I’ve been fascinated with mechanical clocks ever since I was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany so very long ago. Indeed, in the city center, there stands Frauenkirche, a beloved 14th century church and national landmark. However, a further attraction to this Gothic church is its mechanical clock with these curiously entertaining automatons. Each day at noon, these mechanized figures come alive to honor a statue of Charles IV. Although this mechanical time piece is quite famous, there are many, many others across Europe. In fact, some are more famous and elaborate, such as the medieval astronomical clock in Prague. So, without any further delay, please take a look at 10 of Europe’s most famous mechanical clocks.
Anker Clock (Ankeruhr)
Hoher Markt 10-11
1010 Vienna, Austria
If you happen to be in Vienna, make sure to see the Anker Clock at noontime. That’s because you’ll be able to see all 12 Apostles as they parade through the clock. Adding to the public display is soaring music from Joseph Hayden’s “The Creation”. Although 12 noon is the highlight, there are hourly bell ringing and accompanying musical presentations. However, only one of the 12 figures will appear, along with a different musical theme.
Completed in 1914, Ankeruhr can be found in the historic Hoher Markt. This Art Nouveau clock further acts as a footbridge to connect two buildings. Also known as Anker or Anchor, the clock gets its name from a Swiss insurance company, Der Anker. The company’s name has since changed to Helvetia Insurance.
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Clock Tower of Venice (Torre dell’Orologio)
Piazza San Marco
30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Like many famous mechanical clocks, the St. Marks Clocktower has figures parading around in a circular pattern. On the other hand, you may not be able to see the Three Magi that follow an angel with a trumpet. In fact, the Magi and angel only appear twice a year, at Epiphany and Ascension Day. Although this may be true, you can still see bronze jacquemarts striking the bell atop the tower. Known as the “Moors”, the sculptures strike the bell each hour on the hour.
Piazza San Marco
The Renaissance-era Torre dell’Orologio is among the many classic structures within Piazza San Marco. The Clock Tower of Venice dates to the late 15th century. In particular is the giant bronze bell itself, cast in 1497. The two bronze figures represent an old person and a young person, to reflect the passing of time.
90403 Nuremberg, Germany
The Männleinlaufenn of Nuremberg’s Church of Our Lady may not be as famous as Munich’s Glockenspiel. Nevertheless, the clock of Frauenkirche predates its counterpart in southern Bavaria. In fact, it may surprise you but it’s several hundred years older. You can see the delightful automatons daily at noon, when the clock’s mechanism is reactivated. The mechanized procession commemorates a religious degree known as the Renaissance-era Golden Bull of 1356.
Nuremberg City Square
The Church of Our Lady is literally in the heart of the oldest section of Nuremberg. Built in 1362, it is one of the city’s three churches erected during the Middle Ages. The Männleinlaufenn was installed in 1509. During the holidays, Frauenkirche takes center stage when it overlooks Nuremberg’s famous Christmas Market.
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Lund Astronomical Clock
222 22 Lund, Sweden
Unlike many others, you can see this astronomical clock inside a building. In this case, it’s housed in one of the oldest stone buildings in Sweden. Also known as Horologium mirabile Lundense, the clock of Lund Cathedral dates to 1425. You should stop by at noon to see the figures dancing to the trumpeters. Equally important are the two clashing knights, signaling the top of the hour.
Like many of the medieval clocks of Europe, Horologium mirabile Lundense is in the city center. In fact, several important structures are all within one another from the Stortorget or city plaza. For instance, there are Lund University and the King’s House. Established in the 10th century, Lund is one of the oldest cities in Scandanavia.
Paroisse Notre-Dame De Dijon
2 Place Notre Dame
21000 Dijon, France
Dijon may be best known in America for its tangy mustard sauce. But if you visit this ancient capital of Burgundy, make sure to see this early 13th century gothic church. For one thing, you can admire the stunning architecture and famous Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoir wood statue. Yet equally important is to see the Jacquemart ringing the clock’s bell. The original automaton was installed in 1383 while a wife and children were eventually added.
