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Messina what to see? Between the churches and beautiful scenery Messina can offer its visitors, the great show of the bell tower is something you really shouldn’t miss. Being located in the very centre of the city, just a few steps away from the cathedral and in one of the liveliest squares of Messina, the bell tower is a must-see.

It is the biggest astronomical and mechanical clock in the world and it has been enthralling people since its construction. Messina bell tower, with its mechanical clock, music and shiny automaton, is not only a bell tower, but an incredible show to enjoy. So, before you visit it, we will tell you about the astronomical clock of Messina what to see and what you can expect.

Messina what to see and what to know about the bell tower

A view of the Cathedral square of Messina

If you are planning a trip to Sicily and wondering in Messina what to see first, the answer couldn’t be easier. The bell tower and astronomical clock of the cathedral of Messina will undoubtedly amaze you as it has been amazing to people since 1933 when it was inaugurated. After many times it was destroyed due to the many earthquakes, in 1930 the Archbishop of Messina Angelo Paino, finally, decided to rebuild it. Thanks to a model of the Strasbourg clock that Pope Pius XI gave him after the earthquake of 1908, he asked the Ungerer firm of Strasbourg to design the astronomical clock.

Messina Bell Tower, with its 48 meters for the clock and 12 for the pinnacle, is 60 meters tall with a square base of 9.6 square meters and is considered to be the world’s biggest and more complex astronomical and mechanical clock.

It displays a 12-minute-long performance composed of various carousels and moving statues that makes the watcher feel completely hypnotized while Shubert’s Ave Maria propagates through the air. The performance narrates biblical and allegorical scenes linked to the history of the city.

So next time you’re in Messina what to see if not the clock and the show displayed by the bell tower? It is located near the cathedral and is impossible to miss.

messina-sicily-astronomical-clock
The roaring lion, detail of the bell tower of Messina

Messina bell tower and its symbolism

The part facing the basilica is the actual sidereal part of the astronomical clock of the cathedral of Messina and is constituted as follows, from the bottom:

  • On the first level, the perpetual calendar, with a diameter of 3.5 meters, marks all 365 days of the year and can also be used in leap years thanks to a moving panel that hides the 29th of February. It is especially beautiful for the sun that shines into its centre and the marble angel placed on its left that indicates the current day, month and year.
  • On the second level, another dial 3.5 meters in diameter is the planetarium. It shows the nine planets of the solar system orbiting around the Sun while moving through the 12 signs of the Zodiac.
  • On the third level, is a half-gold, half-black sphere of 1.2 meters in diameter that represents the Moon. Rotating around its axe, the sphere shows all the lunar phases and spends 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds to complete a cycle, just like the moon.
  • On the last and fourth level of Messina Bell Tower, is a mullioned window that gives us a glimpse of the quarter and hour bells.
messina attractions
The Orion fountain, the Cathedral and the bell tower of Messina

But about the astronomical clock of Messina what to see that will actually make you stay with your eyes fixed on the bell tower is the part facing the square: that is where the magic begins. Every day, when the clock strikes midday, a lion roars and a rooster sings, announcing the show that has already begun. Starting from the bottom:

  • On the first level, there are two squares, the bottom one is a carousel of the days of the week that moves at midnight and displays a row of Greek deities riding animal-drawn wagons. The other square is another carousel, this time representing the ages of life. It moves every quarter-hour and the centre of the scene features the Grim Reaper that, waving its scythe, marks the passing of time as four figures proceed in front of him: a child, a young man, a warrior and an old man, representing the four phases of life.
  • On the second level of the astronomical clock of the cathedral of Messina, in the bottom square, a legend is narrated. The scene features a dove flying through the sky and where it lands, the beautiful Church of Montalto arises from the ground. Tradition says Madonna of the Letter, patron of the city, sent that dove to show where the church had to be built, and so built was it. And right where the Virgin Mary wanted, in the line of vision from the cathedral, the Church of Montalto stands there in all its magnificence, and if you are wondering after the Bell Tower of Messina what to see next, well, that’s the answer.

Looking up, another square is displaying biblical scenes, depending on which part of the liturgical year you visit our Messina Bell tower, you’ll find either one of these scenes: Nativity, Epiphany, Easter or Pentecost.

  • On the third level, in the first square, again a dove flies, this time is bringing a letter to Virgin Mary. The scene represents Messina’s ambassadors bowing to Mary after she gave them a letter that promised protection to the city. Looking up, a big rooster, that moves its wings and sings, represents the Angevin Empire defeat against Sicily. At its sides, Dina and Clarenza, heroines who protected the city during the Sicilian Vespers War, ring the quarter bells. Here is located the heart of the clock and if you happen to be a fan of mechanical clocks and find yourself in Messina what to see even before the show is the inside of the astronomical clock, which is open for tours.
  • On the fourth level, the mighty lion roars and waves Messina’s flag, again representing Sicily’s victory against the Angevin’s Empire.
View from below of the bell tower

And just like this, the show begins, so, to not leave you unprepared, here is a little guide about the Bell Tower of Messina what to see and where to look, so you won’t miss any part of the show. At first, you’ll be ringing bells with Dina and Clarenza and then be prepared to listen to the roaring lion and the singing rooster. Don’t be fooled, though, the next show is way down, the Church of Montalto is rising, the carousel of the biblical scene is rolling and right after that be ready to pay your respect to the Madonna of the Letter, patron of the city and real star of Messina Bell Tower.

So now when wondering about Messina what to see? Where to go first? What’s the greatest show that a simple Bell Tower could offer? Just book our Messina walking tour of the historical centre and you’ll get an answer to all of these questions and even more.

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