Prague’s famous 15th century astronomical clock, known as Orloj, is one of the oldest and most elaborate clocks ever built and one of the city’s best-known landmarks. Its main attraction is the procession of twelve wood-carved saints – St. Paul and eleven apostles - who come out on the hour. This spectacle is watched and recorded by approximately 700,000 tourists every year. However a major reconstruction of the tower and clock, which is just getting underway, will mean that tourists will have to forego this particular attraction for more than half a year.
I took the opportunity to visit it with the spokeswoman for Prague City Tourism Barbora Hrubá in order to find out more about the upcoming reconstruction and began by asking what makes Prague’s Orloj so special.
“The astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall is one of the best-preserved and the oldest medieval astronomical clocks in the world.”
Dating back to around 1338?
“1338 is when the Old Town Hall was founded, the astronomical clock was installed in 1410.”
And I understand that some of the original components are still working?
“Yes, there are many medieval components that are still working, but unfortunately, the astronomical clock has had to undergo many repairs over the years and it was severely damaged especially in 1945 when the Old Town Hall was hit and badly damaged in the Bombing of Prague. “
And of course one of the big attractions is the apostles that come out on the hour…
“Yes, actually the apostles were completely destroyed in 1945 and they were restored two years later. This major reconstruction at the Old Town Hall begins on May 1 and will continue until the autumn of 2018. It should reopen in October for the celebrations of 100 years since the birth of Czechoslovakia.”
Why is it undergoing a major reconstruction now? Is it in a bad state of repair?
“It is in very bad condition, because as I mentioned the damage in 1945 was considerable and the reconstruction that followed was basically just to keep it standing and keep it working. The old mechanism was replaced with electronic engines but during this reconstruction the aim is to bring it back to its original state or as it was in the 19th century.”
What does that mean?
In due time, the clock will be dismantled and people will not be able to see it for around seven months. What happens in the meantime? I heard that there would be video-mapping to make up for it?
“Unfortunately, not. It was decided that video=mapping is not the best idea and would be visible only in the dark. So there will just be a photograph of the tower with the astronomical clock.”
So what will tourists be able to see when they come here during this time? Because I understand that a bigger focus is now being placed on the historical halls and the cellars…
“Yes, the reconstruction will take place in several phases. The main issue for us is that the tower will be closed to visitors from May, but the chapel and the historic halls as well as the underground will remain accessible to the public. So in order that visitors are not robbed of the opportunity to view the Prague skyline from the tower ,Prague City Tourism signed a contract with the New Town Hall so that with one ticket visitors will be able to visit the historic halls, the underground of the Old Town Hall and climb up the New Town Hall tower.”
There is a famous legend linked to the astronomical clock that says that if it stops or is tampered with it will mean bad times for the Czech lands…what do you think?
“We hope not! We hope that this is really just a legend.”
You said the reconstruction was scheduled to be finished in time for the celebrations of 100 years since the birth of Czechoslovakia. I assume its reopening will be a big occasion – what are your plans?
“Definitely. The City of Prague is planning big celebrations to mark the occasion and sees the reconstruction of the Old Town Hall as a gift to the Czech nation on that anniversary.”
And we can see the apostles coming out now. For how long will people still be able to see them?
“The clock will be removed in February of next year and will not return until June of 2018.”
“Yes, for most of the time, but the external facade of the tower will be repaired so if it is necessary to cover the clock there will be a photograph. “
And finally, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia –what is Prague City Tourism planning - what would you invite tourists to?
“The reopening of the Old Town Hall in October will definitely be a major event, but as regards other plans they are not exactly certain at this point.”