Rossana Colombo
Article by Rossana Colombo

A brand new fancy clock for the glorious Republic of Venice

Although personally I have never had a good relationship with clocks, maybe because they mark the inexorable passing of time, I must admit that clocks are among the highest symbols of human ingenuity. Since time immemorial, men have tried to measure time in order to organize social life, but in the Middle Ages mechanical clocks became the protagonists in cities, and the one in St Mark’s Square of Venice, is certainly one of the most fascinating clocks of the 15th century.

The Clock tower of Venice through the films

It’s exactly the same clock you would see in “Moonraker” in 1979, when James Bond after surviving a reckless boat chase along the Venetian canals, got into a fight with a bad guy right inside the Clock Tower: needless to say, our hero managed to defeat him by pushing him against the clock and the bad guy crashed on the floor in front of a band playing at a cafè below!

Moonraker, 1979
Moonraker, 1979

The small detail is that the clock face is not made out of glass, it’s made of lapis, a very strong precious stone: but this is Hollywood…

The two big stars of the Clock Tower of Venice

 If you arrive in St Mark’s Square when an hour is coming to its end, don’t be surprised to see everybody with their snout in the air: they’re looking at the famous “Do Mori” (two Moors) two huge statues so called because of the dark bronze they’re made of.

Venice, Clock tower, the 'Moors'
Venice, Clock tower, the ‘Moors’

Someone says they are two fishermen or primitive men reminding us of the perpetual and implacable passing of time.

At first glance, you might think there is something going wrong up there, since only one of the two actually moves. Never mind: that’s the old bearded guy, the one on the right, the symbol of the hour that almost over; the other one, on the left, the young guy symbol of the future will bang the hammer on the bell at the stroke of the new hour.

You know, they have always be together and they will always be, but they were not born to be synchronized.

The astronomical clock of Venice

In this ancient astronomical clock, the 24 hours are marked with Roman numbers, number one being on the right, while in the inner wheel you can see the signs of Zodiac. In the middle of the blue clock face, there is the Earth protagonist; the Moon revolves around it and around the Earth, But the interesting part of the story is that until the 17th century, five planets also revolved around the Earth Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury.

Venice, Clock tower, middle section
Venice, Clock tower, middle section

Only in 1609 a certain Galileo Galilei – you might have heard about him ;-) – came to Venice, he climbed our Bell Tower to show our Doge how his new telescope worked, time was ripe to definitively give up a geocentric vision of the universe, and the 5 planets were removed.

But the Sun on the pointer was preserved, so in fact the Sun still revolves around the Earth…but this is artistic license, isn’t it? We could not destroy the whole clock just because the theory turned out to be wrong!

A modern clock for Venice

 Have you noticed that in the 19th century digital clock, the hours are indicated with Roman numbers while the minutes, that change every 5 minutes, are indicated with Arabic numbers? Isn’t it strange?

Or maybe it is logical: just think you want to write the number 25, for instance, in Roman numbers: XXV, three figures, definitely too long to fit in the narrow little window of the Clock Tower!

Rossana Colombo