In my opinion, humankind’s fascination with clock towers does not really stem from the architecture of these magnificent edifices, but rather from time itself. Back in the day, when the vast majority of people didn’t have watches, the town’s clock tower served mainly a functional role and most clock towers were equipped with bells to signal the important upcoming events in the community. If we were to go further back in time, we would soon realize that man has become fascinated with time when he realized that there are “right times” for growing crops and harvesting.
As time passed by and Patek Phillippe invented the first wrist watch – which was later on improved by Louis Cartier – the need for the faithful clock towers became obsolete. Still, nowadays when everyone can easily learn the time by checking their watch or smartphone, the allure of clock towers remains just as powerful as in the past. Following is a list of the most famous clock towers worldwide, all charming buildings you should check out if you ever plan your holidays in those areas.
1. Big Ben
By far the most notorious clock tower in the world, the great bell located in the Northern part of the Westminster Palace in London has become a symbol for the United Kingdom, even greater than the red double-decker bus and the notorious black cabs. Built in 1858, Big Ben is still in the top 3 tallest clock towers in the world and it is also the world’s largest four-faced clock.
2. Spasskaya Clock Tower
Overlooking the heart of Russia, the famous Red Square, the Spasskaya or Kremlin Clock has had a turbulent history. Initially designed in 1491 by Pietro Solari, the clock itself was taken down repeatedly, only to be installed again with more appealing architectural details. However, it is important to note that the clock you see guarding the entrance to the Red Square today dates back to the early 1900s, when the tsar Nicolai was murdered by the Soviet Party.
3. Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower
While today the bell tower is a standalone landmark in Hong Kong, the Tsim Sha Tsui is a remnant of an impressive railway station, the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The remarkable edifice is 144 feet tall and you can only reach the top by climbing an interior wooden staircase. Sadly, while the tower was open for visits for several years, nowadays it is closed for maintenance. Nonetheless, the granite and red bricks construction is still worth checking out if you plan a visit to China.
If you are passionate about medieval architecture, then one monument you should place at the top of your itinerary is the Zytglogge clock tower in Switzerland. During its 800 years of existence, the Zytglogge has played many roles, from serving as the gate tower for the early Bern fortifications and a prison to being the focal point of civil memorials and urban life. Featuring impressive details, an astronomical dial, a frieze with ancient Greek gods and a facade with Roman numerals, the Zytglogge is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Switzerland.
5. Allen-Bradley Clock Tower
The landmark of Milwaukee, the Allen-Bradley clock tower has made it into the Guinness Book of records as the largest four-faced clock with an office addition. Because each of the facades has a diameter of over 40 feet and the distance between each hour is of about 16 feet, meaning twice the size of the emblematic Big Ben, the architect ruled against adding chimes to the clock.
6. Peace Tower
The Peace Tower governing the parliament building is for Canada what Big Ben is to the United Kingdom, a symbol and a landmark. Constructed after the Victoria Tower burned down, the Peace Tower is an imposing 302 feet tall edifice topped by a carillon with 53 bells installed immediately after the end of WW1. As previously mentioned, the Peace Tower is a distinctive icon and the fact that it appears on the 20 and 50 Canadian dollar bills stand proof of that.
7. Montreal Clock Tower
The famous clock tower in Montreal serves as a memorial for all the Canadian sailors who lost their lives in the First World War. The cornerstone of this fascinating edifice was laid by Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales at the time, and the first plans included a carillon of five bells that would chime every hour. While unfortunately the plans were never put into practice, it is necessary to mention that the Sailors’ Memorial Clock is the best place to be if you want a memorable view of the beautiful city of Montreal.
8. Rajabai Clock Tower
Modeled after Big Ben, the Rajabai in South Mumbai is among the most famous bell towers built in the British Raj era. Incorporating the Gothic and Venetian architectural styles, the facility is remembered in the history of India for the cost of the construction, namely 200,000 rupees, an excessive sum of cash for that period. An interesting fact about this tower is that back in its glory days, it was tuned to play 16 songs dedicated to England’s royal family. Nowadays, it has been closed to visitors due to the high number of suicide attempts and it is set to chime one tune every 15 minutes.
9. Mecca Clock Tower
The fact that the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower is currently the world’s tallest bell is not a surprise to anyone, especially since Saudi Arabia is renowned for ambitious sheikhs who are always eager to invest in impressive architecture. In fact, if it weren’t for the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai recently finished in 2011, the Royal Hotel hosting this breath-taking bell would have still held the title of the world’s largest facility.
10. Faisalabad Clock Tower
Pakistan’s notorious Faisalabad does not only stand proof of the British fascination with clock towers, but as the oldest building standing in its original location it also represents a historical monument. The Ghanta Ghar as dubbed by the locals takes us back to the time when Britain’s naval army was a force to be reckoned with, since it controlled most of the Southern parts of Asia.