Sentinels of time
Clock towers from the Bulgarian National Revival period adorn dozens of cities in the country
10 November, 2017
The Botevgrad clock tower is among the finest ones.
The clock towers in Sevlievo (L) and Razgrad (R).
The Gabrovo clock tower.
The Haskovo clock tower was recently restored
The clock tower in Dobrich.
The Berkovitsa clock tower.
Time may be fleeting, but Bulgarians of the National Revival period found a way to at least partially preserve it - by building clock towers. To this day, these cultural monuments can be seen in many Bulgarian cities, a reminder of a long-lost era full of passion and enthusiasm.
The construction of clock towers, many of which double as belfries, in the Bulgarian lands began in the 17th century but it did not turn into a widespread phenomenon until the mid-18th and especially the 19th century. It coincided with the emergence of the Bulgarian upper class, which was willing to pay for public works projects. Among the oldest preserved examples are the towers in Etropole, Shumen, Svishtov and Sevlievo, created in the 18th century.
The clock tower in Etropole was built by a local craftsman named Todor and was completed in 1710. It was initially designed as a watchtower and a defence tower, as evidenced by the employed construction methods and the embrasures left in three of its sides. The 20-metre (66-feet) tower is made of river stones and travertine. It was converted to a clock tower in 1821 and its clock mechanism, which was also made by a local craftsman, is working to this day.
One-of-a-kind is the tower in Sevlievo, which was built in 1777 as indicated by an inscription on the stone arch of the gate. The tower has three sections, each narrower than the lower one, and is made of 70cm (28in) thick stones. The weighted ropes controlling the clock mechanism are moving inside the tower. Images of construction implements, rosettes and military items are etched into some of the exterior stones, reminding of the tower's original purpose.
There is a clock tower also in the centre of Gabrovo - the industrial hub of Bulgaria in the middle of the 19th century. It was built in 1835 with the labour of local people and funding from the town’s tradesmen in only six months. It is composed of three parts - a square-shaped base, an octagonal prism in the middle, and an eight-side shape at the top ending in a dome. It rises 27.7m (90ft) in the air, which puts it among the tallest of the era. The craftsmen behind this unique work remain unknown.
One of the most beautiful Bulgarian clock towers is that in Botevgrad, which was erected in 1866 by the local craftsman Vuncho Markov. The clock mechanism is also the work of a local blacksmith, while the bell - of a craftsman from Bansko. Initially, the top of the tower sported a wooden house, from which a figurine of a fez-wearing Turkish man appeared at the top of every hour to bow, while the bell announced the hour. In the aftermath of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule, however, the local people removed and burned the Turkish symbol.
Some of the towers have become emblems of the towns and cities in which they can be found. This is the case with Tryavna, Berkovitsa, Razgrad and Vratsa. Often, they are also depicted on the respective town’s or city’s coat of arms, which only serves to reinforce the great significance they had.