Dijon Historic City Center
The Notre Dame Cathedral of Dijon is bounded by several historic landmarks. In detail are Tour Phillipe le Bon, Burgundy Palace and St. Michael. Even more attractions for you are the Museum of Fine Arts and the can’t miss Central Market.
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Prague Astronomical Clock
1, 110 00 Prague, Czech Republic
The most famous astronomical clock for you to see is probably in Prague. Known as the Orloj, the Prague astronomical clock is the world’s third oldest. Moreover, at over 610 years, it’s the world’s oldest operating astronomical clock. World renowned for its astronomical capabilities, it also features automatons. At the top of each hour, a mechanical skeleton begins the bell ringing. The doors then open, revealing the 12 apostle automatons, including St. Peter holding a key.
Historic City Center
The historic City Center of Prague is undeniably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within this noteworthy area are the city’s most important structures. In addition to the Astronomical Clock, you will see Prague Castle, Old Town Square and Charles Bridge. During its Gothic and Renaissance periods, Prague was the capital of Bohemia.
80331 München, Germany
If you had to choose just one mechanical clock to see its automatons, go to Munich. There, in the historic Marienplatz is where you will see the Rauthaus-Glockenspiel. What’s more, this famous attraction has not one, but two levels of rotating automatons. You can see these mechanical devices perform daily at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. However, if you visit during the summer, there is an additional performance at 5 p.m.
The Marienplatz is Munich’s central square and dates to 1158. If you use the tram for public transportation, there is a Marienplatz (Theatinerstraße) stop nearby. Before or after seeing the Glockenspiel, make sure to see the famous, two-domed Frauenkirche. In fact, it’s visible from the Marienplatz. Later on, stop by the equally famous beerhall, Hofbräuhaus München
St. Mary Steps
Exeter EX1 1BB, United Kingdom
Historic Exeter is home to more than just one mechanical clock. Most notable is the astronomical clock of the Romanesque-styled Exeter Cathedral. But then again, there’s also Matthew Miller Clock of Church of St/ Mary’s Steps. At the top of each hour, you can see the automatons come alive from this ancient clock. Matthew the Miller bows as each bell is rung, with his two sons on either side.
Historic City Center
You can find the Matthew the Miller clock in the historic city center. The River Exe is just minutes away, as the Medieval Ex Bridge. Additionally, you can find Exeter Cathedral nearby and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.
Strasbourg Astronomical Clock
17 Pl. de la Cathédrale CEDEX
67082 Strasbourg, France
The astronomical clock you can see inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg is the third installation. However, it is no less important than its two predecessors, with the first installed in the 14th century. In fact, the highlights of this third version are the automatons above the clock. Equally fun is that the animation begins at 12:30 p.m. rather than your typical 12 noon. In this case, death rings a bell before the 12 Apostles proceed to greet Jesus Christ. Lastly, don’t be alarmed when the roosters crows.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg lies on the Grande Île (Large Island), within the historic city center. Anchoring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral was the world’s tallest building for over 200 years. Even today, Notre Dame Strasbourg is the world’s sixth tallest church and tallest built during the Middle Ages. Additionally, UNESCO added Neustadt (New Town) to the World Heritage Site.
Bim Zytglogge 1
3011 Bern, Switzerland
Typically, when you see automatons, they are minstrels, royalty and religious figures. Yet on the contrary, Zytglogge is not your typical mechanical clock. Indeed, it has a centuries old astronomical clock, a nobleman and dancing bears. What’s more, there is a crowing rooster to kick off the presentation and two bell ringers in the steeple. You can see these performances every hour on the hour.
Old City Bern
The entire medieval section of Bern known as Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to Zytglogge you will find several important landmarks here. For example, the Münster of Bern (cathedral), Parliament buildings and Nydegg Church are all in the Old City. While visiting the capital of Switzerland, you should see the Bear Park (Bärengraben) and Federal Palace.
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About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com.