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Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Astronomical Clock

Macabre astrological automaton clock dating to the late 1400s 

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The legend of the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town of Prague seems to have come straight from the Brothers Grimm. The dark tale is set in the fifteenth century, when the clock is said to have been created by the great clockmaker Mikuláš from Kadaň. Such was the reputation of his craftsmanship that Mikuláš was approached by many a foreign nation, each wishing to have its own town square topped with a marvelous astronomical clock. Mikuláš refused to show the plans of his masterpiece to anyone, but word got back to the Prague Councilors.

Overcome with fear that Mikuláš might build a bigger, better, and more beautiful clock for another nation, the Councilors had the brilliant clockmaker blinded, ensuring that their clock would never be topped. Driven mad, the clockmaker took the ultimate revenge, throwing himself into his extraordinary work of art, gumming up the clock’s gears and ending his own life in one stroke. In doing so, he cursed the clock. All who tried to fix it would either go insane, or die.

While this is only a legend, it stands as a testament to the extraordinary nature of Prague’s Astronomical Clock. The clock has been modified, destroyed, and repaired many times since its creation in 1380. It is perhaps the most well-known astronomical clock in the world, with four moving automatons (including a skeleton ringing his death knell for each hour), and rotating statues of the 12 apostles. It displays Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal time. It also shows the moon’s phases and the sun’s journey through the constellations of the zodiac. The calendar dial, just below the clock, shows the day of the month, the day of the week, feast days and allegorical pictures of the current month and sign of the zodiac.

Though the legend of Mikuláš is apocryphal, Prague is not without a dark history - the cobblestones of the town square below the clock are marked with 27 crosses commemorating 27 beheaded Czech noblemen. Be sure to go upstairs for a tour of the interior of the fascinating clock.