Dating back to 1338, the Old Town Hall is located in the heart of the Old Town Square. It was constructed from a complex of homes that were merged and have been rebuilt over the years.
To find the entrance to the Hall, just look to the left of the large crowd of tourists waiting for the Astronomical Clock to chime.
Inside the Town Hall are the Gothic Chapel and the Hall of Mayors of the City.
But my favourite bit was a trip to the top of the 60 metre high tower, for fabulous views across the Old Town. There is an intriguingly designed elevator that whisks you up...so no energetic stair climbing required, giving wheel chair access to the top of the tower.
My interest in this clock stems from the idea that somehow I've seen it before in a horror movie......hmmmm?
This enchanting medieval clock draws the crowds to the side wall of the Old Town Hall. It does not only give the time of the day but the months and seasons of the year, the signs of the zodiac and the course of the sun and moon. But of course people are too busy to notice the above as they are more keen in watching all the movements happening each stroke of an hour.
There's death, in the form of a skeleton who tolls the bell, just as Christ and the twelve apostles emerge in a procession. There's a crow above their head, then the clock strikes.
I've never seen such a big clock that gave this much information.
The Astronomical Clock, built in to one side of the Old Town Hall Tower, dates from the 15th century.
To fully appreciate the clock's intricate construction, join the crowd in front of the tower to observe the procession of the Twelve Apostles: on the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk.
One of Pragues most famous sights is the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. There are many legends and stories about the astronomical clock. Some are true and some are doubtful. The original construction of the clock was in 1410. The clock has undergone repairs and additions over the years. It was severly damaged by Nazi fire during World War II. The Nazi's completely burned the Town Hall and almost totally destroyed the clock. It was restored to its current condition by the citizens of Prague after the war.
Everytime the clock has been repaired or renovated there have been new additions added to it. Originally the clock had no moving statues or characters, which attract the crowds today. It was built strictly for its astronomical data.
It is definatly something to see. But I could not understand all of the excitement by the crowds of tourists that gather each hour for its display. I took my turn one afternoon like all tourists and came away less than inpressed. The clock itself is a marvel. The hourly display is a let down.
The unusual clock on the wall of the Old Town Hall has been working since 1490. It shows the movement of the sun and the moon through the signs of the zodiac.
Every hour, from 8am to 8pm, it chimes and a row of wooden saints emerges from a door in the wall above the clock, before disappearing back into the wall again.
This event draws huge crowds of tourists in the summer. This is the favourite meeting place in Prague and most of the walking tours start here.
The first time I started walking around Prague, I looked for the Charles Bridge first and then I started looking for that Astronomical Clock, aka Staromestska Radnice, which I always see on pictures.
The Astronomical Clock is located on the Old Town Hall building and it does attract tourists who want to watch the hourly show. But if you do come early in the morning as I did, I was practically the only one in front of the clock! However, for some reason, there were no 12 apostles that came out in procession from the clock at the time --- it must be only certain hours.
The intricate clock was designed by Miklaus of Kadan in 1410. And near it is a chapel built in 1381 which actually has a basement which used to be a prison. So, I guess the prisoners could probably hear the clock every hour…that’s sad.
But, the clock is really a “must-see” when going to Prague. If you want, you can even just sit on the café in front of it as I did and just watch the comings and goings of people from all over the world.
Probably the most well known sight from Prague must be the astronomical clock, which is running correctly for ages
The top clock displays the time and solar & lunar standpoints whereas the lower clock is more of a calendar with the Czech celebrating the saint of their day of birth.
Check out my different day & night time photos for different positions
Astronomical clock :
Every hour the 12 apostles come out in turn while the skull (at the right of the clock) pulls the bell symbolizing death and our mortality. The other statues represent vanity and greed.
It was built during the time we thought earth was at the centre of the universe, so it displays the rotation of the sun & the moon around earth.
The astronomical clock (orloj) located on the eastern wall of the Old Town Hall is one of the most important attractions in the Old Town Square. Hourly till 9 PM, large crowds and tour groups gather to see the intricate mechanical peformance marking the changing hours.
