Clock Towers

The Grand Masters’ Palace Courtyard Clock

palace5Built in 1745 overlooking one of the two internal courtyards at the Grand Masters’ Palace, some 150 years after the Co-Cathedral was completed, the Pinto Clock was installed with hemispherical – rather than conventional cup-shaped – bells. This made them quieter, so as not to compete with the Co-Cathedral’s clock. Only eight other nested bells are found in the Maltese islands. The clock is Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca’s imprint in time. The clock was commissioned in 1745 by Grandmaster Manoel Pinto de Foneseca and its mechanism is the work of renowned Maltese clockmaker Gaetano Vella. Built to represent the highest authority in the country, it served as an attraction in itself. It features four copper-laminated figures representing Moorish slaves holding hammers, which sling sideways when striking the bells. In those days it was popular to depict Muslim slaves in works of art to symbolise the Order’s triumph. Pinto Clock came complete with a room specifically built to accommodate a clock-winder who used to wind up the mechanism on a daily basis. The clock’s limestone façade is adorned by an overlapping of pilasters and arches distinguished by their proportions and characteristic profiles and details, meant to support a triumphant finial displaying four clock faces. The Pinto Clock is one of the most elaborate clocks. Compared with similar clocks from the same era, it encapsulates a lot of information and the typically baroque “theatrical decoration”. palace4Pinto’s Clock has four dials. The middle one shows the hour and the others show the lunar phase, month and day in Italian. Few 18th century citizens owned personal clocks so they sought clocks in parish squares or public spaces like the Prince Alfred Courtyard. Several alterations to the clock and to the palace – which used to serve as the grandmaster’s winter residence – impacted negatively on the visibility of Pinto Clock. The wooden sheltering at the rear of the jacquemarts was erected during the British period to protect the mechanism from weather damage and to fly Great Britain’s flag up high, thus blocking the sky backdrop of the figurines. It is believed that in 1894, Maltese clockmaker Michelangelo Sapiano modified the original Gateano Vella’s mechanism so that the clock would not chime at night so that the wife of Governor Sir Arthur Fremantle could sleep peacefully. Parts of the clock then developed faults over the years until the timepiece stopped working altogether in 2006. However, in November 2011, it was fully restored. The façade, the clock mechanism, the bells and jacquemarts were reinstated to their former glory at a cost of €120,000. palace3The reversible restoration system saw the installation of an electrical auto-winding system, doing away with daily human intervention which could lead to further damage. This installation did not alter the original mechanism in any way. Another important part of the restoration process was work on the “artistically and historically precious” jacquemarts. The restoration uncovered various details, including the feathering on the slaves’ clothes. The restoration work was divided into several phases, focused on the mechanism, the bells and the jacquemarts, as well as the structure. The work was carried out by private contractors under the direction of restoration experts of the Valletta Rehabilitation Project and Heritage Malta. Chief Architect Mireille Fsadi supervised the work. Kenneth Cauchi handled the restoration of the bells and the jacquemarts while Stephen Zammit restored the clock mechanism. Agius Stoneworks worked on the structure of the clock with the Restoration Directorate. A fountain was also restored.

