a guide to prague’s astronomical clock

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The Astronomical Clock of Prague is the oldest astronomical clock in the world that is still working! It dates back to the 15th Century. It is such an interesting and clever piece of engineering!

Have you ever seen such a complicated-looking clock?

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So here is a quick guide to the clock.

The Top Circle

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On the outside of the clock, you can see each hour of a normal 24-hour day which shows the “Old Czech Time”. The Roman Numerals on the next inner circle is for the current central European time while the Arabic numerals indicates Babylonian time. There is also a circle with the zodiac symbols indicating which zodiac sign currently reigns.

On the arms of the clock, there is a sun and a moon. During the day, the sun on that clock arm will be in the blue section (the top half) of the clock face. During the night, it would be in the black section (the bottom black circle). The sun moves along the clock arm and depending on the distance from the centre, it indicates sunrise and sunset time.

The black ball that can be seen represents the moon on during its lunar phase. With a new moon, it starts as a black ball and as the month progresses, the ball will slowly turn revealing a bit of silver each day. By the time it is a full moon, the ball will be silver.

You will see on either side of the clock, there are two characters. The first on the left is a man holding a mirror, he represents vanity. The second man is holding a moneybag, he represents greed. The first one on the right is a skeleton, representing death and the last one is a Turkish man holding an instrument representing entertainment and pleasure.

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Every hour, the clock performs a little show. Death turns the hourglass in one hand and rings the bell with his other hand. He is beckoning the other three that their time is up! They shake their heads to indicate they don’t believe it is their time.

In the meantime, the two windows above the clock have opened and the 12 apostles take turns appearing to the crowd. Once this performance is complete, the rooster above the clock moves forward, flaps his wings before the clock chimes!

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It is all rather theatrical and gimmicky but it’s novel and worth seeing if you happen to be around the clock on the hour (except at midnight when it won’t perform).

The Bottom Circle

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This acts as the calendar. If you look carefully at the picture (or click on the image to get a full image to zoom), you will see that at the top, there is a “gold” pointer. Working from the outside, there is the list of each name day for the entire year. Then the next circle in, shows images relevant to farming jobs that farmers should be doing at that particular time of year (e.g. sowing, harvesting etc). The next ring of images indicates the corresponding zodiac signs. And the centre is the coat of arms of Prague.

And to finish, here is a legend about the clock and its maker:

The clock was made by a Mr Hanŭs. The town councillors were so pleased with how it was bringing people all around Europe to Prague. So to prevent Mr Hanŭs from creating another clock ever again, they invited him to a party and they feasted and drank and were merry. The councillors then ordered to have Mr Hanŭs’ blinded and have his tongue removed. The legend continues that to exact his revenge, Mr Hanŭs had his servants take him up the clock tower where he threw his body into the clock’s mechanism to cause it to malfunction. It stopped working until it was repaired many years later.

And as it is a legend, there are many variations to the story. But at the end, whether it is true or not is up to you!

Have a great week ahead, folks! 

Any comments about this post, drop us a line here.

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54 thoughts on “a guide to prague’s astronomical clock

    […] and west Europe. She pointed out the Old Town Hall with the famous Astronomical clock on one side (this post describes it much better than I ever could). In front of the building you’ll see 27 crosses […]

    Carl D'Agostino said:
    August 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Amazing how 500 years ago could make such precision parts

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Well actually, apparently to start with, it wasn’t very accurate. The theory was there and over the course of many years, it slowly got tinkered with to be ‘precise’ 🙂

    our first month in review « wise monkeys abroad said:
    August 10, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    […] with “older” eyes and a different mindset to travel. A highlight would have to be seeing the Astronomical Clock again and really appreciating it for what it was this […]

    alexraphael said:
    August 9, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I’ve been there and seen it up close. Great photos and info.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 9, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Thank you 🙂 ! After seeing it again recently, we were more blown away by it. It is pretty amazing, huh?

    Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) said:
    August 8, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Such magnificence!

    Lauren (English Wife, Indian Life) said:
    August 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    THIS CLOCK IS BREATHTAKING and soo interesting! xxx

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 8, 2014 at 4:47 am

      It is amazing! Every time we looked at it, we found something else to be in awe over 🙂 Hope you are well!!

    Cammal aka Brown Boy said:
    August 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Interesting story and nicely done. I have never been to Prague but really looking forward to go there one day!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 7, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Glad you enjoyed! Hope you do get there one day 🙂

    Packing my Suitcase said:
    August 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Le and David, now I miss Praguet! Great shots 😀

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 7, 2014 at 4:16 am

      Thanks 🙂 Time for another visit to Prague??

        Packing my Suitcase said:
        August 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

        Not a bad idea at all! 😀 its only 3 hours always from Munich… maybe for a short weekend, it will be awesome!! 🙂

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          August 8, 2014 at 4:57 am

          There you go 🙂 We can hear plans in the making already!

            Packing my Suitcase said:
            August 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

            hahahaha Im always planning 😀 have fun you guys!!

    Curt Mekemson said:
    August 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I suspect this little digital clock I have on my wrist is just as magical, but for class and artistry, the old clock makers were truly masters. Great blog. –Curt

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      Curt, we are sure that watch on your wrist has just an exciting tale behind it 😉 And as you say, those old clock makers were truly masters, to think and then engineer something so complex yet useful.

        Curt Mekemson said:
        August 7, 2014 at 4:07 am

        Clock making was one of the forces behind the Renaissance. As for my watch, the amazing thing is it is till ticking. 🙂 Curt

    White Postcards said:
    August 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Stunning clock with a fascinating (and somewhat grotesque) legend!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      There are many variations for the legend, including ones where he just sabotages the clock without describing him throwing his body in. The version a tour guide gave us was the one we shared. Maybe intended for “gruesome” factor?? Thanks for your comment!

    the eternal traveller said:
    August 6, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Timepieces like this are incredible and the workmanship is masterful. We saw a similar clock in Rouen in France. There you can go up inside the clock tower and learning about all the parts of the clock and how the different parts work is an effort, but well worth it.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Right! Sounds like we need to get ourselves to Rouen at some point if we have the time! Thanks for sharing 🙂

        the eternal traveller said:
        August 6, 2014 at 8:02 pm

        Was that pun intended or not?

        Rouen is a lovely city and very interesting. You would enjoy it there.

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          August 7, 2014 at 4:15 am

          Hahaha – actually it was an unintended pun…. but great pick up 🙂

    Yearful of Sundays said:
    August 6, 2014 at 2:55 am

    What a magnificent clock! It’s amazing that it dates back to the 15th century and still works like…. well, clockwork 😛 Your post was wonderfully descriptive. Did you know that the sculptors and workers who toiled to build the Taj Mahal also, according to stories, met a similar fate as Mr Hanŭs? It’s said that Shah Jahan was so happy with the Taj and so apprehensive about a replica being built that he assembled all his workers and got their hands chopped off. No historical evidence of that, of course. Anyway, enjoyed your post and I’ll keep coming back for more!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Wow! So sad to hear that these people with such talent were celebrated and then debilitated just as quickly 😦 We had no idea about the Taj Mahal. Thank you for sharing. It is certainly a place we would like to see one day.
      So appreciative of your kind words in this comment! We look forward to having you visit often! 🙂

    katpegimana said:
    August 6, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Wow! I never knew…so interesting.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 12:45 am

      It is very interesting and to think of the brains behind something so clever! Truly amazing! Thanks so much for reading and leaving us a comment 🙂

    Vlad said:
    August 5, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Great photos and guide! I regret not going inside the tower, but at least I have a reason to go back to Prague, right? 😉

