Our last stop in Old Town is the intricate Astrological Clock (Pražský orloj), according to the BBC, one of “the oldest and most elaborate clocks ever built,” as well as one of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions.
Attached to the bottom of the Old Town Hall tower, large crowds gather here on the hour, from 9am to 9pm (NOT adjusted for daylight savings time, which would have made no sense at all to the clock’s makers), to hear the clock chime and watch the procession of saints at its top.
The clock consists of two main dials:
The topmost, the Astronomical Dial, is crammed full of mostly arcane information (again, courtesy of the BBC):
Around the outside of the dial are two circles of numbers. The inner circle is in Roman numerals; the hours as we know them are marked around the circle. All 24 hours of the day are marked, with 12 noon at the top and 12 midnight at the bottom. An hour hand points to the current time. There is no minute hand – people didn’t worry about such small units of time in 1410. The pointer on the hour hand is in fact a golden hand, with fingers and a thumb. The outer circle is inscribed with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc up as far as 24). These show ‘Old Bohemian Time’. This is the number of hours since sunset. Since the time of sunset varies during the year, this circle of numbers rotates relative to the fixed Roman numerals, a fact which is not obvious when one is looking at the clock. Mounted on the hour hand is a smaller dial that displays the 12 signs of the zodiac. A golden Sun and a silver Moon show the positions of the Sun and Moon against the stars. The Moon is painted half black. It rotates so that it always shows the correct phase of the Moon. The main dial is painted in blue, red and black, representing day, twilight and night. The position of the Sun against these painted areas shows the current state. Also on the main dial are lines dividing the day into the hours of ‘Babylonian Time’. These lines divide the daylight into 12 hours. Because of this, the hours themselves vary in length with the seasons.
The lower dial, the Calendar Dial, shows the 12 months and 12 zodiac signs in the center:
It also lists all 365 days of the year, and the corresponding saint of the day, around the rim, which rotates so a gold indicator at the top tells the current day & saint.
On the top corners of the Astronomical dial are 4 figures which serve as a reminder of the prejudices of 15th century life:
Left to right, they are: Vanity, Greed (indicated by a Jew with a moneybag, yikes), Death, and the Infidel (a Turk – yikes again).
Did I mention that it gets crowded here near the top of the hour?
The hourly chime begins with Death pulling a chain and ringing a bell. A procession of saints (St. Paul & 11 others, sorry Judas) then passes by two portals:
It’s a striking clock architecturally, and it boggles the mind to think of how something like this could have been made so long ago. Although the procession of the saints at the hour does not, IMO, justify much of a wait, it’s quaint enough, and the clock itself is a must-see.
For more information, see the Wikipedia page on the clock.
- Part 1: Vysehrad
- Part 2: Vysehradsky hrbitov (Vysehrad cemetery)
- Part 3: Karluv Most (Charles Bridge)
- Part 4: Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square)
- Part 5: Letecke Muzeum Kbely (Czech Air Force Museum)
- Part 6: Stare Mesto (Old Town)
- Part 7: Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square)
- Part 8: Prazsky orloj (Astronomical Clock) <– You are here
- Part 9: Josefov (Jewish Quarter)
- Part 10: Vltava River
- Part 11: St. Nicholas Cathedral (Chram sv. Mikulase)
- Part 12: Wallenstein Palace (Valdstejnsky palac)
- Part 13: Kampa Island
- Part 14: Mala Strana street art
- Part 15: Petrin Hill
- Part 16: Mala Strana
- Part 17: Mala Strana house signs
- Part 18: Strahovský klášter (Strahov Monastery)
- Part 19: Schwarzenberský palác (Schwarzenberg Palace)
- Part 20: Toy Musuem
- Part 21: St. Vitus Cathedral gargoyles
- Part 22: St. Vitus Cathedral (exterior)
- Part 23: St. Vitus Cathedral (interior)
- Part 24: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), I
- Part 25: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), II