The Birgu Clock Tower

birguclockOn 4 April 1942, an interesting, beautiful and historic Tower (vedette), that was housing a clock in its top storey, eventually one of the oldest clocks in Malta was destroyed by World War II enemy action. This tower was built in the centre of the main square in Birgu. It rose higher than all the houses and other buildings, and it offered a complete view of the Grand Harbour, the entrance of the Harbour including the Break-water, both forts, i.e. Fort St Elmo and Fort Ricasoli and a complete view of the Birgu perimeter. As early as the 9th century a high tower was built in all the cities in order to serve as a vedette or watch tower, and this is what this Birgu Tower was like when it was first built. The Universita` of Malta must have used such a similar tower for defence purposes before the arrival of the Knights of St John. The Knights proved to be much better for the required defence of the Maltese islands and they continued to make good use of it for a much better defence and watchfulness of Birgu and its surroundings including the Grand Harbour. In fact it was for this particular reason that this tower was a landmark of this city in the Maltese harbours. An exquisite early 19th century water colour by an artist, identified only as Mons, shows this tower with two stone balustrades. This very curious painting shows one balustrade around the fourth floor balcony, and a second smaller balustrade girdling the roof crowned by what could be a conical spire. A good photograph by Richard Ellis, dating from the turn of the last century, shows a stone balcony with balustrades substituted by a frail and very thin wooden railing without the trace of the roof balustrade or spire. These were not the major features of this important and unique military tower. The tower was a five storey building, 40 meters high, and had four sides measuring 20 feet (6 meters) each and was quadrilateral in shape. The five storeys were all of different heights, but the middle one was higher than the others, and surrounding the fourth storey was a balcony that had a wooden handrail that rested on large strong corbels. Every side had a constructed door but only one of them was kept open for use while the others were unused and blocked when the clock was installed many years later. Canon John Mary Farrugia claimed that this tower had a higher storey and he concluded this from the existence of large holes (openings) that must have been used probably to place the poles for the different flags that might have served for signal transmitting. The cornice at the top of the tower was introduced many years later in 1880, and in one corner facing the main Square a little turret was built for supporting the ventilation pipes. When the Knights left Birgu to settle in the new capital Valletta, this tower was sold to a private owner to satisfy the needs for certain funds, required for the building of the new capital, Valletta. In 1572 when the tower passed to private owners and used as a dwelling building it contained all the belongings of the owners living in the first two storeys. This was a family from the village of Għaxaq but the top parts including the balcony and roof were public property, and so was the clock at the top storey. At some time these Għaxaq owners had connections with whoever was responsible for looking after the clock and tower. Its exterior in Siculo-Norman style was deteriorating. The public librarian, Mgr. Alfred Mifsud, and canon John Mary Farrugia expressed both the same idea that this tower was built in 1549. It is not sure whether there existed any documentation about the building including the dates. The year 1549 (actual day and month unknown) was inscribed on the portal of its balcony. The Latin inscription indicating the year 1629 along with the name of Grandmaster Antoine de Paul referred to the year when the clock on the tower was fitted. This clock was the first one made in Malta having a pendulum. birgu2Four very important names who had paid for the work were mentioned in the same inscription. They were Angelo Mallia, Giovanni Testaferrata, Leonardo Burlo` and Christoforo Menna, the latter was a great benefactor of the Parish church of St Lawrence. The new capital city Valletta, the city built by the Knights, was getting all the honours that used to belong to the much older city of Birgu or Vittoriosa, and it is very surprising that this clock should have made the appearance at such an early stage. It is even surprising about the diary account of the Great Siege that belonged to Francesco Balbi Coraggio written only one year after the Great Siege in 1566 which makes a good reference to this Clock Tower. Giacomo Bosio, the great historian who wrote in detail the history of the Knights in Malta and was known as the Historiographer of the Knights, also mentioned a bell on the tower that nobody had mentioned before him. According to him, this bell was named in Maltese: the Newwieħa (the groaner) and was often used during the Great Siege to sound the usual sad alarms and warnings. This is a clear evidence that the clock tower was functioning during the said Siege. However, could it have been a