Venice’s most famous square, Piazza San Marco, is home to more than just the beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica and bell tower. Another attraction on the square is the Venice clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio, which makes up part of a building on the right side of the basilica. The base of the tower is an arched walkway to one of the main thoroughfares leading from the square, but before you walk through be sure to stop for a few minutes and look up.
The Torre dell’Orologio was built in the late 15th century, and the entire face of the tower is heavily decorated. The clock face features the 12 signs of the zodiac in a circle around the clock hand, and the 24 hours of the day are engraved in a circle around the golden zodiac signs. Because it’s a 24-hour clock, only one hand is needed – this hand has a large sun face toward the end. Above the clock face, there is what looks like a small balcony with a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. On either side of the statue, huge numbers display the hour (in Roman numerals) and minutes (in Arabic numerals). Another level up, you’ll see a statue of Venice’s patron saint, St. Mark, represented as a winged lion. Finally, atop the tower there are two big bronze statues, one on either side of the tower’s huge bell, which ring the hours on the bell.
The clock is always worth looking at, but on two days each year it’s even more interesting – on the Epiphany and Ascension Day, a procession of figures passes in front of the Virgin and Child on their little balcony. The three wise men and an angel playing the trumpet come out of a door on one side of the balcony and go back into the tower on the opposite side after bowing to the Virgin and Baby Jesus.
Many parts of the Torre dell’Orologio are original to the late 1490s, including the bell and the golden figures representing the zodiac. It’s possible to get a guided tour of Venice’s clock tower by booking in advance. You’ll climb the old staircase inside the building and come out on the roof terrace.