Prague's Astronomical Clock stops for two months due to repair work

Photo: CTK

Prague's Orloj, or Astronomical Clock, is one of the city's major tourist attractions. But for the next two months some visitors may be disappointed to find the clock is out of action: it's about to undergo its first repairs for over a decade. Ludvik Hainz is a well-known Prague clockmaker - indeed, his family have been taking care of the Astronomical Clock since the 1860s. I asked him why the work was being done now, not during the winter when there are fewer tourists.

Photo: CTK
"The main reason is the work of restorers, because they need better climatic conditions than our people. That's very important for restorers."

What parts of the clock are being repaired?

"The parts which move the stars and sun and months."

What about the famous statues here?

"It's very important to repair these statues - I mean the parts which are able to move, like Death - the skeleton. And the other statues which are able to move. It's very important to repair the movement mechanism."

Will the repairs be done mostly here on the Old Town Square or elsewhere?

"We need to transfer to our factory and do repairs in our workshop."

When is the last time that the clock was repaired?

"The last repairs were in 1994 but then the same parts weren't repaired as will be repaired at present."

Is there actually something wrong with the clock or are you thinking ahead, to prevent problems in the future?

"Both are true. I can see that the movement is partly tired, because it works 24 hours a day and the main construction is from the 15th century. I think everybody is able to understand that an old machine needs to be repaired more often than quite new machines."

And I understand that the man who first created the clock...I don't know, they took out his eyes, or killed him or something. You aren't afraid of some harm befalling you?

"No, no, it's not true - it's just a funny history, or a funny story. The Astronomical Clock was made at the beginning of the 15th century, in 1410. There were two creators: one of them was Mikulas of Kadan, and the other was Jan Sindel. The latter was a professor at Charles University and an astrologer and mathematician; he made the mathematical calculations, and the mechanical parts were made by Mikulas of Kadan."

But were they killed afterwards or...?

"No, no. The man who you mean was Hanus, Master Hanus. He was a maintenance engineer at the end of the 15th century, around 1495, '97. He wasn't the builder of the Astronomical Clock."

I should point out that Master Hanus, who remodelled the clock in 1490, was blinded, not murdered, on the orders of the municipal authority, who wanted to keep its workings a secret. Or at least that's the legend.

And the last time the famous clock stopped was during the floods of 2002, though that was simply because of a power blackout.