Prague’s Astronomical clock

Prague's Astronomical Clock
Prague’s Astronomical Clock

Literally one of Prague’s most striking attractions, the astronomical clock or orloj in the Old Town Square is also one of the world’s most unusual timepieces.

It was built in 1410 by clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan and Charles University’s professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, Jan Ondrejuv Sindel. The face of their orloj features contemporary 15th century Astronomy. It shows the movement of the sun around the earth, the phases of the moon, the equinoxes, the seasons, the days of the week and the signs of the zodiac. On either side are figures representing mediaeval Prague society. On the left Vanity admires himself in a mirror while a Miser clutches a bag of gold. On the right Death rings a bell while a piper shakes his head.

The timepiece was remodeled in 1490 by master clockmaker Hanus. Legend has it that on completion, the City Councillors blinded him to prevent him from creating another as great as, or greater than, Prague’s Orloj. In revenge, Hanus sabotaged the clock, so that thereafter it was impossible to tell the time. To add insult to injury, he cursed it so that death or insanity would befall anyone who tried to repair it.

In 1805 Joseph Manes painted a Calendar underneath the clock. The one which is scanned by thousands of eyes these days is a replica. The original is on display beside the stairway in the Prague Museum of History. On the left hand side of the calendar are the figures of a chronicler and an angel. On the right are an astronomer and a philosopher.

Between 1865 and 1866, the Orloj underwent major repairs. The figures of 12 apostles and a rooster were added. When the hour strikes the apostles give a blessing and when they have finished, the rooster crows.

The coats of arms and royal symbols of successive Kings and Emperors were added to the clock tower over the years.

At the end World War II when the centre of old Prague came under fire from Nazi artillery, the Old Town Hall burnt down and the astronomical clock was destroyed. Along with the Town Hall, the clock was re-constructed and the twelve original apostles were replaced by figures created by the woodcarver Vojtech Sucharda.

The Astronomical clock, is no less a source of wonder today than when it was first created. The sound of its chime brings people running from the narrow streets around the Old Town Square and there is always a delighted ring of upturned faces beneath it every hour on the hour.

Prague’s Charles Bridge

Great cityscapes are distinguished as much by the might and majesty of their Bridges as by the grandeur of their buildings. What is London without Tower Bridge, Paris without the Pont Neuf, San Francisco without the Golden Gate or Sydney without the Harbour Bridge?  And what is Prague with out the Charles Bridge?

Prague's Charles Bridge
Prague’s Charles Bridge

In Prague’s early days here had been several attempts to link the little townships that lay on either side of the Vltava River. The first was wooden bridge, which was swept away by floods in the 11th century. In 1172, King Wenceslas I commissioned the first stone bridge which he named after his wife Judith. But the Judith Bridge too succumbed to a Vltava flood and collapsed in 1342. Then, in 1357, Charles IV of the Luxembourg Dynasty, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, set about building the bridge which would stand for over six centuries, through flood, fire and numerous wars, as a monument to the magnificence and might of his reign.

Construction began under the engineer Master Otto and continued under architect Peter Parler, designer of the Wenceslas Chapel in St Vitus Cathedral and the Old Town Hall Tower. The foundations were laid at 5.31 a.m. on the 9th of July, 1357, a time, according to legend, of great numerological significance. Legend also has it that the bridge’s mortar was reinforced with egg yolk. While this can’t be proved conclusively, modern tests have established that it does contain organic elements.

The Stone Bridge (Kammeny Most) or Prague Bridge (Prazsky Most) as it was first known, opened in 1402. At 516 metres long and nearly 10metres wide with three fortified bridge towers and sitting on a series of stone arches with ice-guards, it was unsurpassed in contemporary Europe. Kammeny Most proved a vital commercial artery between the two banks of the Vlatava and the townships of Prague prospered. Soon merchants and traders set up on the bridge. On holidays and festivals, it was the scene of grand medieval tournaments.

In the 18th century the Hapsburgh Empress Maria Theresa made her mark on the Stone Bridge, with the addition of 30 magnificent Baroque statues.

In 1870, Kammeny or Prazsky Most changed its name to Karlov Most or Charles Bridge, in memory of the great King who had masterminded it. Too precious to risk at the hands of the millions that reach to touch them these days, the original Baroque statues are now stored in Prague Castle’s Lapidary. Those on the bridge are replicas.

Today the Charles Bridge stands as strong as it did over six hundred years ago. It throngs with life and colour. Artists and artisans ply their trade there. Tourists flock to photograph its beauty. Lovers bask in the romance of the place – the towers, the bridge, the castle above on one bank and the ancient facades of the old town buildings on the other.