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When you come to Saint Mark’s Square, which you will have seen so many times on postcards and photos, among the hustle and bustle of life that goes on here and the most famous historic buildings in the city, you will instantly recognise what is one of the main symbols of Venice: the Torre dell’Orologio or, as it is also known, the Clocktower.
The five storeys of this tower, with its large astronomical clock on the front, are one of the most famous architectural landmarks of the city, and stand over an arch that is is the entrance to the street of the old Merceria, the main commercial street and authentic heart of Venice.
The clock, an authentic masterpiece of engineering and technology, marks the rhythm of life of the Venetians, who make their way through the hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists who stop to take photos of the architectural glories that can be found here.
The building can be dated within the Renaissance, and forms a central tower, built between 1496 and 1499 according to the plans of Mauro Codussi, and two side wings. Despite the beauty and harmony of these wings of the building, what really attracts our attention is undoubtedly the tower.
It has a clock face in blue and gold enamel, from the 15th century, and with its famous terraces, on the tallest of which a bell is held by two enormous statues. The Torre dell’Orologio constitutes a connecting link and architectural element of separation at the same time.
Although it may be difficult to understand, the clock unites, in such a sublime way that it seems symbolic, the considerable stylistic differences of the buildings in Saint Mark’s Square. Nevertheless, its 5 storeys, above the buildings that flank it, also mark a break in the Venetian landscape, or at least the end of an era.
It is well worth taking a closer look at the astronomical clock. Its marble face has the hours inscribed in Roman numerals. Inside, a concentric ring comprises the signs of the zodiac and the constellations, the names of the months and the numbers of days. Additionally, a disc smaller than the main face is responsible for marking the different lunar phases.
Its complex mechanism has been the object of several restoration processes and, today, the clock is not exactly as it was conceived in its origins. The tower and its clock suffered problems such as its aesthetic deterioration, but it also suffered technical breakdowns. The city’s local authorities worked out a painstaking restoration plan coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the building.
You may be lucky and coincide in Venice with the festival of the Epiphany or Ascension Day. If so, you will have the chance to witness a magnificent technological display. If you look carefully, you will see that on one of the storeys there is a statue of the Virgin and the Baby Jesus, framed in geometric motifs and flanked by two doors. Well, through these doors, the exquisite technology of the 15th century made a procession appear of the Three Kings of the Orient headed by an angel, who surrounded the Madonna and then returned into the building. This mechanism, like a prodigious cuckoo clock, due to its delicacy and complexity, deteriorated over time so that today the mechanism is only turned on twice a year.
As a culmination, the peak of the tower should be noted, where you can get to and enjoy a magnificent view of Venice and the lagoon. Its two massive bronze statues date from 1497 and were the work of Ambrogio della Ancore. The gigantic size is so that they can be admired from the ground, from where their proportions border on classical perception. A curiosity that may interest you is that the two figures are known in Venice as “The Moors”, due to the dark patina of the bronze.
The course of life and history of Saint Mark’s Square have been marked, for more than 500 years, by this tower and its clock. Behind a truly beautiful façade, the mechanisms full of wheels, motors, needles and weights still work so the clock can continue striking the hours and the days. Your only task here is to admire the beauty of the setting and let it take you away. Forget the time, let the Torre dell’Orologio worry about that.
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