Every hour on the hour, hundreds of tourists gather in Old Town Square to watch the performance put on by Prague’s astronomical clock. The clock is situated in the same building as Old Town Hall, a building which we toured this week as part of our architecture survey course. Old Town Hall in itself is composed of several layers of former homes, chapels, and in the basement one can even see the old street level (due to constant flooding of the Vlata river in the 13th century, the streets were raised 8 meters, subsequently shrouding entire buildings). The town hall served numerous governmental purposes and houses a courtroom, a reception hall for foreign guests, and even a dungeon in the lower levels.
On the side of the building opposite to the clock sits what used to be a private chapel. The windows along with most of the wall decoration has been restored, and this part of town hall suffered damage due to bombing in World War II. Remarkably, the clock itself has remained intact and is still carefully guarded today.
Also known as the Orloj, Prague’s astronomical clock is the oldest working clock of its kind in the world, dating back to the 14th century. What makes this timepiece unique is its multiple dials, one of which is composed of 24 marks for each hour of the day tracks the movement of the sun and moon. This means that the hands on this dial mark where the sun rises and sets each day. The smaller astronomical dial also rotates to track the movement of various constellations, planets, and stars, and essentially serves as a calendar as well as a time-teller.
Housed inside the clock are figures of the twelve Apostles. A mechanized track rotates them past two small open doors and presents them to the crowd below. Four mechanical figures also flank the exterior of the clock. Our tour was timed just so we could watch the figures and mechanisms in the interior run their hourly course. If you’re willing to brave the hoards of tourists that congregate in the square, then catching the clock in action is a must.