The main attraction in Prague’s Old Town Square is the Astronomical Clock.
The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest astronomical clock that’s still operational in the world. According to lore, after the clock was finished, the mayor of Prague had the builder’s eyes gouged out so he could never build anything as beautiful for any other city. Such a nice thank you.
The clock is built into the tower of Old Town Hall and has three main parts: the astronomical dial, the Walk of the Apostles and the calendar.
This dial displays the time, positioning of the sun and moon and the zodiac calendar. In the center is the Earth, with a black, orangey red and blue ring surrounding it. This showcases sunrise, sunset, dawn, daytime and nighttime and adjusts appropriately for the time of year.
The inside ring of Roman Numerals shows the 24-hour clock, with the golden hand depicting the time.
The outer ring also contains 24 numbers, but this shows Ancient Bohemian Time, which resets the clock/day at sunset. This outer ring rotates throughout the year to match the sunset/sunrise with sunset (0 hour) hitting between 4pm-9pm based on the time of year.
The inner ring of symbols is the Zodiac ring, highlighting the current Zodiac year.
There are several other time/calendar/moon/sun measurements, but they’re too complicated for me to wrap my head around.
Walk of the Apostles
At the top of every hour, the Astronomical Clock has a little performance, the Walk of the Apostles. Small figurines of the twelve apostles rotate through windows above the clock face.
Several statues also come alive beside the clock:
Vanity: a man admires his face in a mirror
Greed: the man with a cane shakes a bag of gold
Death: the skeleton rings a bell
Lust: the last guys simply shakes his head
Apparently this little performance is ranked the second most underwhelming thing in Europe…behind the Mona Lisa. See for yourself. I have to admit, it’s not too exciting. But it is fun to watch the huge crowd that gathers at the top of each hour to see the clock, then the collective “that’s it?” after it’s done.
The calendar was added below the astronomical clock face in the 1600s. This gilded calendar includes large circles representing the calendar months on the outside and smaller circles representing signs of the Zodiac on the inner ring. On the edge of the calendar, there are 365 “rays” with the name of each saint associated to each specific day.
So while this clock may be considered underwhelming, it’s pretty darn remarkable once you realize how many different time measurements it includes. And the fact that this was all built in the 1400s!
You can actually walk to the top of the clock tower for one of the best views of Prague.
You can take the elevator up or opt for the ramp, which includes historical images of the clock throughout the last several centuries. The most interesting was towards the end of WWII when the Nazi’s bombed Old Town Hall and part of the building was ruined. They decided to not rebuild this section and instead make a nice courtyard.
What I had never noticed until we took a walking tour of Prague is you can clearly see where the building was bombed and never rebuilt.
When you get to the top of the tower, you can walk around for a 360-degree view of the city from above. It’s simply breathtaking.