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The Legend of the Orloj

Text by: Brittany Knotts

Time, and all its relatives, has a funny way of being surrounded by legend. Perhaps it's simply human nature to add mystery to all things little understood, but perhaps there is something innately magical and legendary about time.

Clocks, our tools to keep track of that slippery companion of ours, are often quite beautiful to behold. One such specimen is the magnificent, medieval astronomical clock Prague, Czech Republic. Known as the Prague Orloj, the fully functional timepiece was installed on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in 1410 making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world. And just as legend surrounds time itself, legend surrounds this clock, specifically one of its makers.

The oldest portions of the Orloj, the mechanical clock and astronomical dial, were constructed in 1410 by clockmaker Mikulás of Kadan and math and astronomy professor Jan sinde. Then around 1490, clockmaster Jan Rûze, known more commonly as Master Hanus Carolinum, made repairs to the original clock and is reported to have added the calendar dial under the astronomical dial. As the story goes, after Master Hanus completed his work, the town councilors had his eyes burnt out with a hot poker, so he would be unable to construct another clock like the Orloj anywhere else in the world. Before he died, Master Hanus sought revenge by destroying the clock, so no one would ever be able to repair it. And as in any good legend, there were consequences for attempting to thwart old Master Hanus: all those who tried to fix the timepiece over the next hundred years either died or went insane. Though the clock now works again, local legend still maintains the city will suffer if the Orloj is ever neglected.

Since then, the Orloj has undergone many repairs and transformations, including the addition of the Twelve Apostles, which appear in a procession as the Orloj chimes each hour. While the legend remains, those who are less superstitious claim the real reason no one was able to fix the clock for such a long period of time was because the clock never functioned correctly in the first place.

Whatever the truth behind the Prague's Orloj, its beauty is undeniable — it is a must-see for those who visit Czech Republic's grand capitol. And the legend surrounding it is almost enough on its own to draw countless visitors to gaze in awe as it chimes each hour.