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Architecture

5 Famous Clock Towers That Stand the Test of Time

By Fiona Mokry
Read time: 0 minutes

These days, it’s easy to glance at your watch or phone to tell the time, but long ago, clock towers were a necessary feature of most towns and cities. While the earliest examples date to ancient Greece, mechanical clock towers became prevalent in medieval Europe and, though they serve more of an ornamental purpose, continue to be constructed today. From recording-breaking modern structures to quirky post-Soviet landmarks, these five timeless clock towers are some of the most famous in the world.

St. Mark’s Clock Tower – Venice, Italy

St. Mark's Clock Tower in Venice, Italy
Photo credit: Inu/ Shutterstock

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), Venice’s grand central square, has been the city’s main gathering place since the ninth century. The sheer size of the plaza, along with the intricate architecture of its surrounding buildings such as Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San Marco, make it a favorite among visitors today. 

Not to be missed is St. Mark’s Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio), another architectural marvel commissioned in 1493. Constructed of marble, the clock face is quite complex, and it is used for more than telling time. Encircled with Zodiac signs, constellations, month names, and numbers of days, the clock operates several rotating interfaces to display the hour, date, and phases of the moon. The clock tower — a focal point of Venice for centuries — sits high above an archway that leads from St Mark’s Square to the Mercerie, the city’s main commercial district. 

Big Ben – London, England

Big Ben clock tower along Thames River in London, England
Photo credit: Alexey Fedorenko/ Shutterstock

Most people know this famous English clocktower as Big Ben, but its real name is the Elizabeth Tower. Before it was renamed in 2012 to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, the iconic 315-foot tower along the Thames River was simply known as the Clock Tower. A structure has existed here, overlooking the Palace of Westminster, in various forms since the 14th century. Londoners affectionately started referring to its large bell as “Big Ben” in the 1850s in honor of Sir Benjamin Hall, who first raised the bell into the tower. The name eventually became a general term for the entire clock tower.

Today, Big Ben is one of the most famous clock towers in the world, attracting about 5 million visitors annually with its dominating presence and Gothic Revival architecture. A 334-step climb up the stone-and-brick tower yields uninterrupted views over the Thames River and the skyline of London. 

Makkah Clock Royal Tower – Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Photo credit: Nurlan Mammadzada/ Shutterstock

Part of Abraj Al-Bait, a multi-towered skyscraper complex near the Great Mosque of Mecca, the Makkah Clock Royal Tower rises to a staggering 1,972 feet. The adjoining complex houses 16 million square feet of retail space, residential apartments, hotels, and a prayer area big enough for 1,000 people. The Clock Towers, just one of the complex’s hotels, accommodates 4 million guests per year. 

Since its construction in 2012, the complex and clock tower have earned several Guinness World Records, including the world’s largest building by capacity and the world’s tallest clock tower. The clock face is also the biggest in the world, measuring 140 feet across, with the minute hand alone measuring 75 feet long. It’s said you can read the time from over 10 miles away.

Ghanta Ghar – Jodhpur, India

Jodhpur Clock Tower in Jodhpur, India
Photo credit: Richie Chan/ Shutterstock

The Jodhpur Clock Tower (also known as Ghanta Ghar) isn’t known for its height nor size, but rather its detailed architecture and the same enchanting salmon color found throughout the region of Rajasthan. The 60-foot clock tower was constructed in the late 19th century by Maharaja Sardar Singh, who chose to use sandstone so the clock tower would blend with the historic Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India and located behind it. 

The clock tower’s location in the heart of Jodhpur’s Sardar Market — known for its handicrafts and spice — makes it a lively and frequently visited spot by both locals and tourists alike. While the tower’s color is perhaps its standout feature, it’s actually Jodhpur’s sister city Jaipur that’s known as “the Pink City” for its prevalence of pink-colored buildings. Jodhpur, on the other hand, is known as “the Blue City” — many of its residents paint their homes blue as a way to keep their homes cool in the extreme heat, and as an ode to Lord Shiva.  

Rezo Gabriadze Theatre Clock Tower – Tbilisi, Georgia 

Rezo Gabriadze Theatre Clock Tower in Tbilisi, Georgia
Photo credit: ARK NEYMAN/ iStock

The crooked clock tower outside the Rezo Gabriadze Theatre in the heart of Old Tbilisi draws in many curious onlookers with its unusual appearance. An off-kilter tower of randomly placed blocks covered in tiles leans casually on a steel beam that seemingly props up the entire structure, presenting the appearance of something haphazardly constructed. 

But in fact, the clock tower was purposefully built this way in 2010 by Rex Gabriadze, the architect behind the marionette theater next to it. Gabriadze constructed the theater and clock tower from refurbished materials he sourced throughout Tbilisi’s Old Town. The construction of the theater took 30 years, and today, it — along with the clock tower — has become a highlight of the Georgian capital. Each hour, an angel comes out to ring the bell with a small hammer.

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