The Prague Astronomical Clock: A Timeless Marvel of Medieval Engineering

The Prague Astronomical Clock: A Timeless Marvel of Medieval Engineering

Nestled within the heart of Prague's historic Old Town Square stands an architectural wonder that has captured the imagination of visitors for centuries - the Prague Astronomical Clock, also known as the "Prague Orloj." This exquisite timepiece, which dates back to the early 15th century, is a masterpiece of medieval engineering and artistry, serving not only as a functional clock but also as a celestial and astronomical instrument, as well as a cultural treasure.

A Brief History

The origins of the Prague Astronomical Clock can be traced back to the year 1410 when it was commissioned by the city's councilmen. The clock was designed and built by the brilliant clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň, also known as Mikuláš of Prague, and the Prague-based mathematician and astronomer, Jan Šindel. It's worth noting that this clock predates other famous astronomical clocks, including the one in Strasbourg, France, by several decades.

The Clock's Design

The Prague Astronomical Clock is a stunning example of medieval craftsmanship and design. It consists of three main components: the astronomical dial, the calendar dial, and the hourly show.

  • Astronomical Dial: The astronomical dial is the primary feature of the clock's face. It displays the positions of the sun and moon in the sky, as well as other astronomical information such as the time of sunrise and sunset, the zodiac signs, and the current phase of the moon. The outer ring of the dial represents the 12 hours of daylight, while the inner ring shows the 12 hours of nighttime.
  • Calendar Dial: Below the astronomical dial is the calendar dial, which features a fixed outer ring with the 365 days of the year, each represented by a unique medallion displaying a saint. The inner rotating ring displays the months and their respective zodiac signs.
  • Hourly Show: Perhaps the most enchanting aspect of the Prague Astronomical Clock is its hourly show. On the hour, every hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., a procession of the Twelve Apostles emerges from two small doors at the top of the clock. This display is accompanied by the crowing of a golden rooster and the ringing of the hour by the skeletal figure of Death.

Symbolism and Artistry

The Prague Astronomical Clock is not only a technical marvel but also a work of art rich in symbolism. The Twelve Apostles, represented in the hourly show, symbolize the passing of time, while the figures surrounding the clock face include allegorical representations of Vanity, Greed, Death, and the Astronomer. These figures serve as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and the importance of using time wisely.

Restoration and Preservation

Over the centuries, the Prague Astronomical Clock has undergone several restorations to maintain its functionality and beauty. The clock faced significant damage during World War II, but dedicated efforts by skilled craftsmen ensured its restoration. In recent years, careful preservation work has been carried out to protect this invaluable historical artifact.


The Prague Astronomical Clock, with its intricate design, astronomical precision, and captivating hourly show, is more than just a timekeeping device; it's a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of its creators. As one of the most visited attractions in Prague, it continues to inspire awe and wonder in people from around the world, reminding us of the timeless beauty that can be achieved through the union of science and art. This ancient masterpiece stands as a testament to human creativity, connecting the past and present in the heart of the Czech capital, Prague.

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