Astronomical clock to regain some, but not all, original parts

Photo: Eva Turečková

One of Prague’s most famous sights, the astronomical clock at the city’s Old Town Hall, has been temporarily removed. The medieval clock is set to undergo months of restoration work that will see the return of several, but not all, of its original elements.

Photo: Eva Turečková
The medieval astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall on Old Town Square ranks alongside Charles Bridge and Prague Castle as one of the Czech capital’s greatest attractions.

Thousands regularly gather beneath the world famous timepiece to watch its hourly clockwork show featuring a parade of the 12 apostles and Death striking the time.

Now the clock – whose oldest parts date from 1410 – has been removed for several months of renovation work.

One of the people working on the project is sculptor Petr Skála, who has been taking care of the astronomical clock since 2009. He spoke as it was being removed on Monday morning.

“Not so many parts will be replaced, it’s more a question of repairing the Baroque sculptures. There will be a new ecliptic – the current one dates from 1987 and it needs to be made more precise. Sculptors will repair the wooden sculptures. We need to remove the inappropriate changes made to them during the 20th century.”

One of the elements unhelpfully altered was the clock’s astrolabe, an instrument for taking the altitude of the sun or stars and solving other problems in astronomy and navigation. It will now be repainted.

“Its current form dates from the 1970s. At present it features astronomical night, which doesn’t belong there. It’s a modern element that has no place on an astrolabe dating from the Middle Ages. That change won’t be very apparent and it’s likely that nobody will notice it.”

Petr Skála,  photo: Eva Turečková
Mr. Skála says that if repair work had not been carried out on the astronomical clock in the past it might have been forgotten and left to gather dust in a museum. However, previous generations of restorers did make a number of mistakes.

“It’s necessary to give the astronomical clock its original appearance back. We also need to remove a number of visible inappropriate interventions. However, we can’t return the original zodiac, for instance, even though it has been preserved. That’s because the current one, from 1865, is now so characteristic of the clock that it probably wouldn’t be good to bring back the original.”

The astronomical clock should be returned to the tower at Prague’s Old Town Hall by the end of August.