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Astronomical clock Prague

Ringing in the New Year

Ringing in the New Year

Europe’s tower clocks oversee the countdown to 2021

Due to lockdown restrictions across Europe, the approaching New Year looks set to be celebrated in a uniquely taciturn way. The cheering, kissing and drinking crowds of yore may be gone, but the countdown is on, and Time’s trusted sentinels, the historical tower clocks, will again ring in the New Year with a message of hope. Meet three of Europe’s emblematic timekeepers. 

Real Casa de Correos clock, Madrid

Puerta del Sol, the semi-circular square in the centre of Madrid, hosts the official symbol of the city, Oso y Madroño - statue of a bear sniffing at a strawberry tree. But what dominates the much visited square is Casa de Correos, now home to Madrid’s regional government.

Looking down to the pavement in front of the building’s main entrance, you will spot a stone slab marking Kilometre 0, the point from which all major radial roads in Spain diverge. And looking up, you’ll catch a glimpse of a clock inaugurated by Queen Isabella II in 1866 that has become a modern-day TV star.

Real Casa de Correos

The Real Casa de Correos clock is the hub of a tradition which sees thousands flocking to the square to usher in the New Year by eating 12 lucky grapes to the clock’s twelve chimes at midnight. Of the many theories tracing the origin of this tradition, the most popular one looks back to 1909, a year in which wine producers from Levante got rid of their surplus crops by coaxing people that eating grapes on New Year’s Eve would bring them good luck. And this habit turned out to be highly contagious.

Big Ben, London

Big Ben, the tower clock chiming above the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, is the uncontested emblem of London. Cracks and wars have caused its companion bells to fall silent more than once, but the clock, built in 1859, has kept its pinpoint accuracy at all times, even throughout World War II. A stack of coins placed on the clock’s enormous pendulum ensure the steady movement of its hands.  

1962 saw a breach of this punctuality. Snow that had piled up on the bells delayed their movement, causing Big Ben to ring in the New Year ten minutes late.  

For three years now, Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben has been subject to extensive renovation. Recently, the scaffolding around the roof of the tower was removed and the famous clock became visible once again.

Big Ben

Astronomical Clock, Prague

Shrouded in Gothic mysteries, the Old Town Square in Prague is a must-visit landmark and the most popular gathering place for New Year revellers. For good reason, as the location boasts probably the most accomplished astronomical clock in the world, installed in the tower of the Old Town Hall.

The 1380 masterpiece of clockmaker Mikuláš from Kadaň (allegedly blinded by City councillors so as not to repeat his extraordinary creation elsewhere) has four moving automatons and revolving statues of the 12 apostles, displays four different timescales, including Babylonian time, and traces the journey of the moon and the sun through the zodiac.

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