In 2006 a remarkable Venetian landmark emerged from eight years under scaffolding. Built at the end of the fifteenth century by architect Mauro Codussi, the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) in St. Mark’s Square actually took less time to construct than it did to restore five hundred years later. The interior of the tower is open to the public, but only through small guided tours, so it’s worth booking ahead. It is located on the north side of St. Mark’s Square.
About the Clock Tower
The tower is an elaborate affair, with complicated systems for displaying the time, the sun, the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Before the eighteenth century, our tour guide tells us, the face of the clock also showed the planets revolving around the Earth. An arch through the base of the tower leads to the Mercerie, Venice’s historic commercial streets, so this archway was designed as an impressive entrance to visitors arriving from the lagoon.
Above the blue clock face, a statue of the Madonna stands between two large displays showing the time to the nearest five minutes in numerals. During the tour, you should be able to see the ‘minutes’ display changing from the inside as a large painted barrel revolves. Twice a year these numerals disappear and are replaced by doorways through which moving statues of the Magi plus an angel appear to worship Mary and Christ. This happens during Ascension Week and at Epiphany. The rest of the year the wooden statues are stored inside the tower, waiting for engineers to come and attach them to their conveyor belt.
The top storey is decorated with a carved winged lion – there used to be a doge in the adjacent space, but the relief was removed when the doges lost their authority.
The clock tower is topped by a large bell, which is struck every hour by two large bronze figures, known as Moors (Mori), although a more recent theory is that they were intended as Cain and Abel. The statues are cast in two parts, and the clock’s mechanism moves their upper bodies as they ring the bell. Although you’re not permitted to ascend the tower while the bell is ringing, you can get a closer look at the stationary statues from the terrace on top of the Torre dell’Orologio. You’ll be given plenty of time up here to admire the superb views over Venice’s rooftops, St. Mark’s Square and, on a clear day, to the edges of the lagoon and even the mountains. Useful signs identify the city’s landmark churches and towers.
Check the latest ticket and tour information on the official website. At the time of writing guided tours take place in English, Italian and French. There are only a few tours a day in each language, and places on the tours are very limited so it’s a good idea to book ahead. In January, during Venice’s quiet season, there were only two tourists on a weekday English-language tour, but we wouldn’t advise leaving it to chance if you have your heart set on climbing the tower.
You can book at the ticket desk of Museo Correr, at the other end of St. Mark’s Square. This is also the meeting point before the tour, which lasts approximately 45 minutes. Spaces in the tower are small, and some of the spiral stairs are very narrow – the museum warns the infirm, unfit or pregnant not to attempt the tour, and they ban children under six. Big bags are also not a good idea. The ticket also gives access to the Museo Correr / Museo Archeologico complex. It may be possible to arrange extra tours, but you’ll need twelve members in your group, or at least to pay the equivalent of twelve tickets.
Further information and online booking can be found on the Musei Civici website.
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