As the clock prepares to strike the hour, large groups gather in front of the Clock Tower in Bern’s Old Town to watch the one-of-a-kind performance that always takes place at this moment. The mechanical figures, including a parade of bears, a jester, a golden rooster and Chronos, the god of time, enthrall visitors young and old from far and near.
In the tower’s interior, however, time seems to stand still. Medieval clockwork mechanisms, thick stone walls and massive wooden beams take visitors on a journey into the past.
Those who make it up the 130 steps inside the structure are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site with its tiled roofs, terraces and narrow lanes. When the sky is clear, you can see all the way to the peaks of the Bernese Oberland.
Zytglogge (Clock Tower) Tour
If you want a closer look behind the thick walls of the Clock Tower, the tour designed especially for this purpose is your best choice, because visitors may only enter the tower’s interior with a guide. Participants will hear many exciting and interesting facts about the clockwork and the story behind this historical monument.
Tour dates All year* Length of tour 50 minutes Starting time 2:30 p.m Individual prices CHF 20.00 for adults
CHF 10.00 for children (6–16 years)
CHF 18.00 seniors/students
Group prices CHF 250.00 per group Languages DE / FR / EN** Meeting point Zytglogge (Clock Tower), on the Kramgasse side Comments Max. 20 people per group (for public and private tours)***
*Tour dates: Daily from 1 April to 31 October, every Saturday from 1 November to 31 March, daily from 26 December to 31 December. The tour can be booked at any time for private groups or individuals (max. 20 people per tour guide). Sales and customer service available at +41 31 328 12 12 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Private tours are also available in additional languages (DE / EN / FR / IT / ES / RU / KR / CN / JP).
Prisons, City Fires and Astronomical Clocks
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.
The tower’s outstanding features are the astrolabium – an astronomical calendar clock – and the musical mechanism installed in 1530.
Right before the clock strikes the hour a crowing rooster announces the start of an entertaining spectacle. Bears dance their hourly routine, a jester jokingly signals the hour too early, the quarter-hour chimes are heard from the tower, and Chronos, the god of time, turns his hourglass over. The golden figure of Hans von Thann finally strikes the hour in time with Chronos’ swinging scepter.
The hands of the astrolabium move somewhat more slowly but just as precisely. The discs of the astronomical calendar clock are artfully arranged above the Clock Tower’s entrance. Both fixed and rotating spheres form an exact replica of the constellations with the earth in the center. Sun, moon and stars circle our planet in the orbits we recognize from the earth’s vantage point.
The complex display of the northern hemisphere always shows the current zodiac sign, the moon’s phase, the time of sunrise and sunset, and the date. Frescoes of the five planetary gods from Roman mythology adorn the space above the astrolabium.