Tower Clock Museum
This Branch of Gdańsk History Museum is located in the tower of Saint Catherine’s Church in Gdańsk. This is the oldest parish church in Gdańsk, whose origins date back to the 12th century.
The Museum collects and preserves tower clock mechanisms that are significant for this field of science. At the end of the 1960’s, the production of mechanical public clocks was discontinued in favour of electrical mechanisms controlled by quartz resonator and then directly by radio waves. The disappearing clock mechanisms, even those from the first half of the 20th century, are important monuments of material culture. The accumulated collection spans the entire period of development of clock-making from the 15th to the 20th century. Now it contains absolutely unique cross-bar balance clocks that predate the invention of the pendulum; numerous cast iron mechanisms, mainly of Gdansk origin from the end of the 17th and the 18th centuries; splendid factory made clocks manufactured in the 19th century, the era of steam and electricity; and electro-mechanical clocks from the 20th century. The Museum staff are also responsible for looking after a number of historical clocks in situ all over Poland.
The museum also has a unique bell playing instrument – a carillon. A carillon is an instrument where bells are the source of sound. Only sets having at least 23 brass cast bells equipped with a mechanical keyboard for manual playing can be called a carillon. To date just 2 carillons are in Poland and both of them are in Gdańsk. One is in the Main Town Hall (37 bells in middle tone) and the other in the tower of Saint Catherine’s Church (composed of 50 bells from B0 chromatically to c5 in the same tune). The largest bell – B0 Catherine – weighing nearly 3 tonnes, has not been installed yet, because of the fatal fire in the church on 22 May 2006. Carillon concerts played by a musician are held each Friday at 11:00 and festivals are held in the summer (usually during the first weekend of August). In 2006 Gdańsk was host to the 15th World Carillon Congress, which was held in Poland for the first time. The Gdańsk Music Academy runs courses on how to play the carillon.
The sightseeing point is located in the cupola of the tower. From Saint Catherine’s church tower one gets a beautiful panoramic view. The historical buildings in the north part of the city can be seen, which is a surprising view even for Gdańsk inhabitants. In good weather, the Vistula semi-peninsula and the hills past Pruszcz Gdański can be seen, while the beaches of Hel seem to be right next to you.
A dangerous fire broke out at 14:50 on 22 May 2006 in Saint Catherine’s Church which destroyed the church roof and the top of the tower’s cupola. Fortunately all museum exhibits and the carillon survived, though they were substantially damaged mainly because of the water used to extinguish the fire. Painstaking reconstruction is in progress and is financed from funds from the city of Gdańsk, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, contributions from the budgets of other cities, subsidies of various enterprises and public fund raising. The exhibition of the clocks had to be closed until this work is completed. For the same reasons visitors can’t see the carillon or enter the tower. Branch staff are working intensively on the renovation of the damaged exhibits and the concept of a new exhibition. The Branch is also getting ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the astronomer Jan Hevelius, a great scientist with a unique personality (on January 28, 2011). The Tower Clock museum is closely associated with the scientific output of Jan Hevelius through common interests and because of the scientist’s burial place (in Saint Catherine’s Church).