Last Updated on 20th January 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Situated under an imposing tower in the very heart of Old Town Square, the Prague Astronomical Clock looks like something out of a fairytale. All golden hands, mechanical movements, and starry façades, the myths and legends surrounding the construction of this Prague clock are straight out of a storybook. Here’s a quick history of the oldest still functioning astronomical clock (or Orloj as it is known in Czechia) in the world, as well as tips on how to visit!
A brief history of the Astronomical Clock in the Czech Republic
Located in the very heart of the old town in the capital city of Czechia (the short-form name for the country), a trip to see this centuries-old clock should be at the top of everyone’s Prague bucket list, even if it’s just in passing. After all, Wenceslas Square is at the intersection of the maze of cobbled lanes and pedestrian-only streets that make up Prague’s old town.
Prague medieval clock itself was installed as early as 1410, meaning that it’s the oldest astronomical clock still functioning to this day, and the third oldest clock of its kind in the world. Other examples include those of Besançon in Eastern France and that of the astronomical clock of Rouen in Normandy.
Rouen astronomical clock in Normandy, Northern France
The legend goes that the clock was created by a certain skilled craftsman, Mr. Hanuš. It’s said that Hanuš was so talented at crafting the timepiece, that he was blinded after its creation so that he would not be able to replicate the beauty of the clock anywhere else. Of course, myths surrounding stunning medieval clocks such as that of Prague are abundant in Europe and are probably just that- a myth!
After all, a historical and clerical error has shown that the clock was actually most likely created by Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel. Nevertheless, in the six centuries since the Orloj’s installation, it has since become a symbol of the city. Over time, the clock has been damaged, renovated, and repaired several times.
The first major change the clock-faced was probably with the addition of the Procession of Apostles each time the clock strikes during the 18th-century. Prior to this, the complex nature of the timepiece meant that repairs were commonplace, particularly during the 16th-century. All in all, the clock is formed of over 350 parts, with three-quarters of these actually originating in the 15th-century.
Of course, the Prague clock has also seen plenty of disasters, tragedies, and wars over the centuries. This includes during a devastating fire during the mid-19th-century. Such is the love of the clock by the citizens of Prague, that the restoration funds were actually raised by the citizens of the city. Prague Astronomical Clock was also badly damaged during WWII.
What are the functions of the Prague Clock?
Erected on the front façade of the Old Town Hall’s tower during the 15th-century, the Prague astronomical clock is actually comprised of several faces and façades. While part of the clock is dedicated to telling the time, another clock face is actually a calendar!
This means that as well as the date and time, Prague’s clock can tell those who know how to read it facts and figures such as Christian Holidays and astronomical cycles. And the clock doesn’t just tell the current time in the Czech Republic! Instead, Central European, Old Czech time (Italian Hours), Babylonian and Celestial are all represented on the faces.
How to visit Prague Astronomical Clock
Though there are several myths surrounding the clock, perhaps the most unusual of them all is the alleged prophetic nature of the timepiece. You see, it’s said that when the City of Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic is in danger, then the clock will simply stop. Eerily enough, prior to major flooding in 2002, the clock did stop!
For those who wish to see the clock for themselves, truth be told, if you want to experience the clock without the crowds, then you’ll need to arrive earlier in the day, preferably at sunrise. Even when we visited the Prague timepiece at 5 AM in the morning, we soon discovered that we weren’t the only people out enjoying the streets of Prague.
As well as other amateur photographers, we also spied several wedding shoots, as well as revellers who may well not have been home since the night before! With this being said, for those wishing to catch a glimpse of the Procession of the Twelve Apostles which happens when the clock strikes on the hour, this only happens between the hours of 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m and lasts for 45 seconds.
Though you can see the parade of Apostles from the town square itself, the best view is to be found if you head inside the Old Town Hall and make your way to the tower’s chapel on the hour for a better angle. Purchase your Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock entrance ticket here in advance.