clock in some other shape or style, and restored later, we do not even know. It might have been the case. The above mentioned inscription included also four emblems with an eight pointed cross of the Knights known today as the Maltese cross. These emblems with the crosses were all erased during the French occupation in 1798, even when the French soldiers knew well that those four gentlemen were not Knights but Maltese. In fact they were all members of the Universita` known as Jurats and were only permitted according to Bosio by the Knights themselves to use the Order’s emblem, that is the eight pointed cross. This tower was also remembered by an engraving made by Antonio Freri, thus confirming its presence during the Great Siege. This was made in Rome at the same period of the Siege. In the President’s Palace there is a painting by D’Aleccio that represents scenes from the Great Siege, and this tower can easily be seen at the centre of the Square dominating it. The clock in this tower had two bells with different musical notes. The locals used to call them the Newwieħa (the groaner) and the Ferrieha (the joyous); the former was used to announce an imminent enemy attack, while the latter announced the good news that the enemy was not threatening any more but had left the area. It appears that one of them was very old and was manufactured in Messina, Sicily in 1505, but nothing is known about the other. As stated earlier the clock was fitted many years after the building of the tower, and the interior showed that on every floor there was a roof that was removed in order to make space for the swinging pendulum including the necessary weights enabling the whole mechanism of the clock to function. These weights are known as counterpoises. One clock had dual dials and the numbers were in Roman numerals with only one single straight hand. This was very similar to the present ones on the clock of St John’s, attributed to Clerici, even similar to the clock at the tower of the President’s Palace in Valletta made later in 1745. Fortunately both bronze hands were saved from the wrecked tower during World War II and they could still be seen. One of them is in the Church Museum in the oratory of St Joseph in Birgu, and the other one is very well preserved in the Norman House (Falson Palace) in Mdina. It was alleged that the original ones had been made of wood and the British Government had them substituted and the original ones could have been taken to Great Britain. A Maltese was entrusted by the Government to look after this clock and was paid 11 scudi including a further one scudo to buy the necessary greases and the required oil. A request by Benedict Cutajar was made in 1798 asking to be paid because he claimed that he had been doing the necessary work for the upkeep of the clock for about 45 years being paid by the Universita` of Birgu. On 4 April 1942 a bomb exploded close to the tower in the main square. As a result part of the tower collapsed later during the night between the 11th and the 12th of the same month of April, but it was hit again two weeks later and caused the other part to collapse. The other parts were considered to be very dangerous, and instead of restoring the damaged parts a scaffolding was erected in October 1944 and the remaining structure was pulled down. Both architects Mr. Agius and Mr. Bonnett, including inspector Mr. Louis Ebejer, were in charge of the demolition. Architects Mr. Harrison and Mr. Hubbard, both English engineers were brought over to make a plan for re-building Valletta including the Three Cities after the war, and advised that the Vittoriosa Square should remain as it has been with the Clock Tower in position as it was before the war. Of this ancient vedette and clock, only parts of the original mechanical movement seems to have survived and certain parts of the clock are now preserved at the Inquisitor’s Palace waiting for some clock repairer or historian to unravel their secrets. According to Mgr. Alfredo Mifsud the large clock whose dial dominated the highest part of the vedette was placed on the tower in 1629 during the reign of Grandmaster Antoine de Paul. Grandmaster La Valletta used this building as an observation post when he directed his operations during the Great Siege of 1565. This was stated by the famous Balbi di Correggio in his famous account of the Great Siege. One of the clock bells was dated 1504 and had Evantunellu Carbuni me fecit nobili civitati Messanae inscribed on it. According to historian Dr. Giovanni Bonello the name could have been Ev. Antunellu. Another author stated without any reference that the Knights paid the person entrusted with the regular winding and upkeep of this clock an annual pension of 30 scudi and one measure of oil. Documents pertaining to the Universita` throw some light on both clocks maintained at public expense by the local Government and when Grandmaster De Redin planned his coastal towers the Universita` commissioned a budget to see how the institution could cope with all the expenses for the servicing all the new defences including this famous clock tower of Birgu. The following are inscriptions that were on the clock tower.


