Guardians of time: fascinating stories about Moscow's most unique clocks

June 1

Who invented the clock with a rotating dial, where in Moscow can you find a rooster telling time, and why was a sundial installed on Nikolskaya Street? The Moscow Committee for Tourism and the #MoscowWithYou cultural project share fascinating stories of the capital's most unusual and famous clocks.   

The world's only fully mechanised clock

Moscow's first mechanical clock on Spasskaya Tower, the Kremlin's main tower, was installed in the 17th century under supervision of British engineer and clockmaker Christopher Galloway. The design was notable for its rotating dial instead of hands. Soon, the chimes on Spasskaya Tower began playing various melodies.

In the late 19th century, a decision was made to install a new clock on Spasskaya Tower. To turn the project into reality, the bells were brought from Borovitskaya and Troitskaya towers, and a mechanism was created to start moving the revolving cylinder to play melodies, the first one being the March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment.    

After the 1917 revolution, the clock chimed The Internationale anthem. After a nearly 60-year silence due to mechanical issues, the chimes on the Kremlin's main tower started playing melodies again in 1996. They included Mikhail Glinka's Patriotic Song and Glory, Glory to You, Holy Rus!, the final choir song in the epilogue of his opera A Life for the Tsar. In 2000, the Patriotic Song was replaced with the national anthem of the Russian Federation.

The Spasskaya Tower clock face has a diameter of over six metres; the hour hand is nearly three metres long and the minute hand is 3.27 metres long. The mechanism is powered by three weights, with the heaviest weighing 224 kilograms. The Spasskaya Tower clock is unique as it is the only clock in the world that is fully mechanised.

The unusual numeral 4 and current time in any location

The building of Moscow's Central Telegraph boasts a clock that may seem an ancient oddity. The black and white face has Roman and Arabic numerals, with the numeral 4 written as IIII in the Roman numeric system instead of the common IV. The explanation is simple: IIII was used for 4 until the 19th century. The clock dial is lit in the evenings, making it easy to see what time it is. Back in the day, people leaned it by the sounds of the chiming bell. Interestingly, it is recognised as Moscow's most accurate clock.

Moscow's Manezhnaya Square has the World Clock Fountain, with a shopping mall located underground. The fountain dome is divided into 24 sectors and makes a full rotation every 24 hours. The fixed lower ring has 12 lamps, each marking five minutes. To learn the current time in any location on the globe, you have to find a city on the map, see the lower numeral indicating the hour, and learn the minutes by multiplying the number of the lit lamps by five.

The smartest clock and a puppet performance 

The building of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Leninsky Prospekt is dubbed the 'golden brains' due to the decoration on its roof – but it is not the only thing that attracts attention: there is also a clock whose history is rather interesting. A decision was made to install it on the academy building in the mid-1980s. However, because of a shortage of funding to complete the work, the device remained non-operational for over 20 years. The clock was re-launched with its original design only in 2017.

In 1970, the building of the Obraztsov Central Puppet Theatre was decorated with a wonderfully designed clock, with a rooster crowing loudly every hour and a figure of a fairy-tale character appearing from a small home on the facade and a melody of the folk song In the Garden and In the Orchard playing. At noon, all 12 puppets appear from their homes. It has been nearly 50 years since the clock was installed, and every day people gather in front of the theatre at noon to see the magical performance.

Interestingly, the rooster on the puppet theatre clock used to crow at night as well, but, upon a request from local residents, it now tells the hours only during daytime.   

Sundial and golden clock face

The high-rise main building of Moscow State University can be seen from far away. Its spire is part of the city’s skyline along with the Ostankino Tower and the high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. The university’s main building is surrounded on all four sides by towers decorated with a thermometer, a barometer, and Europe's largest clocks. The clock faces are nine metres in diameter, the minute hands are 4.2 metres long and the hour hands are 3.7 metres long. The clock looks like it is sparkling gold; this effect is actually produced by the golden glass to which the numerals are attached. During the early years, wardens had to walk up to the 25th floor every day to start the clock, but since 1957 the device has been powered by an electric motor.

The pseudo-Gothic building of the Synodal Printing House on Nikolskaya Street, which now houses Moscow State Institute for History and Archives, is decorated with a sundial. Back when the printing yard was built, sundials were all the rage.


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