Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Olomouc Astronomical Clock

There are two astronomical clocks in the Czech Republic: the famous one in Prague and the one on the town hall in the old Moravian university city of Olomouc.

The Olomouc clock is the height of a three storey building and performs at 12 Noon each day for more than five minutes. Blacksmiths strike the hour on their anvils and a dozen figures parade to three traditional songs played on a huge spring powered glockenspiel that has barely changed since the clock was built almost six hundred years ago.

The Olomouc astronomical clock was rebuilt several times through the centuries and its current appearance is from the early 1950’s when the communists had come to power in Czechoslovakia.

The clock had been damaged during WWII and during the reconstruction the saints, bishops, angels and other religious symbols were replaced by figures from the proletariat; ordinary working people like builders, mechanics, a chemist, a housewife and agricultural labourers.

In addition to telling the time the astronomical clocks in Prague and Olomouc show the progress of the seasons, the position of the sun and the planets, the phase of the moon and even which constellations can be seen at different times of the year.

The mechanics of the clock were most recently rebuilt in 1898. When the clock was first built in the Middle Ages, people believed the earth was flat and that the sun, moon and stars moved across it. Even though Copernicus came up with his heliocentric theory in the early 1500’s it took until 1898 for it to be represented in Olomouc’s astronomical clock.

Around the outside of the large lower dial are 365 names and the relevant one for each day of the year is indicated by the gold pointer. The best known worldwide is probably number 45 - St Valentine’s day, but every day of the year has its saint. Czechs celebrate their saints name day like a second birthday, and almost everybody has one of the 365 names on the calendar.

The red days spliced in between the saints name days are the old communist commemorations. Lenin's death, Stalin’s birthday, International Labour Day and the October Revolution are all there.

The performance of the clock is undeniably slow and perhaps a bit long for modern tastes, but the cynics who stalk off to scoff are either being unfair or forgetting that it’s a 600 year old mechanical timepiece that was never designed to be stood in front of and watched like a television.

In any case, the clock always has the last laugh.


sansIcarus said...

I love these two clocks. They're appearing, along with a certain hostel, in a short story I'm writing at the moment. I'll make sure you get a copy when I'm done.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Tops! Looking forward to it already...

jay said...

Prostějov also has an astronomical clock, albeit not a very old one. Although, to be fair, it doesn't come close to the majestic and elaborate clocks in Prague and Olomouc. However, by the strictest definition of an astronomical clock, it is one. :)

It is located on the town hall, which was built in the early 20th century.

sansIcarus said...

I've been to that one too, Jay. It has a charm all of it's own.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Quite right, Jay. Technically the one on the Litomyšl town hall qualifies too, and I read an article about a guy somewhere up in North Bohemia who completed his own astronomical clock last year, so there are actually a few more than two of them around the country.