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Brno Astronomical Clock: a peculiar clock that commemorates a historic victory

4 min read

In 1645, near the last stage of the Thirty Years’ War, the city of Brno became popular across Europe because it managed to thwart a siege by the previously undefeated Swedish army, numbering 30.000 soldiers and led by General Lennart Torstenson, thanks to a a very brilliant tactic.
Even if the Swedes laid siege to the city for nearly three months, the citizens of Brno didn’t give up: facing a stalemate, the Swedish commanders decided to give up the siege if they wouldn’t manage to conquer the city before noon.
So, the defenders had a brilliant idea: they ordered that church bells toll at 11.00, i.e. one hour earlier. Thank to this stratagem of the commander of the city’s defending garrison, Louis Raduit de Souches, Špilberk Castle defense commander Georg Jacob Ogilvy, as well as spiritual support from Father Martin Streda and particularly thanks to the bravery and efforts of citizens of Brno, the Swedish did not succeed. The general kept his word, and the Swedes packed their weapons and turned home.
According to the legend, General Torstenson was immortal. The only way to kill him was by a glass ball that had been cast at midnight by means of a special magic ritual. This local story is probably to explain the large number of glass marbles inside the obelisk that make its carillon chime at regular intervals.

To commemorate this historic victory, the Brno Astronomical Clock monument was erected near náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square) in the city center. It took three years of work and cost around 12 million Czech crowns, but it does not tell the right time, which is why it has been called “astronomical” although it is a simple clock.
Since its inauguration, in 2010, the tall, phallic-like object has been called a giant vibrator and even the country’s most expensive penis.
At 11 o’clock every day, the shiny black marble obelisk (meant to resemble a bullet, even if the phallic shape bears a controversial resemblance to something else…) releases a glass marble which spectators can take from one of the four openings of the monument and take them with them as a souvenir. But people never know which part of the clock the ball is going to emerge from. The first ball to come out was lost when people standing by failed to catch it before it disappeared back inside the clock. Brno City Museum, which wanted to keep the first glass ball adorned with the city’s coat of arms, therefore had to wait for another.

As for the difficulty with telling the time, Petr Kameník, one of clock’s ideators says the clock is in a place where time has a different pace.
You need exact time at a train station and places like that. But in the city’s historic centre where people might want to stop and talk or just hang around in the square, I think that time should be measured differently. Not mentioning the fact that it does give the time although it’s a bit complicated to figure it out.”

But…how to read the time?
It is measured by two uppermost stone pieces that rotate continuously. Ageless method that have proved effective for centuries are used to show time: optical lens and gearwheels. The gearwheels move the stone and glass pieces, as well as the stainless display. At exactly eleven o’clock, all the revolving pieces aligns to form a symbolical ball that ia framed by the number that is displayed in the very centre of the glass. The numbers move continuously from left to right. The upcomining top of the hour appear from the left, while the previous one disappears to the right. The small mark is in the middle at exactly “half past”. The uppermost glass piece represents the minutes display that makes a 360-degree tutn in one hour. If the disk is tilted towards you (away from the obelisk) it denotes the top of the hour. It turns left to right, as the display. Hence, if it faces to the right it is “quarter past”. If it faces the obelisk itself, it is “half past”. If it faces to the left, it is “quarter to” and if it faces you, it is once again the top of the hour. It is just like a clock hand that you look at from the side. The entire top of the obelisk makes a 360-degree turn in one minute at the moment when the glass prisms intersect. So complicated…

Sources: Wikipedia, Radio Praha and me.
Photos by Anya (Random-Times.com)

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