Oldest Clock Towers in Europe

The history of clock towers is a long one, to say the least. Historians believe that the first clock tower was the Tower of the Winds in Athens built by the Romans in 1 BC. Afterward, the oldest clock towers appear in China in the 11th century and in England in the 13th century. While today they are mainly sights for the eyes, in those times they served as the only measure of the time the commoners had and a symbol of the monarch’s authority.

tower of the winds one of the oldest clock towers
Jason Crowe

Palazzo Vecchio / Italy

In the 13th century, the people of Florence wanted a palace that can protect the city while looking magnificent as well. As they got to work, the result of it was the Palazzo Vecchio. In the following years, specifically in the 14th century, they added a clock tower as well. This clock tower was the first of its kind in Florence.

palazzo vechhio one of the oldest clock towers

Vecchio Clock Tower is one of the oldest clock towers in Italy and Europe. The street of the tower is called Oriuolo Street because “oriuolo” means clock in the Florence dialect. Arguably the most interesting part of the clock tower is that it has only one hand. Due to its design, many people think that the clock tower does not work or simply lost its other hand.

palazzo vecchio between two buildings
Dario Nardella

Big Ben / England

One of the biggest icons of London is Big Ben, for sure. It took the city 16 years to build it as from 1843 to 1859 Londoners worked nonstop to finish it. While it looks like it is respectively a recent example, what makes Big Ben one of the oldest clock towers in Europe is that long before Big Ben there was a clock tower in its place.

big ben one of the oldest clock towers

Some very old records suggest that in the 13th century, there was a clock tower near the palace in the area where Big Ben is today. In the 15th century, Henry VI gave the management of the tower to a consul of deans in exchange for monthly pensions. The name of the clock tower before Big Ben was either Old Tom or Great Tom.

big ben during evening
PT Quynh Anh

Spasskya Tower / Russia

During the reign of Ivan the Great, in the 15th century, the eastern side of Kremlin Palace needed fortifications. Spasskya Tower was the starting point of these efforts. The tower served as the main entrance to Kremlin. Moreover, the gateway was only available to the head of state and high-ranking officials but even they had to dismount and take off their hats as a sign of respect.

spasskya tower one of the oldest clock towers

Spasskya means “the savior’s” because people believed that the tower had magical powers and would protect Kremlin for centuries. At the top of the tower, there is a clock which is 6 meters tall. The clock is the official time of Moscow and tells people the time of the new year as well. Apparently, the tower was one of Stalin’s favorite places as he himself ordered the installation of the red star on top of it.

spasskya tower from afar
Pavel Ogorodnikov

Old Town Hall Tower / Czech Republic

The Old Town Hall in Prague is famous for two different clock towers. The mechanical one was the work of an architect from Charles University. While the mechanical clock is as historically important as it gets, the real beauty of the tower is the astronomical clock or the Prague Orloj which was built in 1410 together with the other one.

old town hall tower one of the oldest clock tower
Hans Peter Schaefer

The Orloj is an example of a rare clock tower design. It has three different main components representing different concepts. The first one operates by showing the sun and the moon in their different phases. The second one represents various Christian saints and Death moving to and away from each other. Lastly, the third one shows the months of the year through different medallions.

old tower hall sun dial
Filip Zajac