The Oldest Medieval Clock on Your Wall

Imagine there is a medieval city hall with tower located on an old town square. The tower shows signs of centuries of time passed by. There are old wooden windows, holes in the facade, low doors and narrow stairs to the top. One of the tower walls facing the square has no doors and no windows but hosts large clock.

The clock is a very special one. It is the world’s oldest medieval city hall tower clock which is still in operation. It can show four kinds of time in one dial – the Babylonian Time, Siderian Time, old Czech Time and modern Central European Time. It shows parade of the 12 Apostles, walking through small windows above the clock, each hour. It is the Prague Astronomical Clock.

I have been living in Prague for the whole my life (almost 50 years) so I do not pay such attention. But I see the crowd of tourists gathered in front of the clock whenever I have my way through the Prague Old Town Square down to my hairdresser. There are people from all over the world, waiting for the bell to chime, holding their camcorders and cameras ready to shoot. One has to push through the crowd ruthlessly to reach the opposite side of the square. And the Japanese and Italians and Russians and Americans all wait together for the clock to play.

The clock has three parts, so to say. There is the main dial which shows the time – if you can read it. There is the lower part which is merely a fresco painting on the tower façade, depicting the 12 months of the year. And there is the upper part where the moving sculptures and figures operate. If you would have the chance to go inside, you would be overwhelmed by the extensive medieval clock mechanism behind the scene. The clock was there long before Christopher Columbus set off to discover America…

If you want to learn the legend around the creator of the clock and the medieval history of Prague, try to get the Czech cartoon movie “Goat Story” (see the Wikipedia for more information). It tells the story of building the Charles Bridge using eggs as concrete hardener, creating the unique astronomical clock and disclosing it’s design to competitive city hall, and the Czech beer pubs in the 14th century being the same as today – sort of. Highly recommended.

The Prague astronomical clock has inspired several souvenir vendors so you can find various wooden watches created as models of the real clock in souvenir shops around the city centre.  There are watches modelling just the main part of the clock – the astronomical dial – or the whole tower with Apostles on top and calendar dial at the bottom.

It is interesting to observe tourists in the Prague shops. People from Western Europe and America are looking for decently looking, as realistic as possible, simply designed watches while those coming from the East prefer watches painted with strong (and unrealistic) colours, Apostles hanging out of windows and bells chiming all the time. As the latter increase in numbers year after year, the offer of Prague astronomical clock watches goes with their taste.

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