Big Time

Quite awhile ago, Twelve Mile Circle looked at some Remarkable Sundials. I found some rather amazing timepieces in a lot of different places, some of them quite large. Now I wondered about the largest actual clock with a face and hands. I didn’t know why the notion suddenly came to me after the passage of so much time. However, it did for some reason and I got curious. A couple of simple rules underpinned this examination: It needed to be a regular clock face and it needed to be permanent.

Makkah Royal Clock Tower

Makkah Royal Hotel Clock Tower
Makkah Royal Hotel Clock Tower. Photo by Basheer Olakara on Flickr (cc)

By that definition, the search for the largest clock led to Saudi Arabia. There in Mecca, overlooking most sacred site in Islam, stood the Makkah Royal Clock Tower (map). The clock adorned the third tallest building in the world, Abraj Al-Bait. The Saudi government built and owned this cluster of seven towers, the tallest and largest a Fairmont hotel finished in 2012. I noticed rooms available for as little as $125 per night although I imagined rates would be considerably higher during the Hajj.

The hotel tower rose 601 metres (1,972 feet), with 120 floors. The clock sat near the top. Each side of the clock’s face measures 43 m (141 ft). Reputedly, the clock could be seen from a distance of 25 kilometres (15.5 miles). I guess that meant that nobody in Mecca ever had a valid excuse for losing track of time and missing an appointment.

Central do Brasil

Central do Brasil
Central do Brasil. Photo by Sebástian Freire on Flickr (cc)

A clock in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil qualified as the largest example in the Americas (map). Railroad officials placed it at Central do Brasil, the city’s most important train station. This site served as an extremely important transportation hub, both for the city and for the nation. It served trains heading in all directions, and offered a connection to Rio’s subway system and bus station. Trains ran on regular schedules to it made sense to put a big clock where everyone could see it. The clock at Central do Brasil with a 20 m (66 ft) diameter sat near the top of a 135 metre (443 ft) tower.

Duquesne Brewing Company Clock

Blank Clock
Blank Clock. Photo by Brian Siewiorek on Flickr (cc)

The largest clock in the United States, found in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, came to be known as the Duquesne Brewing Company Clock. The name stuck even though the company went out of business in the 1970’s. The 18 m (60 ft) face originally adorned a prominent place on the hillside of the city’s Mount Washington beginning in 1933. I rode the incline to the top of Mount Washington a few months ago. That would be an ideal spot for a giant clock. However, the Duquesne Brewing Company purchased it and removed it from the mountain to adorn its brewery (map). After the brewery went out of business, the building owner painted company logos on the clock for a fee. Apparently nobody wanted to take advantage of that opportunity lately. The clock face now remains blank albeit still tracking time.

Grozny-City Towers

Grozny 8
Grozny. Photo by Alexxx Malev on Flickr (cc)

The largest European clock could be found in Grozny, Chechnya in Russia. It adorned the Grozny-City Towers (map), built in 2011. This 13.6 m (45 ft) diameter clock sat 140 m (460 ft) above street level. Grozny-City Towers also included apartments, a hotel and a business complex in addition to its giant clock.

Many of the world’s largest clocks dated to the 21st Century. That surprised me. Apparently an oversized clock competition started sometime in the last few years. What sparked that, I wondered?

Bonus Clock

Flavor Flav
Flavor Flav. Photo by angela n. on Flickr (cc)

Of course, no discussion of oversized clocks would be complete without mentioning Flavor Flav.

Weather or Not

Several places named Hurricane — all found far from a coastline — interested me a few weeks ago. From there I wrote a simple article I called Inland Hurricane. I also wondered if the same peculiarity extended to other weather phenomena so I began to search for more. I found mixed results. Even so I still uncovered some interesting stories so I considered the effort a success.


Coal River
Coal River. Photo by Random Michelle on Flickr (cc)

The Hurricane article mentioned a town in West Virginia. It didn’t surprise me to see a Tornado included within the same state (map). I love West Virginia for its awesome names. Kentucky too. Those two seem to compete with each other for the most outlandishly creative place names.

Tornado ceased to be Tornado for several years. According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, an unnamed local resident complained about the name and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed it to Upper Falls in 2010. This referenced a series of small rapids along the Coal River just outside of town. However nobody bothered to check with the rest of the community. They preferred the original Tornado by a wide margin, a name used since 1881. That began a big kerfuffle involving lots of local politicians and the name reverted back to Tornado in 2013.

I never did discover why Tornado became Tornado back in 1881. It could have come from the whirling water of the nearby rapids. Maybe an actual tornado blew through there long ago. Who knows?


Rain am Lech, Germany, at night

Imagine the difficulty of finding information about a German town called Rain (map). Nearly all of my searches ran into stories and photos of actual heavy precipitation in Germany and precious little information about the town sharing the name. Finally I learned through trial and error that I could search for "Rain am Lech" and get decent results. The River Lech ran through Rain just before its confluence with the Danube.

The biggest thing to happen in Rain probably occurred in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. This conflict pitted Protestant against Catholic forces as the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. War raged for more than a decade across central Europe before Swedish general Gustavus Adolphus pushed towards Bavaria and up to the banks of the River Lech. His opponent, Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly and the Catholic League occupied the opposite bank in a defensive position. Gustavus Adolphus used withering artillery and superior tactics to breach the river, and pushed into Bavaria to threaten Austria. Tilly died of wounds a few days later. War would continue for many more years.

