Carioca Time – Rio’s Old Clocks

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In many, the tic-toc can’t be heard anymore, ironically silenced by the passing of time. But, while Rio gets 70 modern digital LED clocks on the streets, the old and charming models, with hands and a display, hold out on monuments and building façades. They are signs of another time, witnesses to a city that transformed itself. The one in Glória, installed in 1905, by the Pereira Passos government, signaled where the neighborhood beach, now landfilled, was located. At the 9th police precinct, designed in 1908, in Catete, the old device showed the time back when the center of power of the then-federal capital surrounded it. And, at 110 meters high, at Central Station, the giant clock with four faces occupies five floors of the landmark building of the train station, since 1937, it was the reference point of anyone walking around the area, when cell phones with time set by satellite wasn’t even dreamt of yet.

The last one (Central), seen from many parts of Rio, still works correctly today. Each face is, in truth, a device with independent gears. But, at the command, there’s a master-clock, not visible to those who pass by on the street, which marks the seconds and emits a pulse so the hands turn. It was at the train stations of 19th century England, as a matter of fact, says the president of Rio’s Heritage for Humanity Institute, Washington Fajardo, that the clocks spread through the urban landscape. Around here, the same thing occurred, and these clocks found their place in terminals like Central Station and the one at Leopoldina.

— With the expansion of the railway network, the notion of time changed. It was needed to control the minutes so as not to miss the train. And the clocks on the street orientated the majority of people — affirms Fajardo.

In the case of the Central Station clock, currently under the care of the Secretary of Security, the guardian that always makes it run on time is Luciano Oliveira, 41 years old, graduated in mechanic maintenance. But, throughout the city, many people aren’t as lucky. The one at the Gonçalves Dias Municipal School, in São Cristóvão, installed on a building in 1872, has no minute hands. The one on Lapa’s Nossa Senhora church, inaugurated in 1766, has been stuck at 5:50am for years. Another two clocks, both declared heritage sites, the one in Glória and the one at Largo da Carioca (from 1947), are stopped. As are those at the historic churches Memorial do Carmo and Santa Rita, in the Centro.

With more than 30 years of experience dedicated to the restauration of these clocks and bells, Manoel Cosme dos Santos, aka Manoel dos Sinos, says that, there are more old clocks that are out of order than working. Sometimes, there aren’t parts to repair them. In other cases, they’re victims of poor conservation. While the street clocks were losing part of their function with the popularization of wristwatches, the workers to fix them also became scarce.

— I learned my trade from my father. The majority of clocks date from the 19th century to the start of the 20th. At the time, there were many people that knew about my profession. It was a tradition that was passed down, normally, from generation to generation — he affirms.

STATUS AND COMMITMENT

The historian Nireu Cavalcanti regrets that many clocks have stopped. He recalls that, in Rio, in the colonial times, the churches used to have sun clocks. With time, they were substituted with mechanical ones. They were very expensive instruments, that few could have and that only became popularized in the 20th century. Aside from being a status symbol, they represented a commitment to that place with the keeping of time.

— It was a special thing for a church, a school or a government building to have a clock. It showed respect towards the citizen that was walking around, offering commitment to keeping time — said Nireu.

At the Pedro Ernesto Palace, for example, the seat of the City Council, in Cinelândia, in the middle of angles on a neoclassical façade, the clock keeps the time and the day of the month. At the old Gas Factory, on Av. Presidente Vargas, there are three clocks. And at the Mesbla Building, in art deco style, the center of attention on the façade is the 100 meter high tower featuring a clock, another still in operation since 1955.

The maintenance of the clocks in Glória and at Largo da Carioca are under the responibility of the city Secretary of Conservation and Public Services, who promises to return them to the correct time. The one in Glória, an original that works by winding, should work again in 30 days. With 4 faces, it’s a symbol of the neighborhood. According to the body, there’s a process of analysis at the City’s Attorney General office to contract a professional that, periodically, winds up the clock. The one at Carioca, on the other hand, has both internal and infrastructure problems and is in need of a larger reformation. It calls attention to itself, with three mermaids at the base. According to the secretary, a budget is being made for its complete restauration.

Source (photos by Adriana Lorete)
Source (of main photo)

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1. Largo da Carioca, Centro. 2. Tower of Nossa Senhora do Carmo 3. Central Station 4.  Memorial do Carmo Church, Centro 5. Mesbla Building 6. Glória 7. Gas Factory 8. Ninth Police Precinct, Catete 9. Santa Rita Church 10. Gonçalves Dias School 11. City Council

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