Sunday, August 19, 2012

Timeless beauty: The astronomical clock of Prague

Clocks have been a draw to a lot of places, making them not just mere landmarks for the locals but also icons that tourists tend to worship.

There's the Big Ben in London (or is it already the Elizabeth Tower now?) and a handful of clock towers in Italy. And in my very own Manila, there's the clock tower of the Manila City Hall.

And there is the clock tower in what could be the most beautiful city in Europe, which is Prague. The capital city of Czech Republic, indeed, has the Astronomical Clock to boast of.

But I guess the Astronomical Clock of Prague is extra special for its sheer beauty, history and entertainment value.

And yes, the 600-year old clock still works!
Known to the Czechs as the Pražský orloj, the Prague Astronomical Clock is mounted at the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall.
The other side of the Old Town City Hall of Prague. 

Coming from Wenceslas Square, you’ll know you’re already at the Old Town Square if you can already see the astronomical clock from afar. It’s also easy to spot the clock as it is probably the monument in Prague that is most stared at (see throngs of tourists looking up at the clock!). It is also very accessible, that every walking tour of Prague starts right there, with the tour guides in colorful umbrellas standing right in front of it waiting for tourists! 

The clock was made in 1410, which makes it the third oldest astronomical in the world. Legend has it that the clock was made by Hanus, or Jan of Ruze. Hanus did not want to reveal how he made the clock. It was said that he planned on making a better clock, and it was a threat to the councilors of Prague as the Astronomical Clock has already caught worldwide attention early on. And so it was said the council had Hanus blinded so that he could not complete the planned clock.

But this is just a legend, and the corrected history books state that the real maker of the clock is Mikulas of Kadan, probably in coordination with a professor from the Charles University for the astronomical aspect of the clock.

The Prague Astronomical Clock.
Internally, the clock is a complex clockwork!

It has a lot of dials that an ordinary person without knowledge of the intricacies of astronomy would not comprehend. Suffice it to say that it has dials that show the position of the Sun and the Moon, and a zodiacal ring that tells the zodiac sign that rules at a given time.

Roman numerals etched in gold indicate Central European time or the local Prague time.

The outer ring with what they call Schwabacher numbers with the black background show what they call the Old Czech Time, which indicate the time of sunrise and sunset, and moves depending on the time of year (as we all know, in Europe, the sun sets as early as 16:00 during winter and as late as 21:00 during summer months).

The thing below the clock is a calendar dial, which indicates the exact day and month in a year. It also has a distinct name for every day of the year. So if you happen to have a name of "Dobrosav", "Norbert", "Slavoi" or "Tamara" or any Czech-sounding name, and it happens to be your day according to the calendar, try your luck in cafes in Prague and you might just be treated to free coffee!

"This is the iPhone of the 14th century!" quipped Kate, our tour guide from Sandeman's free walking tours of Prague (yes, you've read it right, FREE).

BUT! The most interesting treat that this clock gives to dedicated tourists is the showcase come 21:00 (9 p.m.). Some websites say this happens every hour, but when I went there in June 2012, the "show" was only every 9 p.m.

(Note: If you are a child of the 80's in the Philippines, the show is very similar to that of C.O.D. department store in Quezon City!)

This is a must-see if you're going to Prague!

As you can see, on top of the clock are four statuettes of the vices that Czechs hate the most -- vanity, through a man holding a mirror; greed, as represented by a man holding a bag of gold (the beard was removed in order to be politically correct, as this usually represent the business community of ill-reputed Moors of yore); death, as shown by a skeleton; and pleasure and infidelity, as shown by a man holding a guitar (it's not really about rock and roll, Kate said).

The spectacle starts when the skeleton pulls a string, and then the 12 apostles appear in windows located right on top of the clock. While this happens, the heads of the four vices likewise move!

The golden rooster still works, but after the spectacle of the moving statues, a trumpeteer hails from the top of the tower and honks on four directions.

So all in all, the spectacle lasts for about 5 minutes.

And then afterwards, you may enjoy the famous Czech beers ("pivo") at various pubs just around the Old Town Square.

Tip sheet:
* If you're gonna wait for the spectacle of the Prague Astronomical Clock, there are seats around the Old Town Square other than the cafes around. If you're gonna take some snacks or light dinner, there is a stall that sells Czech ham just beside the Prague City Hall. But the rule states: anything within the Old Town Square are way too expensive.


Real Girl said...

Great blog, Gerard! Congrats!

Gerard said...

Thanks, Real Girl!