The clock of the Jews


We have already written, that the once red, now blackened porphyry columns bordering the eastern facade of St. John’s Baptistery in Florence were brought here by the Pisans after the looting of Madina Mayūrqa in 1115. This is one of the very few relics that have survived from the Muslim religious architecture of that beautiful city, about which Ibn al-Labbâna sung like this:
This city has taken from the dove her collar
   and the peacock clothed her with her feathers,
The water of her fountains is like wine
   and her courtyards are similar to goblets.
Among the visitors of the Duomo of Florence probably not many know about the exotic origin of these columns that came so far away from their homeland.


Similarly, he who stops in front of the city hall of Palma, and looks upon the clock dominating the facade and exactly sounding the bells in the bell tower lurking from the top of the building, probably does not know the legend about its origin, one of the strangest legends among those spread about the Jews settled in Mallorca:
Post destructionem Hierusalem, tempore Helii Adriani […] Quo tempore omnes maiores rabini iudeorum docti in Legi mosayca appicuerunt cum suo navigio Maioricis cum horologio quod tenebant Hierosolimis, quod est hodie in turri Maioricarum que dicitur Horarum, quam post conquistam Maioricarum per regem Jacobum effectam christiani edificaverunt iungendo et campanam quam antea iudei non habuerunt. (G. Llompart and J. Riera i Sans, eds.: „La Historia de Sancta Fide Catholica de Benet Espanyol (1548): la primera història dels jueus de la Ciutat de Mallorca”, Fontes Rerum Balearium, III (1979-1980), pp. 141-194)
That is, as Benet Espanyol writes in his Historia de Sancta Fide Catholica (1548), it was none else but the most erudite rabbis fleeing after the destruction of Jerusalem in Emperor Hadrian’s time, who brought the clock from the one end of the Mediterranean to the other, from the Temple of Jerusalem to their new homeland, Palma. To be exact, the author refers to the clock which in his time indicated the hours at the top of the Clock Tower standing next to the Victoria Chapel of the Dominican church and monastery. The monastery was built at the edge of the Jewish neighborhood, in the place of the plots and houses appropriated in 1231 by James I from the local Jews, and it was destroyed in 1837, irrationally and in a haste, just a few days before the arrival of the decision from Madrid prohibiting its demolition. The Clock Tower still stood for a few years, but as its condition was getting worse, in 1849 they saw it advisable to break it down, and to move its old bell together with the clock on the facade of the city hall. The clock bears the date of 1849, but the present mechanism is in fact from 1862: then the old clock was replaced with the new one, brought from Paris, which has since shown the exact time.

The environment of St. Dominic’s Church and the Clock Tower on the map of Palma by Antonio Garau (1644) (enlarge). María Barceló in a recently published study in Bolletí de la Societat Arqueològica Lul·liana (n. 68, 2012, 27-33.) has provided a comprehensive overview of the vicissitudes of the clock and the clock tower in the Middle Ages: “Notes sobre la Torre de les Hores i el rellotge de la Ciutat de Mallorca”.

We do not know any more about the legendary clock and the erudite rabbis. It is certain only that since 1385 or 1386 they have signaled with a bell the hours of the day and night (and later the quarter and half hours, too) here, in the highest place of the town. As the bell was cast by a silversmith named Pere Figuera, and since 1512 the clock was supervised by another Figuera, Bartomeu, who transmitted his office also to his son, so the bell tower is still called “En Figuera” – “the Figuera” – in the city. In 1680 the bell cracked and had to be re-cast: this is the one we hear now. The clock is now managed by master Pere Caminals, nephew of my grandmother’s sister, and son, grandson and great-grandson of illustrious watchmakers of Palma.