The oldest part of the clock, the astronomical dial and its mechanics, was built in 1410 and the original parts are amazingly still in operation today. The calendar dial was added in 1490. The most famous figures - Death and the Three Mortal Sins with their mechanics - were added in the 17th Century. The 12 apostles and their windows were created in 1865. The clock has been repaired many times, most recently following artillery shelling by the retreating Nazi forces in 1945. For a detailed description of the history, craftsmen and artisans, and mechanical workings of the astronomical clock, visit www. orloj.com and www. utf.msf.cuni.cz/Relativity/orloj.
The clock is divided into 3 parts. The two windows at the top are for the apostles. Below are the clock dial and the calendar dial. On the hour, the devil pulls the cord, and a parade of 6 apostles pass by each window. Each is the patron saint of a trade and carries an appropriate artifact. For instance, St. Simon is the patron saint of lumberjacks and carries a saw. The central astronomic dial contains elements for the sun, moon, and zodiac signs. The clock dial details time with changing hours of sunrise and sunset.
The permanent figures surrounding Death depict the Turk with a mandolin, the Jew clutching a money bag, and Vanity holding a mirror - the three mortal sins of sloth, greed, and vanity. At the end, the rooster crows and bells sound the new hour.
Advice - since the apostle's windows face east, the best time to see them is on the hour in the morning.
The whole clock scene is undoubtedly a bit hokey, but the lore of the clock makes it a remarkable attraction not to be missed.
The views from the top of the Old Town Hall are wonderful and give you a lovely perspective on the fascinating 'roofscape' of the Old Town. From this vantage point, you realise how tightly packed the Old Town is, and what a teeming mass of humanity this must have been in the days when the Old Town was residential (don your thermals and try this just before Christmas when there is a Christmas market in the main square to see what I mean).
This viewpoint also gives you a better view of the beautiful gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn. Unfortunately the facade of this church has been obscured by later buildings which were constructed immediately in front of the church, and usually all you can see are the iconic towers rising above the surrounding buildings.
To state the obvious, you will not be the only person wanting to see the Old Town from this perspective, and the spectacular views mean that most visitors linger to try and get the perfect panoramic photos. Thus, as ever, it helps to visit out of peak hours (usually earlier is better than later) and ideally out of peak season so that you aren't crowded out.
I have read many resources that say the Old Town Tower dominates the Old Town Square in Prague. Although I do not agree completely with that statement, I do agree its one of the major sights to see. The tower has a 230 foot spire. The Astronomical Clock is attached to the side of the tower. The tower dates back to the 14th century although it was almost completely destroyed by Nazi fire during World War II.
There is an observation area on top of the tower that allows you great views of Old Town Square and its crowds below. There is an admission price for the tower. The ticket office is on the third floor of the building connected to the tower. But that is the end of your climbing. There is an elevator to the top of the tower. So buy your ticket, grab your camera, and get ready for some great moments to remember.
Hundreds of people are crowded around the giant clock--pushing, shoving, vying for a good spot to take a photo, and waiting with baited breath for for the clock to reach the top of the hour and begin its show. At 2:00 PM exactly, a small mechanical skeleton statue (representing Death) on the right side of the clock begins to frantically ring a bell. "Oh, man! That is so cool!" I say to myself and I begin to record video on my camera.
Two small doors near the top of the clock slide open and little figures (statues of apostles) appear briefly, rotating to the dark openings one at a time. We all crane our necks and squint our eyes to see these barely visible 12 characters as they quickly pass by. The little doors close. The clock chimes the hour. The end.
"What in the hell was that?! That's it?! That's what all the big fuss is about?" I have to admit that I'm slightly disappointed. I don't know what I expected--certainly not giant mechanical dinosaurs or anything too over the top, but there really wasn't very much to see here. And what there was to see could only have been properly viewed by standing exactly in front of the clock about 150 feet back while looking through a pair of binoculars. I think about it for a moment and then delete the video from my camera.
