The famous astronomical clock that is Prague’s most popular tourist attraction has lost some star players for the next two months. The four outside figures, including a skeletal Death, have been removed and are being repainted to protect them from the elements.
The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. Dials show the position Moon, position of the Sun on the zodiac, and other astronomical events. Every hour there’s a parade of painted figures representing the 12 Apostles. Four other figures, representing vanity, greed, death, and pleasure, stand outside. As the bells chime the hours and the Apostles do their walk, Death shakes an hourglass to remind you that everything is transitory.
It’s quite a show, as you can see from this video by the folks at In Your Pocket: Essential City Guides. They have a free downloadable guide to Prague and many other cities on their website.
The clock will continue to function as the four figures are repainted. Legend has it that if the clock stops, disaster will strike the city.
It’s been wound by hand for 600 years, but technology has finally caught up with the world’s oldest mechanical clock.
The duty of winding the clock three times a week, a task that takes an hour, has been performed by the same family for five generations. Before them a series of clock winders have been at the task since the clock was installed in Wells Cathedral, Somerset, England, in the 1380s.
But now Paul Fisher, the current clock winder, is retiring, and his sons are too busy to take over the task. Curators are installing an electric motor to wind it automatically.
It’s the end of a tradition that goes back to a century before Columbus’ voyage to America, and locals aren’t too happy about it. The clock has two dials, one inside and one outside. The inside face, shown above, has a 24-hour dial and shows the phases of the Moon. Interestingly for the time, it shows the Earth at the center of the universe, with the Sun and Moon revolving around it. The outside face has a more standard 12-hour dial, with mechanical knights who ring the bells and joust with one another.
Photo courtesy user Cormullion via Wikimedia Commons.