If we hold time to be sacred, then anyone who looks up on a crisp and sunny Bogotá day will notice that the clocks that once chimed high in the Andes have fallen silent; their hands eroded by the passing of…well, time, and their faces profaned by pigeons.
It could once have been an excuse of Bogotanos to blame their lack of punctuality on the city’s clocks, but with traffic the way it is, few dare do so today. Even the clock of the city’s most important house of worship, the Primary Cathedral, got stuck in time, one day, in an unknown year, at 4:32. The back clock of the Cathedral’s northern-most bell tower does tell the time correctly though. When we passed it was 9:36. We have digital to prove it.
According to an investigation by researchers at the city’s Institute of Patrimony, the first clocks to strike in colonial Santafé were installed in church towers, and even though no one can tell for sure where the first clock stood, two of the oldest churches in the city, stopped ticking decades ago, their dials now corroded.
The City Paper embarked on time travel to see if there was any accurate minute keeping in our capital, and here is a listing of what we found:
Iglesia de San Francisco
Built by Franciscan friars between 1557 and 1566, the Iglesia de San Francisco was severely damaged during a 1785 earthquake and reconstructed thanks to the piety of Spanish friar Domingo Petrés. The white rounded clock came years later and must have warned colonialists of an uncertain future: a bitter Independence struggle and the emancipation of subjects by jar-throwing Republicans.
Sometime after the populist liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitan was shot in 1948 and the street cars set on fire, time ground to a halt. As it was time for my own “onces” – elevenses – when I looked up at the San Francisco clock, the tower gave me a parallel reading of 6 o’clock.
Casa de La Moneda
While a young generation swoons over One Direction and Calle 13, an older one strolls east along the Calle 11 to enjoy free classical music concerts at the nation’s largest library, the Luis Angel Arango. On one of La Candelaria’s most transited streets and swaying over the corner where Calle 11 meets Cra 5, a stately clock juts out of the Old Mint building.
A relative newcomer to Bogotá time keeping, the very Viennese clock of the Casa de La Moneda was assembled in the mid 19th century and even though we made our pilgrimage one early morning, it seemed to clearly mark ‘High Noon’ for everyone in La Candelaria.
Pedro A. López
Strolling down a pedestrian arcade near the Jiménez with Séptima and swarming with mustachioed-emerald dealers, you reach the back entrance of the Pedro A. López building.
Home to the Ministry of Agriculture and an edifice built between 1919 and 1924 by North American architects Robert Farrington and Fred T. Ley (part of the team involved in the construction of Chrysler Building in New York City), there is a beautiful turn-of-the-last century clock converted into a pigeon’s nest. Although this timepiece will never work again, it’s a real and nostalgic reminder of how Bogotá once used to be.
At the cusp of a rotunda near the Carrera Séptima and nestled within the grounds of Bogotá’s verdant Parque Nacional Enrique Olaya Herrera, one clock tower has begun to count the passing of time!
Silenced by years of neglect and the belching smoke of busetas rumbling along this busy corridor, the exact day when the clock stopped ticking will never be known. For visitors to the park, it was always 12:38. Rain or shine. Night or day.
But mid May, this clock donated to the Colombian capital on August 6th 1938 to celebrate the 400 years of Bogotá’s founding began turning its black elongated hands.
The original timepiece was a gift from the resident Swiss community in Bogotá and almost 80 years later, representatives of the Swiss Embassy and the District Institute of Patrimony turned up to make sure visitors to the park would never have to loose their sense of time.
The clock’s intricate pieces were shipped to Colombia from Sumiswald, Switzerland, and were masterfully assembled and housed in a stone Bauhaus structure designed by Albert Jeanneret, brother of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret- Gris, better known as Le Corbusier. Swiss jeweler Marcel Jenny made sure Bogotá minute keeping was precise.
So next time you stroll in the park, take a second (or two), to glance up to- wards the hills and admire some Swiss engineering and a stoic monument to that not so antiquated notion that per- sistence to “punctuality” marks the dif- ference between cities, especially one which seems caught in time.