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The Astronomical Watch

The Astronomical Watch (10)

This is a meeting place for many Prague locals, although you sometimes wonder how they find each other since there always loads of tourists that come to see it: we are talking about the astronomical clock of the Old Town Hall.

The first clock was installed here in 1410. It was a construction by Mikulás de Kadan. In 1490, the clock was restored by master Hanus. The legend goes that the authorities liked the work so much that they decided no less a measure than to make Hanus go blind so that he would never be able to make another one the same. Around the mid-16th century, Jan Taborsky perfected its mechanism.

The clock has two richly decorated faces over which a curious procession takes place every hour. Between eight in the morning and nine at night, the figure of a skeleton that represents Death turns a sand clock and pulls a string. Then two doors open through which appear, one after the other, the twelve Apostles with Saint Peter at the front. When the parade finishes, a gilded cockerel cries out and the clock strikes the hour. Other figures on the tower are that of the Turk, which symbolises luxury, Vanity, holding a mirror, and Greed, which in the Middle Ages was represented by a Jewish usurer.

The figures on the clock are by Vojtech Sucharda, replacing the ones burnt in a fire in 1945.

The upper face of the clock represents three different time systems and responds to the medieval belief that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun and moon orbited around it. The outer circle has ancient Arab numbers and gives the time measurement for Bohemia. According to this, the days are 24 hours long and begin at sunset.

The middle circle has Roman numbers and gives the time as we understand it today. The blue space of the clock is the Babylonian clock, which divides the hours in the day into twelve parts that vary according to the season in the year. The clock also shows the sun and the moon moving around the signs of the zodiac.

The lower face represents a calendar with the months of the year. The centre shows the coat of arms of the Old Town. In 1866 the artist Josef Mánes was given the task of replacing the painting that decorated the face. To do it, he represented the twelve months with scenes of Bohemian rural life. The original painting by Mánes is not here but in the Prague City Museum.

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