During the happy reign of Grandmaster Fra Ant. De Paule, Br Alex De Verax, Knight of the Ven. Lamgue of Auvergne and Governor of Vittoriosa, well known for his civil and military activities, commissioned this noble work assisted by the citizens, John Angelo Mallia, John Testaferrata, Christoforo Menna and Leonardo Burlo` in the year 1629.

A marble was fixed when Malta was given a new Constitution in 1921 reading :-


The Maritime Museum Clock Tower

maritime-museumThe building the museum is housed in was originally the naval bakery, during the time of the British in Malta, and was purposely built between 1840 and 1845 by naval engineer William Scamp. The clock tower was only added to the naval bakery as an afterthought. This is apparent in the building, but also emerges in plans found at Kew’s Records Office in London, which show the gallery arsenal which occupied the area before, and the plans for the bakery superimposed. The first clock in Birgu was built during the time of the Knights, in a more central spot, under Grand Master Juan D’Homedes, but this was destroyed during the war. The inside machinery has survived, however, and is part of the national collection. In 1810 a turret clock was built around what is today known as Dock No. 1, and the belief is that the uppermost part of the tower was made of wood, as was common for the British to build at the time. Although the structure appears in an earlier watercolour by Charles Frederick de Brockdorff, which is found at the National Library, it disappears in a later one by the same artist, sometime around 1845. Besides the fact that these wooden structures would need regular maintenance, the area where it was found housed many workshops and trades at the time, which might have made it difficult for the small bells to be heard above the din. The clock tower at the bakery was built between 1840 and 1845. The idea behind this clock was that it could be used by those at sea, as it has three clock faces, to show the time in different directions from the tower. The clock together with the bells predates the building (1839-45). The clock is signed Matthew Dutton of London 1810 and is considered as possibly a unique work by this family of precision instrument makers whose normal output was long case clocks and fob watches. Some components are also marked Suban Bros. Malta 1890, indicating some repairs. The original two quarter bells are also dated 1810 and the hour bell is dated 1790 and marked with the Broad Arrow of the War Department, being the oldest British made bell in Malta. All bells are by the Mears Foundry of London. The hour bell could have been recycled and pressed into new use in 1810. imageMost probably, this clock together with its bells is the same turret clock which can be seen over the Sail Loft built above the Order’s Vaxxelli Stores as seen in old prints dating between 1810 and the early 1840s such as those by Brocktorff. One has to point out that the clock tower adjoining the Bakery building was somewhat of a later addition not included in the first design. Probably the possible timber turret above the Sail Loft was dismantled and the clock and bells transferred to the new clock tower sometime around the mid 1840s. The clock was a precision instrument upon which ship chronometers were regulated. Its new positioning benefited also shipping in the Grand Harbour and officials in Valletta – actually serving as the official time piece of Malta. The bells had to be removed in 2004 as a safety precaution since two of them were in an imminent state of collapse. The bells were repaired possibly after WWII in a very amateurish manner. All bells had missing hanging cannons and the crowns were drilled from which they were suspended. By time, the four iron bolts in each bell rusted and caused further damage to the crowns. The smallest quarter bell in fact fared worst. A quarter of its crown was cracked off. After years of deliberation the possibility of repairing the original bells in England was no longer favoured mainly because of the great amount of repair they needed, which did not make sense. It was thus thought best that replacement bells be found and that the three original bells be conserved and eventually exhibited inside the museum in the time keeping section of the proposed Navigation Hall. In January 2010, clock restorer Mr Stephen Zammit was entrusted with the clock mechanism overhaul which is still on going. Campanologist Mr Kenneth Cauchi was roped in as consultant on the project in March to source replacement bells. The cost for a set of three new bells was somewhat prohibitive. Fortunately, a British Trust whose aim is to find new homes for replaced rings or redundant church bells was contacted. It was decided that the replacement bells had to be from the same Mears foundry of London as the original bells had been. Three antique bells dating 1872 (x2) and another 1895 from a former ring of bells at St Mary’s Church in Prettlewell, Essex were eventually purchased in July 2010 for a fraction of the price of new bells and were delivered to the museum later in the year. The bells were installed inside the tower in June 2011. The inside mechanism of the turret clock was moved to the clock tower and the maker’s plate gives the name of Matthew Dutton of London. Although the Dutton Company is known for grandfather clocks, Matthew was apprenticed with another company, which specialised in turret clocks. It can be seen from the inner and outer areas of the dockyard creek, from part of the Grand Harbour, as well as from a wide viewpoint from Valletta, including the Saluting Battery at the Upper Barrakka. Sometime in the late 19th century a Maltese company by the name of Suban carried out some modification works on the clock and imagethis is known as some of the gear wheels bear their mark. However, the further history of the clock tower remains vague, save for the fact that it received something of a battering during the Second World War and that it was abandoned between 1979 and 1988, when the bakery was occupied by squatters. It is believed that this clock tower is among the oldest, if not the oldest surviving of its kind on the island. The bells at the Mdina Cathedral clock tower have been changed twice, possibly three times. There was one, which dates back to the 1600s, which was given to the Msida church. The one in the Valletta Cathedral also dates to the 16th or 17th century, as does the Pinto clock tower. The one at the old University in Valletta was demolished during the war. The bells had probably sustained damages during the war and were at risk of falling from one minute to the next. Research on the story of this clock tower has been a work in progress since 2001.The museum spoke to a number of consultants, including G.A. Flatters and Kenneth Cauchi, about the three bells, and Les Kirk and Stephen Zammit, regarding the clock mechanism.

