Do you have the time?
By definition, astronomical clocks sound straightforward. They’re timepieces that, in addition to the standard time, also measure and display astronomical information including the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, the zodiac and sidereal time, which is time measured according to the position of the stars, not the sun.
By construction, astronomical clocks are much more complicated.
Like long-toed shoes and apple wine, these intricately designed and often imposingly large structures that combined art, engineering and a growing understanding of the complex universe around us, were all the rage in medieval Europe. And you better believe that these dazzling, horological statement/timepieces could almost always be found in the hottest spots in town: the town square or inside a large cathedral.
While the complex mechanics of astronomical clocks were impressive for the time, it was their eye-popping ornamentation that garnered much of the attention back then as they continue to do today. Many astronomical clocks produced from the 14th through the 16th centuries could be described as super-pious cuckoo clocks with a celestial bent. Crowds still gather for daily shows, which more often that not include a brief but mesmerizing parade of bell-ringing automatons representing saints, apostles and other religious figures. It’s during these crowd-drawing moments that these centuries-old clocks don’t just track time ... they truly come alive.
Amazingly, so many of these ancient astronomical clocks — clocks that have survived war, religious upheaval and the advent of the Swatch — are still very much ticking. A true testament to early European ingenuity, some early astronomical clocks have been functioning nonstop, with most of their original parts, for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
Along with a few newer additions, here are several hour-keeping, planet-tracking, works of medieval art that have stood the test of time — all the while keeping it, of course.