Before there were wristwatches, and certainly before there were cellphones, centrally located clock towers helped citizens keep track of time. A big bell in the tower (like Big Ben in London) chimed the hour, and a large clock face provided a visual aid.
Nowadays, people don’t depend on clock towers to tell time, of course. But the structures are a beautiful testament to the history of timekeeping and to architectural styles of bygone days.
The Turkish Ottomans constructed more than 100 clock towers throughout the empire in honor of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1901. Six of them were built in what was then Palestine — in Jaffa, Acre (Akko), Jerusalem, Haifa, Safed (Tzfat) and Nablus (Shechem).
Israel Post issued postage stamps in 2004 depicting Zina and Zvika Roitman’s illustrations of five Israeli clock towers. These structures are picturesque backgrounds for a selfie, but don’t set your watch to the clocks because they are no longer reliable timekeepers.
Jaffa clock tower
The most famous — and most photographed — clock tower in Israel stands in Clock Square at the seam of the Jaffa section of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality. It was completed in 1903 with contributions from Arab and Jewish residents of Jaffa, then a separate city.
Recently, Israel Antiquities Authority conservators unveiled the restoration and reinforcement of the marble seal (tughra) of the sultan on the Jaffa clock tower.
Not only had the marble long since lost its original color so that it was no longer possible to identify the relief, but the seal’s plaque, hanging 12 meters above the sidewalk at Clock Square, was in danger of falling.
This seal, located on the tower’s southern side, was the last of four to be preserved on the structure. In 2001, three glass replicas of the sultan’s seal were installed in place of the other marble plaques, which did not survive the test of time.
The southern seal was chiseled off and transferred to the IAA conservation laboratory in Jerusalem, where conservator Mark Avrahami made it a new support and accentuated the seal with pigments.
Jerusalem clock tower
The Jerusalem clock tower at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, finished in 1907, was the last one constructed by the Ottomans and the only one no longer standing. It was demolished by British Mandate officials in 1922, according to Yehuda Levanony, author of a book about the Ottoman clock towers in Israel.
Acre (Akko) clock tower
Built above the Khan El-Umdan, an inn constructed in 1784, the four-story Acre clock tower had four clocks, each of which was replaced in 2001. One clock face features Hebrew letters, another Arabic numbers, a third Roman numerals and the fourth regular numbers.
Haifa clock tower
This ornamented six-story clock tower in downtown Haifa was built in front of the El-Jarina mosque, which originally stood next to the Ottoman government’s Saraya administrative center in Haifa. Once upon a time it boasted four clocks but today has only the remnants of a single replacement clock.
Safed clock tower
Built above the Saraya, the 1880s Ottoman government complex near Safed’s Old City, this four-story clock tower has four clocks on the third level, which were replaced in 2002. The tower’s original bell, on the top level, rings every half hour. The Safed tourist office is one of several entities located in the building today.