Prague Astronomical Clock: A Timeless Journey Through History and Astronomy

Place Details

Name: Prague Astronomical Clock

Rating: 4.6 / 5

City: Prague

Country: Czech Republic

Address: Staroměstské nám. 1, 110 00 Josefov, Czechia

Phone Number: +420 236 002 629

Website: Visit the Website

Hours of Operation: 24 hours

Location

About Prague Astronomical Clock

Marvel at one of Prague’s most iconic landmarks, the Prague Astronomical Clock, nestled in the heart of Old Town Square. This engineering masterpiece, installed in 1410, stands as the oldest astronomical clock still operational today, weaving together the threads of history, astronomy, and artistry in a captivating display that has enchanted visitors for centuries.

Crafted by the skilled clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and the esteemed mathematics and astronomy professor Jan Šindel, the clock’s intricate mechanics were far ahead of their time. Over the years, it has been adorned with wooden statues and the revered Apostles, making each hourly show a spectacle that draws crowds from around the globe.

The History of the Prague Astronomical Clock

People walking and gathering in Prague’s Old Town Square with the Prague Astronomical Clock and the Church of Our Lady before Týn in the background.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Installed in 1410, the Prague Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj) is the oldest astronomical clock in the world. Clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and mathematics and astronomy professor Jan Šindel created the mechanical elements of the clock centuries ago. The wooden statues were added in the 17th century and replaced with the Apostles in the late 18th century.

Around the clock, four figures represent vanity, greed, death, and lust. Other than the skeleton (death), the other figures represent the binds that keep man tethered to his mortal coil. In addition to these figures, the 12 Apostles appear every hour on the hour in a sort of parade. Astute observers will note that Paul and Barnabas are among the dozen rather than James the Great and Matthew.

The clock’s other important component is the astronomical dial, which shows astronomical signs and the sun’s and moon’s positions. An astrolabe, the clock represents a form of Medieval astronomy that remains a fascinating science even centuries later. You also see a ring of gold Schwabacher numbers representing the old Czech times. This form of telling time was used in Bohemia until the 17th century.

Sadly, the clock was badly damaged during the final days of World War II when Old Town Hall (which houses the clock) was firebombed. The clock’s wooden sculptures and calendar dial were both destroyed in the siege. Wooden apostles that guests can see now are replicas.

Watch our YouTube Shorts video for a first-hand look at the Astronomical Clock.

How to Visit the Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague Astronomical Clock on Old Town Hall Tower, Gothic architecture, astronomical dial, zodiacal ring, historical landmark
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

I’ve seen several folks say to skip the Prague Astronomical Clock. It’s too crowded, it’s too noisy, it’s not worth it, etc. I vehemently disagree. The clock is an engineering marvel which no longer exists in working order. You should visit.

Regarding tourist attractions, you can’t get much better than free. Since it’s one of the most famous sights in Prague, visitors clamor to the clock all day, every day, to see the figures go through their motions.

Kicking things off the Skeleton, he will ring his bell to name the hour to which the other three figures shudder. It is said that the Skeleton ringing the bell symbolizes the death of the other figures, so their shuddering is a protest of having to die. Then, the Apostles appear for a moment before retreating into their hideaway.

To visit the clock, you must be in Old Town Square on the Southern side of Old Town Hall Tower. The clock’s special presentation occurs every hour from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. That said, your best bet for getting a decent viewing spot is to see one of the first presentations or have a place to stand by at least 15 minutes before the end of the hour.

See Related: 3 Days in Prague Itinerary

Get Up Close

Tourists admiring Prague Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square surrounded by Gothic buildings.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You can see the clock outside for free, but the best way to see the clock is to go on a tour of Old Town Hall. From here, you get an insider’s perspective on the history of the clock and the building. Plus, you can tour the chapel where the Apostles are stored and see them up close.

Compared to the crowds seeing the clock from the front, very few people were on our tour of Old Town Hall. Even though we visited during the busiest tourist season in the summer, there were only about eight people on our tour. So, everyone got as many turns to view the Apostles as they wanted.

You also want to see the clock’s performance from the street. But if you’re an artsy nerd like me, you’ll also appreciate the craftsmanship from up close.

Amanda Finn
WRITTEN BY

Amanda Finn

Amanda (she/they) is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Their work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, "Chicago Like a Local" and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda's favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park they've visited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *