Prague Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock

The Old Town Hall was built in 1338 by order of King John of Luxembourg. It is one of the most striking buildings in Prague. Initially, it consisted of just one house, but later a tower and chapel were added, followed by the attachment of other houses to the main building.

It now consists of a row of colorful Gothic and Renaissance period houses knocked together and renovated. The Old Town Hall is conveniently situated on the Royal Way. You can enjoy a beautiful view of Prague from the 69 meter high tower of the Old Town Hall.

One of the main reasons people visit the Old Town Hall is to view the magnificent Astronomical Clock. The Astronomical Clock of Prague was built in 1410, and so has kept time for 6 centuries. It was built mainly to show the movement of heavenly bodies within the Solar System.
(Hint: click the sheets for bigger images)

It shows a medieval view of the Solar System, consistent with what people believed at the time the Astronomical Clock was built. The clock shows three pieces of information; it shows the revolutions of the sun, the revolutions of the moon, and the revolutions of the stars. The earth is at the centre of the universe.

The Astronomical Clock is divided into red and blue halves representing day and night. At the top of the Astronomical Clock, Death appears every hour to ring the bells and allow the hour glass of life run empty. Each of the 12 Apostles walk past in two open windows. A rooster crows just before the clock strikes the hour.

The Astronomical Clock is one of the outstanding features of Prague. Most visitors to Prague mention the clock as being one of the highlights of their stay in Prague.

The Clock Tower (Zytglogge)

The Tower Clock or Zytglogge (in Berndütch dialect - read Zytgloke), as it has been called ever since the earliest times, was in every respect the authoritative building of Berne. Its clock showed the official time after which all the other clocks were set, long before railway or radio existed as a means of checking the time; the distances of the roads were measured from the Clock Tower and it is to do it that the milestones on the cantonal highways refer. In its entrance archway the linear measures, formely "Elle" or "Klafter", now meter and double meter, are put up as standard measures for purposes of official control and as models. The tower used to form the boundary of the first extension of ancient Berne, founded by Duke Berchtold V. of Zähringen in the year 1191. Then the town stretched from the knee of the River Aare to the deep city-moat, which formed the boundary towards the west, on the Kornhausplatz. The nucleus of this tower is without doubt the oldest construction in the city, its inner walls dating back to the 12th century. Like most ancient towers it was open towards the city and its interior and the side facing the town were built of wood. The foundation walls, more than 9 feet in width, diminish slightly in thickness towards the top.

In the year 1405 the tower was gutted and after this fire, the fourth side, which faces the city, was rebuilt in stone. The tower bell, which was cast in 1405, originally had to be struck by hand to announce the hours. It was in 1530 that the artistic astronomical or calendar clock was constructed; and at the time the delightful mechanical figure-play was made, which is still today a much admired show-piece of the town. Complete renovation took place between 1981 and 1983.

The Figure Play was constructed in 1527 to 1530 by Kaspar Brunner. Four minutes before the hour strikes, the rooster crows and lifts its wings; then, the procession of the armed bears starts; at the same time, the jester sitting above rings two bells; after the procession of the bears has ended, the rooster crows a second time, whereupon, at the very top of the tower, the quarter hour bell is struck, at which time Chronos turns his sandglass. Only now does the larger-than-life figure of a knight in golden armor made of linden wood and known as Hans von Thann strike the full hour on the large bell; simultaneously, Chronos counts the hours by moving his lips and his scepter, and the lion turns its head with each strike on the bell. The performance ends with a third crow of the rooster.

The Astronomical Clock was also made by Kaspar Brunner. It demonstrates, by mechanical means, the movement of the stars. The basis of this clock is the Planisphere, which is painted directly on the wall of the clock tower. Painted in gold are are the turning circle, the horizon and sunrise/sunset lines , and the temporal hours. The temporal hours - indicated by Arabic numerals - divide up the day into 12 periods between sunrise and sunset. Rotating in front of the Planisphere are the Zodiac and date rings. Above the date ring, the day of the week is shown. The clock is positioned within an outer circle, which features Roman numerals indicating the 24 hours of the day. The hour hand is gold in color and rotates outside the date ring. The hand incorporates a sun, which is thus able to indicate its position in relation to the Zodiac. At the opposite end of the hour hand, another sun has an extended ray pointing to the day and month on the date ring. The inner circle of the Zodiac ring features a hand showing the orbit of the moon, with a moon ball (half gold and half black) turning on its own axis. This movement being coordinated with the sun hand, the visible part of the ball indicates the current phase of the moon.

The SNA set  of three souvenir sheets, showing the Astronomical Clock from Prague and the Zytglogge from Bern,  was issued on the 20th April 2003. The first two sheets present  the tower clocks from Bern and from Prague, respectively . The third sheet displays the astronomical clocks of both towers. The souvenir sheets were printed by the office Courvoisier SNA, in the quantity of 100,000 pieces for each sheet.

Other miniature sheets showing the Prague Old Town and the historic city of Berne will follow. Stay tuned!


Created: 04/20/03. Revised: 01/07/06
Copyright © 2003 by SNA and by Victor Manta.
All rights reserved worldwide.

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