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.