Ukraine’s most celebrated clock tower

  • Ukraine’s most celebrated clock tower
Issue 5, September 2008.

Like London, Moscow and a select few other global cities, Lviv has its very own distinctive clock by which local time has been measured for centuries. Today’s distinctive clock tower is the work of a 19th century Habsburg administration but is in the same spot as numerous other Lviv city clocks down the ages. The first mention of a clock tower in Lviv’s Rynok Square is in 1404, when city documents list the names of a number of clock keepers and locksmiths charged with maintaining the city clock. Miraculously, during the ruinous 1527 fire which destroyed much of medieval Lviv, the city’s clock tower remained virtually undamaged, but it was not so lucky forty years later, burning down in another inferno.

The city hall and clock tower as we known them today actually date back to 1851, when the city’s Habsburg administrators decided to do away with the old administrative buildings and erect a whole new structure. The new clock mechanism was manufactured in Austria at a factory on the outskirts of Vienna, and continues to work to this day, making it one of the oldest functioning public timepieces in the world. The clock face is 2.7 metres in diameter, while the little hand of the clock itself measures 1.5 metres. In more recent times Lviv’s clock tower has become more closely associated with the growth of a Ukrainian national awakening over the past thirty years. The clock tower was one of the first public buildings to fly the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag during the swing away from strict state control over protest movements which came at the tail end of the perestroika era. At the time flying the Ukrainian flag was still technically an offence, and the clock tower gained an iconic status as the most prominent spot for a flag in the entire city.