Venice's famous tower clock rings again after 10-year restoration

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VENICE -- During its great days the Serenissima, the Most Serene Venetian Republic, seldom stinted in matters of civic self-celebration: witness the Torre dell'Orologio, in Piazza San Marco, one of the most architecturally and mechanically complex tower clocks ever constructed. Unveiled on Feb. 1, 1499, amid general rejoicing, it was described by Marin Sanudo, a contemporary diarist, as "made with great skill, and very beautiful."

Having shown and struck the hours more or less continuously for nearly half a millennium, the clock tower was closed in 1997 for extensive restoration, partly financed by the Swiss watchmakers Piaget. This proved more lengthy than expected, but the clock is now in full working order again. Small groups (book in advance) can view its fascinating interior, and enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the city from the roof, where two bronze "Moors" -- bearded, half-naked, larger-than-life automatons wielding huge hammers -- mark the hours by striking the bell that crowns the edifice...

The central mechanism of the Venice clock operate two faces, one on Piazza San Marco and the other looking down the Merceria, the shopping street that links the square to the Rialto markets. Each face has a marble outer ring inscribed with the 24 hours in Roman numerals. A hand fixed to a revolving inner disc points to the hour. The San Marco face also displays the prevailing zodiacal sign, and a sphere rotating on its axis shows the phases of the moon.

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