Part 2: The Prague Orloj and Old Town Square
The Charles Bridge was historically important for permanently linking the two sides of the town. Following the narrow, bustling cobbled path from the eastern gate will lead you to Prague’s Old Town Square. The square is metaphorically walled in by the large clock tower and the Tyn Cathedral. The latter is interesting for having two towers of different size, something which is not noticeable at first glance. The larger turret is said to represent the male; the smaller one embodies the female.
It can tell you a lot…if you understand how that kind of thing works, of course. To the untrained eye – mine – it just looks like lots of randomly assorted angles, lines and circles. I have been assured, however, that it does indeed work, making it the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. It is a little over 600 years old, and known to locals as the ‘Orloj’ (or-LOY).
People come to see the clock’s hourly animated display, during which the four things despised at the time of the clock’s construction (you can see one above) all shake their heads and the apostles glide along through hatches. Considering the hype and volume of people coming to watch, the ‘show’ seems to be a bit of a let-down. Whether that’s because our modern minds are used to seeing the spectacular on television or film is another matter.
What may be more fascinating, if a little bit gory, is the legend that accompanies this clock’s construction. It was believed that a man called Hanuš created the clock, astounding the city’s councillors with its wonder and beauty. So much so, in fact, that they blinded the poor man so that he could never make one just as impressive anywhere else. The price of success?
The square itself is always packed with throngs of eager, wide-eyed people. However, the volume increases drastically at this time of year. Many people visit Prague in December to experience her Christmas markets, the biggest of which dominates the Old Town Square.
The highlight of the markets isn’t the tacky, clichéd and overpriced souvenirs: it’s the atmosphere. The twinkling lights from the large tree illuminating the wooden stalls and their red roofs. Families of all ages cupping their hands around hot drinks and huddling to feel warm.
Many of them will also be sampling the ‘traditional’ Czech snack called Trdelnik. This is a hollow cinnamon roll, cooked and rotated slowly on a long tube before being dumped repeatedly in a mound of sugar. The ‘traditional’ snack is actually recognised as Hungarian and, though created and brought to the Czech Republic two centuries ago, has only recently come into fashion. As in the last decade. Hardly a ‘tradition’, but very tasty nonetheless.
Prague’s oldest district is a delight for all of the senses, especially when the Christmas markets are at their busiest. Just a short amble from the old takes you to the new: find out all about that district next time.
Love you all