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The Prague Astronomical Clock: An Awe-inspiring Medieval Art

Astronomical Clock in Prague

The famous Prague Astronomical Clock also known as the Prague Orloj is one of the most breathtaking landmarks in the Czech Republic. Existing since the 15th century, the clock has been functioning for over 600 years and is still ticking.

Many visitors to Europe include this destination in the top of their bucket list. Every hour, every day, year-round, tourists as well as locals stand watching the compelling beauty of this medieval art. Better yet, in addition to the visual attraction, tourists come to discover the symbolism recorded about it and learn more about its history.

Astronomical clock in Prague

How the Prague Astronomical Clock came to be

Dating in the 15th century, the city council selected a clock master called Hanuš who was given the task of producing a pristine clock that should possess time measurement and other impeccable capabilities that had not existed anywhere in the world.

Hanuš came through and created the greatest astronomical clock around the year 1410. However, there was a problem. The council members became skeptical about the possibilities of Hanuš sharing this technology with another city. This would obviously not make their city prominent for a unique masterpiece and so they devised a dark plan. They had to eliminate the threat.

No drastic measures like murder or anything but is was still a sick plot. One still night in Prague, the council sent a group of people to break into Hanuš home. They injured his eyes with iron and left him blind. Because he sensed the why’s of this action, he decided to seek revenge and alter his work. He took his apprentice with him and stopped the clock from ticking. The clock stayed put for a century and was restored its function again.

This story involving these legends of that century is not only interesting but also relatable to the struggles involved in invention. However, despite the chaos that could have surrounded its creation, the Prague Astronomical Clock has been a treasure to the people of Prague for more than five centuries. And tourists swarm in huge numbers to take pictures and come back to this city to enjoy the priceless beauty over and over again.

The Prague Astronomical Clock features

Mounted on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square, tourists are able to watch it clearly and enjoy its beauty but mostly the intricate details of its structure. If you go to visit the Prague Orloj, the following are the fascinating features you’ll find.

The Astronomical Dial

This is an astrolabe that mainly gives the clock planetarium properties. It studies the state of the universe and records it. It is located in the middle and the background consists of a bold representation of the earth and the sun.  Surrounding it are other main components of the clock such as the Zodiacal ring and an outer ring in rotation.

Zodiacal Ring

This is a ring surrounding the astronomical dial and is constantly moving. It is magnificently marked with Zodiac signs which show the sun in the ecliptic. With the anticlockwise marks, the sun positions itself differently each time and coincides with the sunset synchronically. Many tourists enjoy the artistic moves of the Zodiacal ring.

Background, the sun and the moon

The static background of the Prague Astronomical Clock represents the serene earth and sky. The movement of the sun involves the settling of its reflection on the different colored surfaces of the static background. The moon’s motion is also represented the same way, just way faster because of its natural movement around its own axis.

Symbolistic features

This is the juicy part. The clock possesses a representation of the most despised characters in their time in four figures. They are pretty much the same things that are deemed inappropriate in the society today.

The first figure known as vanity is featured by a man looking at himself in the mirror. Next to vanity, is a miser featured by a man holding a bag of gold hence symbolizing greed and usury. On the other side, a skeleton holding a bell symbolizes death and strikes the bell in specific hours. Next to the death figure is another one symbolizing lust and other earthly pleasures.

 

Prague Architecture

The Great show no tourist dares miss

The best part of watching this clock is if you arrive when the skeleton rings the bell and the other figures shaking their heads with an indication that they are not ready to go just yet. It is fascinating how a clock can be engineered to explain the flow of life so simply yet in a sophisticated kind of way.

There are other cool details that you wouldn’t want to miss too. The Prague Astronomical Clock provokes attention when two windows open wide to unravel twelve “travelling” apostles. As the skeleton rings the bell, other figures shaking their heads and the miser offering his bag of gold in order to buy his way out of dying. The show climaxes with the crowning of a golden rooster and a powerful ring of a huge bell on top of the tower.

 

The beauty of the Prague Astronomical Clock can’t be done justice in writing. One has to experience the humor, symbolism, and all the emotions that this artistic masterpiece provokes. Prague Orloj is a timeless innovation with undiminishing beauty. And yes, it is the oldest working historical astronomical clock in the whole world.

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