If you look closely as the famous astronomical clock on the south wall of the Old Town City Hall, you will make out a skeleton representing death among the gothic sculptures.
A Czech local can tell you, with a twinkle in their eye, a bloody story of the clock’s creator, Jan Růže.
They might say that the counselors of Prague had Jan Růže’s eyes gouged out, so he would be unable to recreate similar marvels around Europe. And Jan Růže threw himself into the clock’s vast wheels and his mutilated bones splintered throughout the 365 cogs, stopping it working for hundreds of years.
Your guide will point out the figures of the apostles that adorn the astronomical clock. He will tell you that its mechanics and astronomical dial were created by Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, and that it was first repaired after 142 years of working order by Jan Taborský, a clock-master of Orloj.
If you dare to ask about Jan Růže, you guide will shake his head and tell you the story is a historical mistake, that it was fabricated by a Czech author of historical novels and plays called Alois JirÃsek.
You can look up Alois JirÃsek’s account of Jan Růže, which involves a hot poker and a blind Jan Růže breaking the clock’s mechanics; and his heart stopping at the same time as his beloved clock, so that the knowledge of how to repair it died with him.
Then you will have to decide which story to believe and what version of history matters most when we travel to foreign lands, the one written in history books, or the tales that stay in the hearts of the local people who inhabit them.
Jessica Lucy is an Australian freelance writer and novelist based in New York City