Over time, clock towers have become known as works of art that adorn cities rather than practical structures for telling the time. Still, aside from aesthetic value, they still serve practical purposes. Before the 19th century, most households did not have a clock and even until the beginning of the 20th century, most people did not have a watch.
Clock towers long existed in Ottoman lands, but their number increased in the 19th century. Sultan Abdülhamid II was very interested in them in particular. He started a campaign to erect a clock tower in every city. As he had many clock towers built in Istanbul and other cities, he encouraged politicians and local wealthy people to build clock towers in their own cities.
Thus, 144 clock towers were built in Ottoman territory. Today, 72 of them are located outside the borders of Turkey. Most of them were destroyed over time or due to the negligence and carelessness of people. Currently, only 52 of them remain standing in Turkey.
The clock towers were not only constructed in big cities. You can see them even in tiny Anatolian towns. The sultan, who made a habit of living an orderly and punctual life, wanted to instill this habit in his subjects. With their architectural features, clock towers became part of the silhouettes of cities and constituted a meeting point for social activities. The clock towers served as a symbol of the weakening authority of the state, as well as a tool to inform the public of the time. On the clock tower built by Governor Abidin Pasha in the southern city of Adana in 1882, Fani Efendi wrote a poem that reads:
“A spectacular work that has no peer, no equal
Seemingly the clock rings, spiritually the government calls”
There were clock towers before Sultan Abdülhamid II as well. The Nusretiye Clock Tower, built by Sultan Abdülmecid in 1849, is the oldest in Istanbul.
In 1798, Grand Vizier Izzet Mehmed Pasha had the first bell clock tower built on a hill overlooking his hometown of Safranbolu, a town in the Black Sea province of Karabük. This old model clock is unique and is still functional today.
The most famous one, however, is the Dolmabahçe Clock Tower in the Beşiktaş district in Istanbul. Since it is in the square and next to Dolmabahçe Palace, people love to take pictures in front of it. The clock tower, which was built by Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1895, also has a thermometer that shows the weather in a way that the public can understand.
The elegant Hamidiye Clock Tower, which was built in 1890 in front of the Yıldız Mosque in Beşiktaş, is also famous for its thermometer and wind rose; unfortunately, the clock no longer works.
Almost all of the clock towers in Anatolia are works of art built by bureaucrats. The Balıkesir Clock Tower built by Giridizade Mehmet Pasha in 1827 is one of the first examples of this style in Anatolia. It is similar to the Galata Tower.
Beşiktaş Guard Yedisekiz Hasan Pasha, who managed to prevent a coup attempt with his stick and gained the trust of Sultan Abdülhamid II, built a clock tower in his hometown Çorum, northern Turkey in 1894, the bells of which could be heard even from nearby villages.
In the southwestern province of Muğla, the Muğla Clock Tower was built by Greek masters in 1885 with the help of the mayor. The poet Hakkı wrote its epitaph, which reads:
“Carrying a pocket watch is needed by no one
With the echo of its sound, time is grasped by everyone”
The clock for the clock tower built by Governor Abdurrahman Pasha in Kastamonu in northern Turkey in 1885 was transported from Istanbul. The story goes that the clock struck at the wrong time while in Istanbul’s Sarayburnu neighborhood, and a lady even lost her child out of fear. The clock was repaired but could not escape exile.
When the wooden clock tower of Mudurnu, a town in the Bolu province, burned down, a new clock tower was built with the stones of the ruined Mudurnu Castle in 1891. The clock of the tower, which was built by prisoners, was made by the blacksmith of the town.
The clock of the tower built in 1895 by Feyzullah Ağa, one of the notables in Tarsus, a district in the southern province of Mersin, was brought from Europe when the noble who commissioned it was awarded with the order of the Medjidie (a military and civilian order of the Ottoman Empire).
The expenses of the pink granite clock tower of Çanakkale in western Turkey dated 1897 were covered by the Italian consul of the time. There is a fountain in front of it.
The Izmir Clock Tower, which was built in 1901 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne, is one of the most elegant of its kind and the symbol of the city. The clock of this tower, which does not work anymore, was gifted to sultan by German Emperor Wilhelm II. The four fountains on the four sides of the tower form the structure's most distinctive characteristic.
There are also clock towers that were not built for this purpose. The oldest clock tower in Anatolia still standing today was built as a watchtower in the eastern city of Erzurum in 1174. The clock face was added just before the Crimean War of 1854. Since the Russians dismantled this clock, another clock, a gift from the British government, was fitted in 1877.
The bell tower from the Crusaders in the courtyard of the Great Mosque in the southeastern city of Urfa was converted into a clock tower in 1927.
The chimney of an old factory dated 1896 in the Silifke district of the southern city of Mersin has been a clock tower since 2005 and is called the Hacıpaşa Clock Tower.
Clock towers outside the borders of Turkey, from Tirana to Beirut, from Belgrade to Jaffa, testify to the glorious past of Ottoman civilization with all their elegance and splendor. Like the minarets of mosques, each one is like an index finger reaching to the sky.
The clock tower in Skopje dates from 1577 and the one in Bitola from 1664. The clock tower in Podgorica built in 1667 by the Ottoman governor Abdi Pasha is one of the oldest in Europe and is still standing. The clock tower on the Istanbul gate of the Belgrade walls was built by the Venetian architect Andrea Cornaro in the 17th century.
The clock tower in Tirana from 1822 was commissioned by the 19th-century Ottoman Albanian administrator Hacı Edhem Bey. About 30 of the clock towers built by local administrators and notables since the 16th century are still standing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The oldest is the tower of Ferhat Pasha Mosque in the city of Banja Luka (1579).
In Iraq, the Mosul Clock Tower (1882) was also the bell tower of a church. The clock towers built by Sultan Abdülhamid II add a unique elegance to Syria’s Damascus and Aleppo. In Lebanon, the Hamidiye Clock Tower from this period is the symbol of Beirut.
The clock tower, “Burc-i Osmani,” built by the people of Tripoli in Lebanon to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne, still shows the time without fail.
In Palestine, six clock towers, all of which are relics of Sultan Abdülhamid II's rule, are still standing in Jaffa, Haifa, Akka, Safed and Nablus.
The elegant clock tower in Jerusalem was destroyed by the British in 1922. Although it was promised that it would be rebuilt upon the public's reaction, it never materialized.
By the way, an Ottoman clock tower adorns one of the squares of Mexico City, Mexico. It was built in 1910 in the Maghreb style by Ottoman citizens of Maronite and Jewish origin who migrated there from Lebanon. Those who see this might think for a moment that Mexico City was also an Ottoman city.
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