The dials and symbols on the clock represent all kinds of different things besides regular 24-hour time--sunrise, sunset, twilight, daybreak, position of the moon and earth, zodiac alignment, planetary time, ancient time. It can even predict eclipses. For a piece of equipment that was originally designed and made in 1410, it's pretty impressive overall. I guess any clock that still works after 600 years is impressive. The makers, Mikulas of Kadan and Jan Sindel, really knew what they were doing.
Overall, the Astronomical Clock is one of those oddball must-see touristy things that will leave you slightly confused as to what exactly you just witnessed. ...But the thing takes really great photos.
The astronomical clock is located just off the Main Square in the Old Town and is one of Prague's main tourist attractions. It should therefore come as no surprise that it can get VERY crowded just before the hour as people gather to watch the clock figures 'perform'.
Several other VTers seem to have been so frustrated by the crowds that they have listed the astronomical clock under 'Tourist Traps', which is a shame, since it is a wonderful piece of engineering and well worth seeing. Some people also seem a little miffed that the 'show' is brief and not very spectacular, but perhaps we should remember that we are judging this against the frenetic standards of the 21st century where CG graphics are almost a standard expectation: to the average citizen in the 15th century (when it was built), it would have seemed utterly spectacular.
The clock 'performs' on the hour every hour between 0900 and 2100. The obvious suggestion is therefore to go out of peak hours: I would suggest going early before the crowds are out and about, as the Main Square is a popular tourist hangout in the evening. It is also likely to be a little less crowded in the week than over weekends when Prague is inundated by the 'citybreak' contingent.
Even better, try to go out of the season (summer and major public holidays such as Easter and Christmas) when I think that Prague is at its best - airfares and hotel prices will be lower and the city will be less crowded!
For those interested in astronomical clocks, the only other one in the country is in the charming little university city of Olomouc, a couple of hours east of Prague by train. The facade of the Olomouc clock was rebuilt in a Socialist realist style after it was vandalised by retreating German troops at the end of World War II and is a fascinating piece of propaganda, with the saints' figures having been replaced by worthy Communist-era role models such as agricultural labourers and housewives! This brilliant clock is reason enough to visit Olomouc, and fortunately this lovely town (which is a little off the well-beaten tourist circuit of Prague - Cesky Krumlov - Kutna Hora) has lots more to offer the tourist - minus the crowds - and makes a marvellous counterpoint to Prague if you have a little more time to explore the Czech Republic.
Watch out for the figures on the Astronomical Clock. Some of them are only visible briefly when the clock strikes the hour, but there are also some that are always there but are easy to miss unless you look for them.
The skeleton is probably my favourite of these, you can see him here (well I assume it’s a he…). He represents death here and can be seen holding an hourglass (no doubt showing people they only have limited time left) and ringing a little bell (calling people to him?).
The four highest figures are (and some of them are remarkably non-politically correct): Vanity (which shows a man looking in a mirror), Greed (represented by a Jew holding a moneybag), Death (as described above) and Lust (symbolised by a Turk).
These figures are described as they appear either side of the clock, the first two on the left, and the second two on the right. My second picture shows the two on the left. All of this description can make the hourly chime sound quite spectacular, but most people that see it for the first time look a little shocked at how massively it has been hyped up considering how little actually happens. Still, it is free.
Astronomical clock is one of the landmarks of Prague. It was built in 1410 which makes it one of the oldest clocks in the world. When it was built, it was so magnificent, especially for that time, so the city authorities decided to blind the constructor, in order to prevent him from making another clock like this one. Enraged, the constructor broke the clock down in revenge, so the clock was dysfunctional for decades. No one could repair it because of its complicated mechanism until early 1500’s.
The Clock at the Old Town Hall is worth seeing despite the huge crowd of people trying to see it at the same time as well. Every time when the clock strikes an hour a skeleton resembling death pulls on a rope and the show begins. After this a window above the clock opens and you see Apostles slowly moving around. You can also see the figures of Vanity and Greed at the sides of the clock. At the end of the show, a cock crows and the clock chimes the hour.