Prague Astronomical Clock

The oldest working clock in the world can be found in the heart of Europe - in Prague, Czech Republic. 

Prague Astronomical Clock - The Orloj
Prague Astronomical Clock - The Orloj

A living symbol of medieval art, intelligence and craftsmanship that has been working for 600 years.

The Prague Astronomical Clock knows what people were like six hundred years ago. It showed the time to kings, commons and peasants alike.

Prague Astronomical Tower
The Orloj - 1791

The clock can display the time, date, position of celestial bodies, astronomical cycles and Christian holidays.

You will find it in Prague, at the Old Town Hall, a historical building in the Old Town.

Google maps preview here.

The nearby Vltava River adds to the atmosphere of the place. Here, history and technology become one.

Everything is wrapped in a mysterious haze of myths and legends about the magical power of the astronomical clock - Orloj.

The Orloj displays four times – Central European, Old Czech time (Italian Hours), Babylonian and Celestial.

In its 600-year history, the clock was threatened by destruction several times.

Despite that, the astronomical clock is still working. Maybe we can thank the man who built it - Master Hanuš.

Mr.Hanuš - Prague Astronomical Clock
Mr. Hanuš

It is said that the master was deliberately blinded after finishing the astronomical clock, so he could not create such a perfect machine anywhere else.

Thus, the Prague Astronomical Clock is a one of a kind machine you won’t find anywhere else in the world. However, it is Nicholas (Mikuláš) from Kadaň, who is regarded as the real builder of the Old Town Astronomical Clock. One of the most educated men of those times.

Mikuláš was a professor, mathematician and personal physician of Czech King Wenceslas IV.

Parade of Apostles with musical accompaniment

Every whole hour, 12 Apostles parade in the windows of the astronomical clock. Along with them, the figures on the outer side of the clock will also start moving.


The whole parade is started by the Skeleton that will ring the bells on the string.

Source Youtube

The show begins

All 12 Apostles will introduce themselves in the small windows to the excited visitors from all around the world. Turek - the Turk, who is supposed to symbolize Lust and Delight shakes his head in sign of rejection.  Lakomec -  Miser on the other hand welcomes the Apostles by nodding his head. At the same tame he shakes his pouch of money and threatens them with a stick.

Next to him, Marnivec - Vanity observes the situation. Though he’s mostly just watching himself, in the mirror.

The allegorical procession is closed by Kohout - the Rooster. It finishes the procession with a crow and simultaneously starts another hour of life. The clock is already counting down the time.

Timber for the production of the figures on the astronomical clock was donated by people from all over the Czech Republic

Some characters on the astronomical clock are immobile because they are made of wood. It is the Philosopher with a quill, Astronomer with a telescope, Chronicler with a book, and Archangel Michael with a fiery sword. The timber for the production of the figures was donated by the Czech citizens from all over the country. The Czechs really care about their astronomical clock.

Czechs love their astronomical clock

In 1865, the Prague Astronomical Clock was severely damaged by a fire. When a public collection was announced for its repair, Czech people donated over 4,200 gold.

The astronomical clock is from 1410, some of its parts are even older

Prague Astronomical Clock damaged
Prague Astronomical Clock damaged

The Orloj has survived this long thanks to the bravery and rebellious spirit of one worker from the renowned watchmaker company Hainz. During the Second World War, Prague was bombarded by the Germans. They even threw a grenade at the Old Town Hall and it was engulfed in fire.

The Orloj was severely damaged by the fire. The employees of the Hainz watchmaker company wanted to throw out the original damaged system and replace it with a modern machine. However, one of the employees didn’t agree and decided to repair the astronomical clock by himself.

The monument was saved for future generations. Thanks to the personal dedication of an unknown watchmaker, thousands of people from all over the world can now admire the Old Town Astronomical Clock each day.

The Prophetic Skills of the Old Town Astronomical Clock

It is said that when the Czech lands are in danger of a catastrophe, the clock on the Orloj will stop. And that's what happened in 2002. That year the Czech republic was hit by catastrophic floods that caused huge damage. The great water did not spare even the capital city of Czech Republic - Prague. The city center was cut off from electricity. The same electricity that the astronomical clock needs to function.

Clock as the devil's tool?

