Europe is called the ‘Old Continent’ for its long history – which has also been cruel and gruesome more times than not. However, the centuries haven’t only given us wars and misery, they’ve also left us with culture and beauty. There are many European cities with iconic clock towers that used to serve a pretty clear purpose: telling people the time! And, while nowadays we don’t use them for that anymore, the clock towers in Europe have become architectural and historical landmarks of their cities, silent testimonies of the years passing and of the events that have taken place under them.
One of Kraków’s most unique and singular Christmas traditions is the popular creation of ‘Christmas cribs’ or ‘szopki.’ While many churches across the country display elaborate nativity scenes during the holiday season, ‘szopki krakowskie’ (as the local variety are called) are so idiosyncratic to Kraków, that they were just added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Something of a strange cross between a nativity scene, gingerbread house and garish dollhouse, szopki krakowskie are the bizarre result of a slowly evolving folk tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Probošt’s mechanical Christmas crib, also known as Bethlehem of Třebechovice or Probošt’s Nativity Scene of Třebechovice, is a wooden mechanical nativity scene that was made by Josef Probošt (1849–1926), Josef Kapucián (1841–1908) and Josef Friml (1861–1946).
The nativity scene (creche) created by Tomáš Krýza (in Czech Krýzovy jesličky) is a large mechanical construction, since 1998 mentioned in Guinness Book of World Records as the largest one in the world.
You may find it hard to believe, but what you’re seeing in the picture above is actually a self-operating, programmable machine, capable of writing letters and words with a quill pen, that’s still functioning after a quarter of a millennium.
From the late Middle Ages to the Baroque, Habsburg emperors and archdukes collected exotic and uncommon materials, to which they often ascribed magical powers, such as precious stones, ostrich eggs, coral and shark’s teeth, which were considered to be dragon’s tongues. From these natural products, artists created virtuoso works of art.
The history of Barrel organs’ creation extends back over several hundred years. Historians from different countries are still arguing about where and how this mechanism and its design was invented.
Sublime Dreams of Leaving Machines Part VI. An over 200-year-old timepiece-automaton adorned with golden mechanical birds, which still sing to this day.
Sublime Dreams of Living Machines. Part V. Made by Hans Schlottheim in German, in about 1585, the central figure of the galleon is the Holy Roman Emperor, surrounded by seven noblemen. When the clockwork mechanisms were wound, the ship moved forward over the table and they bowed in front of the Emperor. Miniature figures of the trumpeters and drummers on the deck moved in time to music that was generated by an internal organ and drum. The front canon also fired, lighting a fuse which in turn fired the canons on each side of the ship. The display finished in a cloud of smoke and must have been breathtaking to a 16th-century audience.
Sublime Dreams of Living Machines. Part IV. One of the most interesting clocks, as well as one of the most representative of clockmaking during the transition from the late 16th to the early 17th century, is this rather spectacular automaton of Diana On Her Chariot, as it’s called.