maritime-museum3The museum spoke to a number of companies regarding possibilities of repairing the bells but because of the battering they received during the war and what they are used for, this was not a feasible option. At some point they would have broken down again since the new parts would have been stronger than the older ones. The decision was taken to conserve them and put them on exhibition in the museum, in a section on time-keeping at sea. A number of UK churches were selling off some of their old bells. maritime-museum2The bells, which are dated 1872 and 1895, are D sharp, F sharp and B. The largest bell weighs almost 650 kilogrammes and has a diameter of over one meter. On 13 June 2011 the three newly acquired bells were installed within the bell tower of the Malta Maritime Museum. These bells were christened Lorenza, Maria Concetta and Maria Victoria by the Vittoriosa Archpriest. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Hon. Mario De Marco, Heritage Malta’s Chairman Joseph Said, CEO Frank Mifsud and board members were present during the inauguration that took place outside the Malta Maritime Museum at the Birgu Waterfront. The restoration of the Clock Tower together with the clock mechanism was finished in May 2013. image image

Senglea clock tower

Senglea3The foundation stone of Fort St. Michael was laid on 8 May 1552. Work on the fort , initially under the patronage of Grand Master Juan d’Homedes,   designed by Pedro Pardo d’Andrera was completed in 1553. The building of the walled city of Senglea took place during the following decade. Grand Master Claude De La Sengle renamed l-isola di San Guliano as Senglea. The city was built on a grid plan, an arrangement which was later to be adopted in the building of Valletta.

This part of the Senglea was largely dismantled during the extensions of the dockyard area by the British at the end of the 19th century and during the construction of a primary school and a clock tower in the 1920s. The remainder was badly damaged by aerial bombing during the second world war.

The clock Tower is one of the landmarks  looking on the three cities. It was built by the British Naval authorities in 1908 and has four faces. It’s machinery, manufactured in 1905, came from John Smith & sons, Midland Clock Works, Derby.

Fortunately, though the area was heavily bombed  during the second world war, the clock  was never hit and never stopped working.

The Clock Tower, after years of neglect, was given a fecalift by the Malta Drydocks in 2010



Mtarfa clock tower


Mtarfa_ClockThe Mtarfa Clock Tower is an unmistakable landmark and has panoramic views of the island. Built in 1895 by British forces, it is a great source of civic pride. In April 2006, after more than a century of service, the clock ceased working and the lack of funds to repair it became a local election issue! Volunteers Charles Pace and Mario Agius from Mtarfa repaired the damage at no cost. The volunteers on 28 August 2008 calibrated the clock but because its mechanical system dates back to the 1800s it will never be 100 per cent accurate. Mtarfa Barracks was commenced in 1891 and completed in 1896. Seven new two storied blocks were occupied at the beginning of the year. A small hospital of 42 beds was also built at the same time as the barracks. The hospital opened in June 1901. It was used for all minor cases amongst the troops stationed there and at Fort Bingemma. All serious cases were transferred to the Station Hospital Valletta. The Barrack Hospital was used as a Families Hospital after the new larger hospital was occupied in 1920