Unfortunately I didn’t understand German well enough to find the etymology of Rain. I started sensing a pattern with my second failure.


Hail - Sho6 Sunset
Hail – Sho6 Sunset. Photo by shagra4ever on Flickr (cc)

I felt certain however that Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il (%u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644) didn’t get its name from falling ice. Ha’il was both a region and a town (map), with more than a half-million people in its larger area. I thought I’d find a lot more information about a place with so many inhabitants and yet little existed even on Arabic language sites. It had some old castles, lots of wheat fields and a university. The Saudi tourism site included an overview:

When visiting Ha’il you can travel through the countryside in 4x4s, mountain climb in Nafud Al Kabir, or head west of the city to explore the mountaintops of Aja… It is a beautiful setting where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and take memorable photos, climb mountains, take hikes and enjoy nature and animals in a natural environment.

Google Translate suggested that the English equivalent of %u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644 might be something like obstacle or barrier. The town began as a fortress along an important caravan route. Could that have been the origin of its name?


Quake Lake
Quake Lake. Photo by stpaulgirl on Flickr (cc)

Finally, I found a place with a clear, unambiguous origin. Officially a body of water in southwestern Montana went by the name Earthquake Lake (map). Most people shortened it to Quake Lake. I loved that rhyming name; it had a certain poetic style. An actual, genuine earthquake formed this lake too. According to the US Forest Service,

It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide… over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century.

The lake’s formation came with a sad price. Twenty-eight people died during the quake that created it.

Once a Capital

It must be depressing, I considered, to live in a former capital city. Once it served as the centerpiece of a sovereign nation, a focus of governance, a diplomatic hub, and now maybe only a provincial power or possibly much worse. I wondered what the saddest case might be, the one that fell the farthest and the hardest. I had a tough time narrowing it down however because of the huge number of formerly sovereign states that no longer existed. There were plenty to select amongst.

I considered several factors. Longevity was key. A city that served as a capital for centuries would score higher than one that lasting in an exalted position for only a few years. I also examined recency and tried to find instances that stretched into the 20th Century, more or less. Finally, the completeness of the fall should play a role. It’s hard to cry for Budapest or Prague — capitals of various former nations — when they continue to serve as capitals of existing nations for example.

There were so many wonderful candidates and I tried to spread my selections over a wide geography. For 12MC readers who may be wondering why I didn’t pick “city so and so” it’s only because I didn’t have enough space. I could have doubled or tripled the size of this list.


Free City of Lübeck

Lübeck was a city-state, the Free City of Lübeck, a sovereign space almost contiguously from the 13th Century until 1937. It also served as the focal point of the Hanseatic League beginning in the late Middle Ages. This defensive and commercial confederation dominated trade along the Baltic coast and beyond for centuries. The Nazis finally ended Lübeck’s sovereignty, allegedly because Hitler wanted to punish the town for slighting him a few years earlier.

Today Lübeck is split between two German states, Schleswig-Holstein (primarily) and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is the capital of neither. Lübeck dropped from multi-hundred-year sovereignty to… just another port city.



Ha’il served as the capital of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar, an Islamic monarchy lasting nearly a hundred years until 1921. The Emirate covered a big chunk of the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The House of Saud and the Emirate’s House of Rashid bickered frequently over their respective territorial boundaries within the desolate interior, the Nejd region, without any definitive resolution until World War I. The House of Saud allied with Britain during that conflict and the House of Rashid chose the Ottomans. This weakened the Emirate of Jabal Shammar as the war concluded. The Saudi campaign of 1921, with British military assistance, erased it for good.

Today Ha’il is a provincial capital, an agricultural center, a university town, and that’s about it.



I had a particularly difficult time selecting an African example because there were so many empires that lasted for multiple centuries before being erased by infighting or by European colonialism. I think Ngazargamu (Gazargamo) would be a particularly noteworthy example. It served as the capital of the Bornu Empire in the African interior in the general vicinity of Lake Chad from the 14th Century until 1893. After Bornu’s defeat, Ngazargamu fell to ruin and decay.

Today Ngazargamu is a brown patch of rubble in the middle of nowhere.



India also included a large number of very prolific empires. I selected the Kingdom of Mysore that lasted from the 14th Century until 1947, which also had its capital in the town of Mysore (and in Srirangapatna at times). The Kingdom tussled with Britain in four separate Anglo-Mysore wars. Mysore won the first two rounds and the British won the all-important second two, lessening Mysore’s importance when the British installed a new Prince. Mysore limped along as a diminished power until joining newly-independent India in 1947.

Today Mysore is the headquarters city of the Mysore District, one of 30 such districts in India’s Karnataka state. It is also the lead city of the Mysore Division which includes a collection of several surrounding districts. However it’s not even the state capital, which is Bangalore.



I had a hard time with Oceana for an entirely different reason. Lots of south Pacific history went unrecorded so it’s hard to tell when dynasties actually began. I’ll go with Mu’a though, the capital of the Tu’i Tonga Empire which may have started as early as the 10th Century and lasted through 1865.

Today Mu’a is a small town on Tongatapu, the principal island of Tonga. Maybe 5,000 people live there. It’s not the capital. That’s Nuku’alofa.