First it was a fortified guard tower, then a prison, a lookout and fire observation tower, and finally a clock tower. Over the centuries, this landmark has fulfilled different functions for the city of Bern but has always played a key role. As Bern continued to grow and expand its city limits, the former guard tower gradually found itself closer and closer to the city center. After the devastating fire of 1405, the structure was rebuilt and given a new identity. Now known as the Zytglogge (Clock Tower), it began telling time for the inhabitants of Bern. As the official timekeeper, its location could not be more central and from then on, the locals listened for it to strike the hours. The tower was also an authoritative building for other matters in the capital city. For example, official travel times were measured from the Clock Tower and marked on stones along the cantonal roads. The ancient length measurements of cubit and fathom – which are still marked today in the tower entrance as meter and double meter – served as the reference length and for official checks.
When it was built around 1218–1220, the Zytglogge served as the gate tower of Bern’s western fortifications. These were erected after the city’s first westward expansion following its de facto independence from the Empire. At that time, the Zytglogge was a squat building of only 16 metres (52 ft) in height. When the rapid growth of the city and the further expansion of the fortifications (up to the Käfigturm) relegated the tower to second-line status at around 1270–1275, it was heightened by 7 metres (23 ft) to overlook the surrounding houses. Only after the city’s western defences were extended again in 1344–1346 up to the now-destroyed Christoffelturm, the Zytglogge was converted to a women’s prison, notably housing Pfaffendirnen – “priests’ whores”, women convicted of sexual relations with clerics. At this time, the Zytglogge also received its first slanted roof. In the great fire of 1405, the tower burnt out completely. It suffered severe structural damage that required thorough repairs, which were not complete until after the last restoration in 1983. The prison cells were abandoned and a clock was first installed above the gate in the early 15th century, probably including a simple astronomical clock and musical mechanism. This clock, together with the great bell cast in 1405, gave the Zytglogge its name, which in Bernese German means “time bell”.
. . .
The Zytglogge’s internal layout has changed over time to reflect the tower’s change of purpose from guard tower to city prison to clock tower. The thirteenth-century guard tower was not much more than a hollow shell of walls that was open towards the city in the east. Only in the fourteenth century was a layer of four storeys inserted. The rooms above the clockwork mechanism were used by the city administration for various purposes up until the late 20th century, including as archives, storerooms, as a firehose magazine and even as an air raid shelter. The interior was frequently remodelled in a careless, even vandalistic fashion; for instance, all but three of the original wooden beams supporting the intermediate floors were destroyed.
The Clock Tower (Zeitglockenturm) was Bern’s first western city gate (1191 – 1256) and formed the boundary of the first city extension. Today it is one of Bern’s most important sights. The ornate astronomical calendar clock was created in 1530. The tower clock was the city’s main clock and therefore had an authoritative function in Bern. It was from there that travel times indicated on the hour stones along the cantonal roads were measured. Length units – formerly cubit and fathom, today meter and double meter – for public inspection are displayed in the arch of the gate.
In 1527, the Zytglogge’s movement had broken down. A local blacksmith by the name of Kaspar Brunner who had no previous experience in horology won the construction bid to repair the movement for around 1,000 Bernese Gulden. By 1530, Brunner had completed the astronomical clock’s new movement – even adding additional new features in the process. This new movement is still being used to power the Zytglogge today, without any major breakdowns along the way! For this great mechanical feat, Brunner is remembered fondly in Bern.
A journey inside Bern’s whimsical clock tower reveals how clicking gears and dancing bears changed the meaning of time. Deep inside a medieval watchtower, Markus Marti presides over the passage of time. Several times a week in the heart of Bern, Switzerland, the retired engineer leads a small group of visitors up a twisting narrow staircase. Then, using a wooden baton as a pointer, he explains how a maze of iron parts powered by a swinging pendulum has, second by second, counted off the last half millennium.
The Zähringerbrunnen (Zähringen Fountain) is a fountain on Kramgasse in the Old City of Bern, Switzerland. It is a Swiss Cultural Property of National Significance and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Bern. The Zähringerbrunnen was built in 1535 as a memorial to the founder of Bern, Berchtold von Zähringer. The statue is a bear in full armor, with another bear cub at his feet. The bear represents the bear that, according to legend, Berchtold shot on the Aare peninsula as he was searching for a site to build a city. The armored bear carries a shield and a banner, both emblazoned with the Zähringen lion.