Telling time is hardly the role of clock towers anymore. But they can still draw a crowd. Take the face of Chicago's Wrigley Building. While there are no official numbers on how many visits its clock tower gets, the Windy City did see 42 million visitors in 2012, many of whom probably spent time downtown taking in the city's architectural highlights, including this 1920s icon.
Photo by: Simone A. Bertinotti
A well-placed clock can remind you where you are and, in some cases, even push you along to where you're going. The train station clock in Limoges, France, used to run two minutes early to encourage passengers to keep moving along swiftly to catch their trains. In Saudi Arabia, the newest clock tower in the world reminds people when to pray.
All of this information conveyed by a clock-time, location, scheduling-is why clock towers were placed at the site of important historical events or built as part of city walls or part of transit systems such as train stations. Over time, several of the world's clock towers have become more than timepieces: they're landmarks synonymous with their locations.
The most famous, of course, is London's Big Ben, now officially called the Elizabeth Tower. Karen Clarkson, vice president, North America, at VisitBritain, describes it as "one of the most iconic and recognizable features of the Palace of Westminster," and anyone who's ever seen it would have to agree. "Its political significance, dazzling architecture, and rich history ensure it's one of the must-see sights in London, and it's easy to see why it sits atop the lists of the most photographed sights in the world," Clarkson said.
Often, a clock tower sits the heart of the city and served as town centers when they were first built. Such was the case with Leicester's Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower in the U.K. as well as the Zytglogge Tower in Bern, Switzerland. It's likely most of the 413,920 visitors to Bern in 2012 saw the clock at some point.
Regardless of whether you seek them out or not, these beautiful clock towers are emblems of their cities and help out-of-town visitors get their bearings far from home.