Last Sunday at noon I had the good fortune of being in Prague at the Old Town Hall, site of the Prague Astronomical Clock. Given our industry’s short design cycles and equally stunted useful life, this clock is truly an amazing testimony to workmanship, quality and durability. According to our tour guide, 70% of the working clock is actually made of original parts and the timepiece is now a whopping 602 years old.
The Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Hall in Prague, Czech Republic
The original part of the clock dates back to 1410 when it was created by clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan with the assistance of Jan Sindel, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University. Repaired in the 16th century by Jan Taborsky, it was almost removed in the late 18th century. Thankfully, it was repaired in 1865. It did not escape the war unscathed. In 1945 the German army damaged the clock and a few of the statues were burned. When it was repaired, the clock was set to a Central European Time default rather than the Old Czech Time previously used.
On the hour, as crowds gather to watch, windows fly open, mechanical apostles, skeletons and sinners move, and a trumpet blares at the end. The clock features two windows with the twelve apostles at the top, the oldest part--the astronomical dial, and a calendar dial below with various sculptures around. Figures represent vanity, greed, death, and pleasure, astronomers, angel, chronicler, and a philosopher.
The beautiful golden astronomical dial was added in 1490.
There are three circles on the astronomical dial, showing different time: the outer circle has Schwabacher numerals giving Old Czech Time, the circle with Roman numbers shows the Central European Time, and the inner circle with Arabic numerals is Babylonian Time whereby the length of an hour differs according to the season; this clock is the only one in the world able to measure it. A little star by a zodiac ring shows the sidereal time.
If you ever get to Prague, don’t miss this beautiful treasure. Not only is there an amazing sense of history and incredible craft, it’s a distant connection to a time when things were built to really last.