Each day at noon, a crowd gathers beneath the bell tower of Messina’s Cathedral to watch as the gilded statues on the astronomical clock seem to come to life. As the bells chime, the lion roars, the rooster crows, statues strike the hour, and mechanical figures replay biblical and allegorical scenes. It's a spectacle no tourist should miss.
The Cathedral’s original 200-foot (61-meter) bell tower was built in the late 16th century, but after being destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt and, in 1933, an astronomical clock was added. Designed by the firm Ungerer of Strasbourg, it is said to be the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world.
One of the biggest draws in Messina, the 12-minute show is a highlight of any Messina city tour. In addition to watching the midday spectacle, you can also visit the inside of the bell tower, climbing the staircase to see the bronze statues up close and the complex internal mechanism of weights and gears behind their movements. At the top, take in the beautiful view over the city of Messina and the strait between the island of Sicily and Italy’s mainland.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The bell tower is closed to visitors inside when it rains.
- Due to small spaces and steep stairs, the clock tower is not accessible to wheelchair users; the square below is accessible to watch to the noon show.
- Walking tours of Messina involve a significant amount of time on your feet, so choose comfortable shoes and clothing.
How to Get There
The bell tower and astronomical clock are located adjacent Messina’s Cathedral (Duomo di Messina) in Piazza del Duomo in the historic center of the city, an easy walk from the ferry terminal or train station.
When to Get There
The opening hours of the bell tower are very complex and change almost weekly. Check times carefully if you want to climb to the top to avoid disappointment.
The Clock Tower Features
At the top of the tower, there are mechanical clock faces on all four sides. Down one side are the perpetual calendar, mechanisms to track the phases of the moon, and the planetary movements; down the front are the numerous gilded statues that move each day as the clock strikes midday.