Time, Peace and Praha

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There are certain moments in life when one simply must fall back on the things which one has always found delightful. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to much matter what one DOES regarding them, simply that one touches them in some profound way, as if to remind themselves that there is a world rolling past, outside their own minds.

In the spirit of that realization, I have decided to share something here with you, my dearest readers, that I take delight in. My favorite city on earth is Prague, the last bastion of a world that was but is no longer….and there are three spots in Prague which I love more then any other and I would like to share one of these with you.

The Astronomical Clock, near the Týn Cathedral in Staroměstské náměstí, in the heart of Staré Město is a wonder to me, a relic of an age when time itself was a force that moved within each person. An era when saints and devils moved with us through the crowded streets and death himself may have been drinking a lager beside you before continuing his rounds.

I have passed several beautiful afternoons sitting at a cafe across from this clock, drinking Radagast Dark for hours watching the ebb and flow of time and mankind.

The following is reposted from Curious Expeditions.

The legend of the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town of Prague seems to have come straight from the Brothers Grimm. The dark tale is set in 1490, when the clock was said to have been created by the great Clockmaster Hanus. Such was the reputation of the clock and the craftsmanship of his work, Hanus was approached by many a foreign nation, each wishing to have their own town square topped with a marvelous astronomical clock. Hanus refused to show the plans of his masterpiece to anyone, but word got back to Prague Councilors. They heard that the clockmaster was planning to build a bigger, better and more beautiful clock for another nation. Overcome with fear that their clock would no longer be the best and enraged with jealousy, they had the brilliant clockmaster blinded, ensuring that he would never again make another clock. Driven mad, the clockmaster took the ultimate revenge, throwing himself into his extraordinary work of art, destroying the clock and ending his own life in one stroke. In doing so, he cursed the clock. All who tried to fix it would either go insane, or die.

Sadly, this tale of grisly vengeance is just that, a tale. It is likely that Clockmaster Hanus simply added a calendar dial to the already existing clock, known as the Prague Orloj. He may also have installed the clock’s most delightful feature, a statue of Death. The oldest automaton on the clock, the skeletal Death tolls the death bell for every hour and flips his hourglass, numbering your days. He is nicknamed Klapáček (the Clapper) for his chattering jawbone.

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While Hanus may have added the statue of death, the truth is the clock was never the work of one man. It has been modified, added to, improved, destroyed and repaired over and over since its birth in 1380, at which time it wasn’t an astronomical clock at all, but did have the novel feature of a 24 hour dial and a single hand. Perhaps the most well-known astronomical clock in the world, the Orloj shows Babylonian time, also called planet time, which is used in the Bible. Babylonian hours are designated by 12 hours between sunrise and sunset. The clock also shows Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal time (which is related to the movement of the stars – a sidereal day is 4 minutes shorter than a solar day).

But the clock shows a lot more than just time. It also shows the moon’s phases and the sun’s journey through the constellations of the zodiac. The calendar dial, just below the clock, shows the day of the month, the Sunday Letter (the day of the week), Feast Days, and allegorical pictures of the month and zodiac. When we visited in August, it depicted “Threshing” or separating the grain from the plant.

As the hour strikes, stern wooden statues of the 12 Apostles appear through a window, each a patron saint of a trade. A favorite of ours during this “Walk of the Apostles” was Paul, holding a book and sword. Paul has the luck of being the patron saint of two most enchanting professions, glassblowers and mariners.

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Even though its creator didn’t destroy his beloved work with his own suicidal body, it truly is a magical clock worthy of its gruesome legend. To see it in action is not to see simple hours and minutes, but to be dazzled by the many ways of measuring time; A many-geared map of the heavens, an allegorical illustration of a year, and that reminder of Death’s ever-emptying hourglass.

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