The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.
The oldest part of the Orloj, the mechanical clock and astronomical dial, dates back to 1410 when it was made by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, the latter a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University. Later, presumably around 1490, the calendar dial was added and clock facade decorated with gothic sculptures. In 1552 it was repaired by Jan Taborský, clock-master of Orloj, who also wrote a report on the clock where he mentioned Hanuš as maker of the clock.
The Orloj stopped working many times in the centuries after 1552, and was repaired many times. In the 17th century moving statues were added, and figures of the Apostles were added after major repair in 1865-1866.
The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 and especially May 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising, when Germans directed incendiary fire from several armored vehicles and an anti-aircraft gun to the south-west side of the Old Town Square in an effort to silence the provocative broadcasting initiated by the National Committee on May 5. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the Orloj and the calendar dial face made by Josef Mánes. The machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored by Vojtěch Sucharda, and the Orloj started working again in 1948, but only after significant effort.
Formerly, it was believed that the Orloj was constructed in 1490 by clockmaster Jan Růže (also called Hanuš); this is now known to be a historical mistake. A legend, recounted by Alois Jirásek, has it that the clockmaker Hanuš was blinded on the order of the Prague Councillors so that he could not repeat his work; in turn, he broke down the clock, and no one was able to repair it for the next hundred years. According to local legend the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy.