The Astronomical Clock is one of Prague’s greatest crowd-pleasers. Tourists pack in front of it at the top of each hour (from 8am to 8pm only) to watch a short parade of statuette Apostles bow to adoring camera-clickers below.
While each of the twelve saints has his turn, eight politically incorrect allegorical figures perform a kind of medieval morality play: The statues on either side of the clock’s upper dial represent the four evils according to ancient society — death, vanity, corruption and greed — represented by a skeleton, a mirror, a Turk and a Jew. On either side of the lower dial are statues representing the gothic city’s four messiahs: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.
The timepiece, which was designed in the early 15th century by a bevy of court astronomers, is one of the earliest depictions of the heavens in motion, interpreting the movements of the sun, the moon and stars, all of which rotate around the earth.
The clock’s calendar dial, below, was added in the 19th century. It indicates today’s day and date and shows the corresponding month and sign of the zodiac. The rotating dial is divided in to many fields, each of which is marked with the particular saint who is associated with that day of the year. Today’s date is indicated by the little golden pointer fixed at the top.