Prague Astronomical Clock Celebrated by Google Doodle on its 605th Birthday

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

If we were to whisper the words "Prague Astronomical Clock" into your ears, we suspect many of you would be a little weirded out, but ultimately wouldn't give a toss. However, Google has honoured the giant timepiece with a doodle this morning, as it turns 605 today. Here's what makes it so special.

The Prague Astronomical Clock tracks the position of the planets...

First and foremost, it's the oldest working astronomical clock in the world, first installed back in 1410. But what is an astronomical clock? Basically, it features special dials that display astronomical information, such as the positions of the sun, moon and constellations. That's why its face looks like it's got an extra face growing out of it. Keeping in mind the age of the clock, that's not only an engineering feat, but a scientific and mathematical one, too. The clock is also known as the Orloj.

prague astronomical clock

...with a little help from the man /men upstairs...

Each hour, figures representing the 12 Apostles pop out and nod their heads at the gathering crowds - after all, this is one of Prague's biggest tourist attractions, gathering crowds of thousands of visitors each day. It pays to be friendly.

...and some other creepy characters...

The Apostles aren't alone though, and their presence comes with a message. They're joined by figures including Death, a skeleton holding an hourglass, a miser with a purse of coins, a grumbling Turk and Vanity preening in a mirror. The metaphor here is an obvious one – the march of time, even among the stars, waits for no person, be they rich, beautiful or powerful.

There's also plenty of superstitions surrounding the clock, too. According to a local legend:

It was said, that once the Old Town Astronomical Clock stops running for a long time the Czech nation will suffer bad times and the skeleton was supposed to confirm this fact by nodding his head. Based on the legend, the only hope was represented by a boy born in the New Year´s night. Once the astronomical clock sets in motion again, the boy is supposed to run out of the Týn Church across the whole square to the town hall. He has to run very fast to arrive before the last strike of the clock. If he makes it he will quit the skeleton´s evil power and avert all the evil.

...standing in the centre of Prague despite war...

The Astronomical Clock takes pride of place in Prague's busy Old Town Square at the centre of the city. It's been through a lot of repair work over the centuries, and we almost lost it during the second world war, when the German army severely damaged the clock face and wooden sculptures. Thankfully, it was back up and running three years later.

... with the clock being the reason its "maker" was blinded...

The clock was originally thought to have been built by by clockmaster Jan Růže, whose work was so revered that it was claimed Prague's councillors had him blinded so that he couldn't replicate the clock for other cities. Though that legend is interestingly grisly, the reality is a little more prosaic, with the Orloj made by clockmakers Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, the latter a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University.

...and why our Editor Gerald met the lead singer of Papa Roach.

Yep, the stars aligned and Gerald ran into Jacoby Shaddix in front of the clock while on holiday. But that's another bizarre story for another day...