The current revolution in Geek Culture is certainly a great and wonderful thing. But whats almost better than that is when we find proof of geeks in ancient culture! Today, I’d like to spend a bit of time writing about the Astronomical Clock in Prague.
The oldest astronomical time-keeping device still in operation, the Praha Orloj (Prague Astronomical Clock) was turned on (yes I think that’s a fitting phrase) on October 9th 1410.
Using a series of dials and hands, the clock is able to function as a rudimentary astrolab, or planetarium. Not only does it track the time, but its also capable of showing the position of the Earth relative to the standard array of zodiac constellations. It accurately tracks the phases of the moon as well as moon-rise and set. As the hands pass across the dials observers are able to even track dawn and dusk, and a translation of ancient Czech time as well. Each additional ability is called a “complication”, and wow, the Praha Orloj is certainly complicated indeed.
So how do your read it? Well it’s complicated.
The outermost dial is called the Stationary Dial. It includes the golden numbers which show local time in Prague as well as the ancient Czech translation. The Globe in the center is fairly self explanatory. The blue sky above it represents day, the orange disk is the demarcation of dawn and dusk, and the black circle is night. The Sun Hand hits each section at precisely accurate times of the day.
The inner circle is called the Zodiacal Dial. It shows the relative position of the Sun compared to surrounding standard constellations which are represented in their traditional symbols. Get this though, to be accurate this dial has to run counter-clockwise to the movements of the timing hands.
The golden Sun moves around the zodiacal circle. The sun is attached to an arm with a golden hand, and together they show the time in three different ways:
- The position of the golden hand over the Roman numerals on the background indicates the time in local Prague time.
- The position of the Sun over the curved golden lines indicates the time in unequal hours.
- The position of the golden hand over the outer ring indicates the hours passed after sunset in Old Czech Time.
- Additionally, the distance of the Sun from the center of the dial shows the time of sunrise and sunset.
The movement of the Moon on the ecliptic is shown similarly to that of the Sun, although the speed is much faster. The half-silver sphere of the moon moves independently to show the current phase of our lovely little satellite.
On top of that, each hour that the clock chimes is accompanied by the movement of figures added during the 17th century(that’s still 400 year ago) which appear from behind doors and move with the chimes, and there is even a carving of Death (the fantastic skeleton figure) which pulls the chain that triggers the hour bells.
Oh yeah, did I mention that it’s also a 365 day calendar which accurately moves as well? Cause it is!