The Prague Astronomical Clock is not just a clock.

The machine was used also as a tool for astrologers, mathematicians, mages and initiates.

Schema of Prague Astronomical Clock
Prague Astronomical Clock - scheme

Maybe that’s the reason why there are so many legends about it. Like the one about the secret brotherhood.

"The devil's eye," as the astronomical clock was supposedly called by the devoted, was used to reveal the secret movements of the celestial bodies and God's revelations. The clock was the patron of prophets and alchemists.

The original astronomical clock looked completely different - without statues, without the holy apostles, without decoration. It wasn't supposed to attract attention. It was conceived supposedly as a timekeeper of evil.  Why else would one of the creators, Master Hanuš, be blinded after finishing the astronomical clock?

Why none of the successors of the clock's original caretakers knew what to do with the complicated machine? Is the construction of the astronomical clock itself really so complicated that it can't be understood by anyone who wasn't initiated into its secrets? Or is the Orloj really the Devil's Eye?

When you stand under the astronomical clock, look at the Kostlivec - "Skeleton"

Prague Astronomical Clock - Apostles
The Skeleton

The most popular moving figure on the astronomical clock is the Skeleton. It’s terrifying; maybe that’s why people ascribe special powers to it.

The nodding head of the Skeleton gives clear signals. When it stops nodding, the people of the Czech Republic can anticipate hard times. There’s only one thing that can stop his power – bringing disaster to the whole land – and that’s a newborn baby.

A boy born exactly at the moment when the old year dies and the new year is born. As soon as the Skeleton nods his head for the first time in the new year, the boy must come out from the Týn church.

He must run across the whole square, up to the Town Hall. He must run fast. His objective is to reach the Orloj before the last strike of the hour. If he succeeds, the Skeleton’s power will be destroyed. The disaster the Skeleton cast on the Czech Republic will be averted.

The symbolism of the small boy is based on a real event .

Notice the two small windows above the astronomical clock. In the past, these led to the cell that served as a prison. Long time ago, a young knight was thrown into this jail. He was sentenced to death. As he was waiting for his executioner, the clock started to chime the whole hour.

The Skeleton started to move, Miser was swinging his pouch and the Rooster started to crow. Suddenly, a sparrow flew into the mouth of the skeleton. The mouth closed, the sparrow was caught.

For the whole hour, the bird had to wait, still, until the clock started to chime again. The jailed knight watched the sparrow, moved by its patience and will to get free. The knight felt a rush of hope. On the very same day his dispute was settled and he got a pardon from the people of Prague.

You can also admire the Prague Astronomical Clock in Brussels

Did you know that Brussels has its own Prague Astronomical clock? It’s an exact replica of the Czech Orloj and you can find it in a popular tourist park Mini-Europe.

It is in the company of other significant European buildings – the Eiffel Tower, London Big Bang, etc. The exhibits are on a scale of 1:25 to the real dimensions of the buildings. Every year, more than 300 000 tourists from all over the world view it.

How does the Old Town Astronomical Clock work?

The astronomical clock is made of approximately 350 parts. 75 % of them are original – from the 15th century.  The whole astronomical clock is powered by several machines. The main machine (controls the astronomical dial and several smaller machines), the pointing machine (operates the Sun, Moon and the Zodiac and Ecliptic pointers ), the 24-hour machine (moves the outer Czech dial), the chiming machine (situated behind the dial), the Moon machine (shows the phases and position of the moon), the Apostles machine (a machine that opens the windows and controls the movement of the Apostles), a calendar machine (a wheel with 365 teeth, turns when midnight strikes, except in a leap year) and Božka's chronometer (to increase the accuracy and reliability of the whole machine).

Are you strong enough and patient enough to operate the astronomical clock?

Operating the astronomical clock requires technical prowess, but also great strength. Originally, the Orloj was controlled manually. When the calendar dial was installed under the astronomical dial in 1490, the calendar boards had to be moved manually each night. Since 1566, the astronomical clock is fully mechanical. It also has separate dials for displaying minutes. In the past, the astronomical clock showed only hours. The people of the past seemingly didn’t need to count the minutes.  Happy people.

Prague Astronomical Clock - 600th Anniversary Show

At the end, you can see there beautiful anniversary show on the clock building:

Source - Youtube