In the heart of a church in old town Gdansk, there’s one particular timepiece which really brings new meaning to standing the test of time. After all, there aren’t that many 15th-century wooden clocks left in the world! Here’s a quick history of how the Gdansk astronomical clock came to be, as well as the legends surrounding it…
A brief history of the Gdansk astronomical clock
First built between 1464-1470 by Hans Düringer, a clockmaker originally from Nuremberg, Germany, the story goes that upon completion of his masterpiece, the Gdansk authorities had Düringer blinded so that he would never be able to produce a beautiful clock to rival that of Gdansk.
However, the fact that Düringer went on to create a clock in 1472 in the city of Rostock, Germany, makes the story a little dubious, to say the least. What is true is that when the clock was completed in the 15th-century, its towering 14 metre height meant that it was the tallest clock in the world at the time. In fact, the Gdansk clock may well still be the largest clock in the world!
The detailing on the clock is extraordinary and definitely merits a closer inspection upon entry to the church. As its name would suggest, the clock not only tells the time but also details the days and the phases of the moon, as well as the moon in relation to the Zodiac signs. Depictions of Adam and Eve announce every hour and the clock even tracks the calendar of Saints.
Sadly, the clock was badly damaged during WWII. As an (important) aside note: did you know that WWII first started in Gdansk, which at that time was known as the Free City of Danzig? The Gdansk astronomical clock was then heavily restored and reconstructed following the end of the war in 1945.
St. Mary’s Church, Gdańsk
The church where the clock is housed, St Mary’s, is now the largest brick church in the world and was built at some point during the 14th-century. Exact dates of construction are unclear and building either began in 1343 or 1379. Once known as Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the impressive church is a must-see site while in Gdansk. Today, the expansive ecclesiastical building can hold up to 25,000 people…
Just a short train ride away, in nearby Malbork, the largest castle (and brick building) in the world can be found in the form of Malbork Castle. If you want to get some of the best views of Gdansk, then I highly recommend paying the few zloty entry fee to climb the towering bell tower and see the city from above!