Digital clock leaves Old Town Hall

An LED substitute for the Astronomical Clock has ended its service

Hundreds of thousands of people from Bohemia and abroad have seen the digital clock in Prague's Old Town Square, which was put up to take the place of the original Astronomical Clock while it is being restored.

The state of the repairs now requires the LED copy to be removed as well so the original can start to be put back. The original should be in place in September, once the final pieces are ready.

The LED copy was in operation for five months, from March 9 to Aug. 7. The large 5.56 by 3.84 meter LED screen weighed about one ton and used specially developed software to mimic the look of the movements of the Astronomical Clock. The clock face is an astrolabe that shows the time as well as the position of the Sun, earth and moon relative to the zodiac constellations.

“The virtual Astronomical Clock on the screen faithfully reproduced all the functions of the original machine — the spectacle of the movement of individual elements on the astronomical dial, the changing of the Apostles in the windows, and the accompanying sound effects, such as cock crowing or the ringing of Death’s bell,” Prague City Councilor Jan Wolf, responsible for culture, said on the City Hall website.

The temporary Astronomical Clock had an automatic brightness adjustment, allowing viewers to observe the clock in any condition.

The company BigMedia was behind the project and placed the LED screen on the Old Town Hall at its own expense.

“BigMedia came up with an offer to provide a spare clock for the city. I'm glad we were able to make the whole project so great. The total costs associated with securing this unique project climbed to Kč 1.5 million for our company. However, that was fully balanced the positive feedback from tourists who were grateful that they did not miss the experience of one of the most beautiful monuments in Prague even during the renovation of the Astronomical Clock,” Marek Pavlas, managing director of BigMedia, said.

The clock stopped on Jan. 8 and was completely dismantled for the first time since just after World War II. It was heavily damaged by fire in the last days of the war.

Parts of the clock were taken to different workshops. The repair of the Astronomical Clock is part of the renovation of the Old Town Hall tower, which started last April. The observation deck on top of the tower was closed but has been reopened. Parts of the interior were also fixed as they were in structurally poor shape. During the renovations, a time capsule was found and another was placed in a hidden spot.

Everything should be done by autumn, not later than the 100th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia on Oct. 28.

For the complete renovation, the city will pay approximately Kč 55 million without VAT. Work on the clock costs Kč 9.4 million.

The clock may look a little different, as the clock face over the years had been changed and the globe representing the earth on the astrolabe was also modernized at some point. The doors that the Apostles come out of used be stained glass, but recently have been made of wood.

Some of the details on the sculpted figures also have changed over the years.

Many of the changes date back to 1866, when the wheel painted by Josef Manes was also installed. The wheel will be replaced with a new copy of Manes’ original. Other changes date to the post-war years.

The final decisions on these details will be made by the Monument Care Department of Prague City Hall.

The Astronomical Clock was first built in 1410, redesigned in 1490 and again in 1552–72.

The clock underwent a large renovation in 1797–91, and the rotating Apostles were added around this time. Another repair took place in 1865–66, and the sound of the rooster was added. More repairs took place in 1912.

The clock was damaged by fire in 1945, and repairs took until 1948. The figures of Apostles also had to be replaced with new ones. At that time the colored background for the Astronomical Clock was replaced but with errors in the design. The errors were fixed in 1979. Further repairs took place 1984–86.

The Orloj, as it is also called, is the third-oldest Astronomical Clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. 

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