvel, but also a work of art with centuries of history. The fascinating history of the Orloj also has a legend. From its creation in the 15th century to its modern restoration, the clock captures the imagination of millions of visitors. It is a major attraction and a symbol of the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Prague astronomical clock

History of the Prague astronomical clock

In 1410 it was installed on the south façade of the Old Town Hall in the Old Town of Prague. The creation of the astronomical mechanism was by Mikuláš de Kadaň, a watchmaker, and Jan Šindel, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University in Prague.

In 1490, the master watchmaker Jan Růže, known as Hanuš, perfected the astronomical mechanism and added the movable figures.

Over the years, the clock underwent several repairs and upgrades. During the final days of World War II, the clock was severely damaged when the Old Town Hall was bombed. They restored it with meticulous precision and reconstructed the figures of the apostles. In 2018 they dismantled and completely restored it.

It is a work of medieval engineering

Its design is inspired by an astrolabe and shows five types of time simultaneously. It is divided into three parts, each with its own appeal.

  • Upstairs, between two blinds, there is a puppet theater with the twelve apostles who appear every hour.
  • At the bottom, a calendar illustrates the months and seasons, as well as indicating the saint for each day of the year.
  • In the central body it shows the time in five different ways, being one of the most curious systems of the time.
  • A golden sun moves around the zodiacal circle in an elliptical motion. This piece indicates three hours at a time: the time in Prague, the unequal hours and the hours after sunrise, according to Bohemian time.
  • On the outer edge of the clock, numerals in Schwabacher font indicate the Bohemian-style hours, beginning at 1 a.m. The rings adjust throughout the year to match solar time.
  • The zodiacal ring marks the position of the sun on the ecliptic, the curved line that represents the movement of the Earth around the Sun.

The Prague Astronomical Clock is a marvel that combines artistic beauty and mechanical precision.

The legend of the famous clock

This story is related to the master watchmaker Hanuš who improved and completed the clock in 1490.

According to this narrative, the Prague astronomical clock was so famous that emissaries from other countries came to see the wonder and wanted to commission Hanuš to build similar clocks for their own cities.

So that the watchmaker would not replicate his masterpiece elsewhere, the city councilors of Prague made a drastic decision. They invited him to a meeting at the town hall, where they attacked him and burned his eyes with a hot iron so that he could not replicate their work. Plunged into despair and pain, he wanted to take revenge on the city that had betrayed him.

With the help of his apprentice, he managed to reach the clock mechanism and stopped it. None of the city’s clockmakers could make the clock work again. Finally, after several years they managed to repair it.

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