image image image image

Sandhurst Barracks Pembroke clock tower

pembroke7The clock tower at St Clare College Girls’ Junior Lyceum, Pembroke is a landmark which can be seen when driving along the coast road was built by the British in 1903. It was repaired in September 2009 following an initiative of Mr J. Camilleri, a teacher at the school, after a break of over 20 years. The Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools agreed to sponsor the restoration project, which included procuring missing parts from abroad and installing a new electrically-powered mechanism that has a maximum margin error of two minutes per year. In case of a power failure the system has an in-built battery which can power the clock for 24 hours. In case of an even longer power failure the clock has a GPS synchronisation system installed which resets the time automatically when power is restored. pembroke6The Lintorn Barracks or Sandhurst Barracks Block was built under the direction of Architect Andrea Vassallo (1856-1928) of Luqa. It was built as the Living Quarters for Cadets stationed in Malta. It served the requirements of the military personnel including recreational activities as well as technical instruction. During the Wars it was used as a recovery hospital. Between 1947-48 it was reconverted into Barracks and eventually abandoned. On 31 March 1979 it was handed over to the Armed Forces of Malta. In 1984 it opened its gates as a school to secondary students and primary pupils of year 5 and 6. In 1986 with the introduction of Junior Lyceums, the school became known as Sandhurst and catered for the Education of the 11 to 16 year olds. On the 12 May 1988 the school was renamed as Sir Adrian Dingli Girls’ Junior lyceum. In 2006 the school became part of a network of school known as St.Clare College. On 28 September 2009 the watch tower clock of St.Clare College Girls’ Junior Lyceum, Pembroke started ticking again.


Pembroke Clock Tower

The Pembroke Clock Tower was built in 1903 and forms part of the Old Guard Room. It gives Pembroke a unique character and serves as a landmark and meeting place. It is the highest building in Pembroke and has been restored in 1995. Pembroke


St John’s Co-Cathedral


Mdina Cathedral

Mdina1Mdina Cathedral

Mosta Church


Paola Church


Zebbug Church


Balzan Church


Qrendi Church


Mqabba Church


Gharghur Church


Xewkija Church


Ta’ Pinu

Ta Pinu


7 responses to “Clock Towers

  1. Klaus Schlaefer

    September 12, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the quick answer.
    There will be a couple of turret clock experts in our group. Can they have a look at the movements?

    • vassallomalta

      September 12, 2015 at 8:54 am

      To have the group watch the clock movements you have to co-ordinate that matter beforehand with each individual clock tower site.

    • vassallomalta

      September 12, 2015 at 9:03 am

      Clock Towers fall under various authorities. Below please find whom to contact to be granted permission to view the clock movements

      The Grand Masters’ Palace Courtyard Clock & The Maritime Museum Clock Tower

      – Heritage Malta

      Senglea clock tower & Sandhurst Barracks Pembroke clock tower

      – Department of Education

      Mtarfa clock Tower – Mtarfa Local Council

      Pembroke Clock Tower – Pembroke Local Council

      Parish Church Clocks – the respective parish priest

  2. klaus Schlaefer

    September 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Great! We will be on Malta 3.5.2016 – 10.5.2016. Can we have a look to these clocks.
    Klaus Schlaefer, German Society of Horology

    • vassallomalta

      September 11, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Yes you can view all these clocks when you are in Malta

    • Kenneth Cauchi

      November 5, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      Dear Mr Schlaefer pls drop me an email re your proposed visit to see clocks. Best regards Kenneth CAUCHI

  3. joseph borg micallef

    December 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I have no words to express myself of the beutiful CLOCKS . I HOPE TO SEE THIS HISTORY IN PAMPHLET FORM. d.ġużepp borg micallef il-MUNTANAR.


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