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 12:44 am

      Well, to confess, we didn’t go inside either. The lines were so very long and we wanted to see other parts of Prague that we didn’t really care for the last time we were there! But as you say, an excuse for both you and us to go back again 😉

    Jowita Łukaczyńska said:
    August 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    That’s amazing! Really interesting legend 🙂
    I’ve been in Prague and would like to go back soont!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 12:42 am

      It is a very pretty city. We were there back in 2006 and we lacked a LOT of appreciation for it. Our first impression was getting ripped off by a cab driver last time. (We were young and naive then) But this time round, we really gave it a chance. We were so glad to have revisited!

    worldjourneysdiscover said:
    August 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    yeah, but whats the bleeding time? 😛

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 12:38 am

      Hahahah – guess it depends when you look at the clock 😛

    Madhu said:
    August 5, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for one of the most wonderfully detailed accounts of the clock! I understand it is very touristy and gimmicky, but it is high on my list of ‘must sees’ 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Pleasure to have provided information that is helpful! Hope you do get to see it one day 🙂

    kayrpea61 said:
    August 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Great post, thank you. I can carry that description with me when I go to Prague. On Strasbourg, it is younger, of course. The Cathedral that houses it is also magnificent. I’ll have to think about relative complexity! I guess you know the only full size model of the Strasbourg Clock (anywhere) is in the Powerhouse Museum, right here in Sunny Sydney 😉

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Ken, would you believe that we had no idea about that model of Strasbourg is at the Powerhouse Museum? So thank you for sharing that piece of information. It has been many a’years since we have been there so might have to visit when we are back home!

    Karl Peterson said:
    August 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    We are heading to Prague at the end of August, and look forward to checking out the clock! I have to say, I am not that motivated to figuring out how the clock works – but I do want to be there on the hour, to see the apostles make their appearance and see the rooster flap his wings.

    Incidentally, back in May we were in France and saw the Gros-Horloge in Rouen, one of the oldest working clocks in the world. The exhibit there mentioned Prague’s clock, so I am thrilled to see both in the same year!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      To be perfectly honest with you, on first impressions, the workings of the clock looked too complicated and how to read it looked impossible for us. But after two explanations from local guides, we got the gist of what it was all about and then realised the sheer brilliance of the people behind it.
      Rouen and Strasbourg both seem to have similar clocks too. Will need to see whether we can squeeze one of those places in for a sticky beak in comparison.
      We hope you enjoy Prague!

    Kendra S said:
    August 5, 2014 at 8:33 am

    cool! there is another one in Strasbourg (France) if you happen to go in that direction!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you – will be sure to have a look if we get there!

    maverickbird said:
    August 5, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Wow

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 5:20 am

      It’s certainly left us thinking the same 🙂

    Expat Eye said:
    August 5, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Great story! I hope to see the performance some day! 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 5:20 am

      Well, we hope you do get to Prague so that you can see the clock 🙂 It’s quite an amazing piece! Thanks for reading!

    traveladdictuk said:
    August 5, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Great post – will be in Prague this weekend and will be seeing this clock in the flesh – can’t wait !

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 4:47 am

      Thank you!! Enjoy Prague 🙂 Hope the weather is good for you. We kept getting randomly rained upon but that didn’t dampen our experience!

    BBQboy said:
    August 5, 2014 at 4:26 am

    Excellent post on this clock – the guide explained it to us last week and I got lost about halfway through the explanation. I’ll be linking this to my post on Prague’s Old Town: http://bbqboy.net/walking-tour-pragues-old-town-and-things-to-consider-when-choosing-guide/
    I think you’ve explained it a lot better than the post I was linking to before.
    Frank (bbqboy)

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 4:33 am

      Hi Frank,
      Thanks for your comment – we are so glad our explanation is helpful and that you have linked to it 🙂 We actually had two guides describe it on two separate occasions and that really helped us understand because the first time round, we got lost along the way too.
      Hope you are having a great week.
      Cheers,
      Le and David

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