Prague’s famous astronomical clock known as the Orloj, dating back to 1410 and gracing the tower of the Old Town Hall, is one of the city’s biggest attractions, drawing crowds on the hour every single day. The chimes and a famous procession of apostles (moving sculptures) in the clock’s windows, are a must for any visitor, and are no doubt the subject of countless youtube videos and family photos. But anyone visiting on the Old Town Square these days has been less than lucky and won’t see the famous clock in operation: on Monday it was turned off by technicians due to three weeks of building repairs.
What is being fixed? Above all, workers are redoing walls within the Old Town Hall tower to combat dampness which has an adverse affect on the famous clock. Karel Žbánek, of the clockworks company Ludvík Hainz, is in charge of the project.
“The main focus is the renovation of the walls inside the tower behind the clock both on the main floor, as well as the space behind the mechanism. There is no way we could leave the clock in operation while renovation work is underway. For one, the masonry and clean up will see a lot of dust. And two, directly behind the clock there is a system of weights which would be dangerous to work under: conditions wouldn’t meet safety standards.”
Some observers have complained it is poor timing to turn the Orloj off only shortly before the Easter holidays – a period when the number of tourists visiting the city is understandably high. But Karel Žbánek says when it comes to the renovations there were few better options:
“We hope to have the repairs completed by the 22nd of April which, if you look at the calendar, is right before the holidays. If we can shorten the time by even a little bit we will, but a lot depends on the masons. We are aware it’s not ideal but the problem is that – because of the condition of the walls inside – you have to wait for the right atmospheric conditions. We could only begin now. Postponing the date wouldn’t have helped: it would just push the work even further into the tourist season.”
The repairs underway will not involve any external changes to the Orloj, save one: repairs to a mechanical golden rooster who shares the top of the clock’s facade with the apostles. Karel Žbánek again:
“It is not so much a repair as it is as re-tuning. In 1945 the clock was damaged by a grenade explosion and repairs in 1945 and ’47 changed the motion of the rooster’s wings somewhat. The flapping became less visible and over time, and due to wear-and-tear is now completely imperceptible. We want to make the movement visible again so the whole experience is more attractive.”
Legend has it that the stopping of the Orloj heralds a tragedy or catastrophe for the Czech lands, something that specialists like Mr Žbánek readily discount. He and others point to the last time in 2005 when the Orloj was stopped for two months and ‘nothing happened’.
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