If London has its iconic clock tower (now known as the Elizabeth Tower) at Westminster Palace, Manila has its own iconic clock tower as well at Manila City Hall. It has been a towering landmark in this part of the city ever since the city hall was inaugurated back in 1941.
And while the building and the tower managed to survive the Battle of Manila in 1945, the complex suffered heavy damage, especially the clocks. The structure was renovated after the war but as years went on, the clocks of the Manila City Hall clock tower suffered mechanical decline such that the 4 clocks could not even accurately tell the time, let alone even show the same time. It was only during the early years of Mayor Lito Atienza’s term that the clocks were repaired and they have been in good working condition ever since. Notwithstanding a second renovation of the clocks done in 2014 which brought about some significant changes.
But for a long while, few managed to get a glimpse of what it’s like inside the clock tower. And there probably was not much to see apart from the mechanical parts that made the 4 clocks of the tower move. And given the state of storage and maintenance in many government buildings, one can imagine that much of the tower was used as storage for whatever stuff, most probably in an unorganized manner.
Then in 2020, then Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, initiated a massive renovation project of the Manila City Hall clock tower. On the exterior, the roof and the clock faces were repainted from red to gold. But more was being done on the interiors, as it underwent a total makeover with the goal of transforming the landmark further into a place that the public can visit and explore inside.
The result is the Manila Clock Tower Museum, which was unveiled to the public as sort of a sneak peek on June 29, 2022, a day before Mayor Moreno-Domagoso would step down from office. Eventually, the whole museum was opened to the public on October 25 by his successor, Manila’s first female mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan.
Located on the fourth floor of city hall, the museum is itself 7 storeys high (including the mezzanine floor). The ground floor of the museum is dedicated to Manila’s history, especially during World War II, when the city suffered heavy casualties in lives and buildings. The replica of a bomb suspended from the ceiling and gallery of the soldiers lost during the war further stresses this point.
Manila’s historic and political past is also showcased in the museum, with one area designed to replicate the office of the city mayor, surrounded by portraits of various city mayors. There is also a mini-library where one can find titles related especially to the city itself.
The museum also showcases various artworks across most of the floors. Some of these artworks are actually for sale and some are being displayed there temporarily. There is also a section where art conservations are done. Manila Clock Tower Museum aims to be a haven for the arts with the added benefit of being exhibited inside a historic landmark.
The museum’s 6th floor is where one can find the mechanisms for the four clocks. It was surprising to see these mechanisms are smaller than one might expect. Come to think of it, perhaps the original mechanisms were bigger and the ones today are from the renovation works made in 2014. If so, it’s still fascinating from a technology perspective…that such large timepieces can now be operated by parts that are smaller but just as efficient (if not better than) the larger parts of the past.
But the highlight of the museum has to be the topmost (7th) floor where one can access by the spiral staircase. Here, one can get a circular view of the city.
Given many of the exhibits in the museum are not permanent, one can expect there will be something new to see at the museum every few months or so. That does not even factor in some future facilities there like a coffee shop being planned to open within its premises soon.
For the unique experience alone, the Manila Clock Tower Museum is a must-visit landmark in the city. Furthermore, it provides a greater appreciation for an already beloved city landmark that is as timeless as its clocks.
The Urban Roamer expresses his gratitude to the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Manila Clock Tower Museum for opening the museum’s doors during CCP’s Pasinaya arts festival 2023
For more information and to book a visit to the museum (pre-registration is required) visit the Manila Clock Tower Museum Facebook page. Also, be prepared to climb a lot.