27 October, 2021       LISBON - MAX. Pleasant with plenty of sunshineº, MIN. 01º

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Folders  |  Time and Power in Lisbon
Time and Power in Lisbon
Fernando Correia de Oliveira
Time and Power in Lisbon

Time and Power in Lisbon

Time is power and those that hold the power desire to control time. 

It has always been so throughout history and Portugal was no exception. The more absolute the power, be it religious or civilian, the more unified the time through the symbolic time markers that regulated the years, the days, the community hours, the rhythms of work and leisure, pray and enjoyment.

Lisbon was conquered to the Arabs in 1147 and elevated to capital of the kingdom in 1256 and from then on, with the king and the court inhabiting the city, time and its measurement devices installed on the Tagus banks gained importance.
When talking of time devices of that period one means the iron or heavy clock making.  Heavy mechanisms, using coiled ropes and weights as moving power.  The expression “giving rope to the clock” comes from that time. 

Mechanisms inserted in iron cages hence the name “Cage clock” and, in those primordial times, without screws they were called “davit”.  With an escape of the “folliot” type, similar to a saw which would rhythmically scrape its teeth against a ruler that would move sideways, allowing mainly the ringing of bells and not so much the time. One is not sure of when mechanical clocks were introduced in Portugal although it is probable they came along with the religious orders that helped shape the territory during those times of conquest. Anyway, in 1377 the cathedral of Lisbon had a bell ringing clock which was financed, in equal parts, by King Fernando, the ecclesiastics, and relevant citizens of the city.

It was the first mechanical clock of the capital, built and kept by a certain “master John, French” and, symptomatically erected by the three powers – Nobility, Clergy, and Peasantry.  As it would be known at the time, this clock had no face – it served to “strike” the hours and not to show them.  It mainly regulated the city’s religious life more than anything else, but it also served to indicate the time to return home and to close the gates belonging to the neighborhoods where minorities such as Jews and Arabs lived, through the ringing of the bells known as “turning in” bells. In those times, when a clock was bought one also contracted for a life time either a clockmaker or one of his apprentices, which were paid in money and olive oil which would be used to “temperate” the mechanism, the term then used to signify the oiling of the dented wheels and other movable pieces of the mechanism.

With King Manuel I and the construction of the palace of “ribeira das naus”, time in Lisbon became regulated by the clock tower built in the palace while the function of palace clock maker in, from then onwards, listed as an employee of the royal household.  Time becomes less sacred and more profane.  The first existing image of the palace’s clock tower dates from 1520, already with a face but only showing the hour needle since the mechanisms at the time were extremely inexact making it therefore useless to have a needle for the minutes.

With the money from the gold pouring in from Brazil, King João V had great changes  made to the palace of Ribeira and commissioned a clock tower from the Italian Architect Canevari.  The tower quickly became famous not only in Lisbon but throughout the country, for its opulence and the quality of the clock installed (possibly of Flemish origin, like the two extraordinary clocks the King commissioned for the Mafra monastery).  Foreigners from all over Europe also noted the Baroque splendor of the clock tower.

The 1755 earthquake destroyed most of Lisbon, including  Canevari’s tower and all is left of that magnificence is a tile panel, today at the Tile Museum, where the palace and the ephemeral clock appear. The rebuilding of the capital, under the guidance of Pombal, allowed for a splendid square around what had been the royal palace while a project by Architect Carlos Mardel showed an enormous arch with a clock.  It only stayed on paper for what today is the “palace square” is quite different and took almost a century to be built.

As for the Rua Augusta arch, as seen today, received at the end of the XIX century a mechanism coming from the convent of Jesus, which had not been devised to show the hours to the passerby as related at the time.  In other words, it was a clock just to strike the hours, not to show them. It was Augusto Justiniano de Araujo, founder of the Casa Pia de Lisboa clock making school, whom adapted the clock by changing the “Folliot” escape by an anchor, allowing the clock to begin showing and striking the hours to Lisbon on the 4th of December 1883.

Augusto Justiniano de Araujo’s motto was “all clocks can be fixed”.  The Popular Diary of the 7th of December 1883 gives proof of that: on the 4th, at 7 in the afternoon, it was completed the installing of the Rua Augusta arch’s clock.  The clock is of national construction and in the style of the XVIII century.  It belonged to the former convent of Jesus and was not devised to show the hours to the passerby”.

“The modifications needed in order to show the hours were made by Mr. Araujo, clock maker established at the Boa vista street, n 164, 1st floor, as well as the escape the same artist invented and named Araujo escape.”
“The clock has been seen by many competent people and all are unanimous in considering it a perfect work in both the escape and other characteristics”.

Mr. Araujo was freely helped in the installing of the clock by some distinguished directive members of the Lisbon’s clock making society and other gentlemen belonging to instrumental precision at the Industrial school of Lisbon.
Varied events and malfunctions lead to the clock’s replacement already in the XX century, by a machine made by Manuel Francisco Cousinha, one of the greatest national makers of monumental and tower iron clock machines.  Since then this clock has also had large periods of time during which it was inoperative.

The Swiss watchmaker society of Jaeger –LeCoultre financed the restoration and up keeping of the Rua Augusta Arch clock while the technician that worked on it is a grandson of Cousinha, the clock’s original maker.
With its ministries and public services, symbolizing the power and its centrality up to our days, the palace’s square has, once again, a clock that shows the community’s time.

Fernando Correia de Oliveira – Journalist and investigator of time, clock making and mentalities – with the kind permission of the Torre Distribuição Enterprise

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