Clepsydras and Muslim clocks by Antonio Fernández-Puertas

It is a monograph on hourglasses, Muslim clocks and other horologies written by Antonio Fernández-Puertas who is Professor of History of Muslim Art at the University of Granada. He belongs to the Higher Facultative Body of Museums and has been director of the National Museum of Hispanic-Muslim Art in the Alhambra.

It is not a reading for everyone, but if you want to enter this world of water clocks, automatons, horologies, etc. you will love it. In addition to describing a large number of gadgets and telling us where and when they were referenced, we entered the Byzantine empire to see a little of its splendor and the wonders that they must have.

Especially since there is not much information available on the Internet about Clepsydras and what there is I cannot see in full.

About the monograph

This volume of the Andalusí Legacy Foundation and is a bilingual Spanish-English edition. It is divided into 4 parts.

  1. It reviews the history and different hourglasses, automatons and gadgets known from ancient times to the XNUMXth century in the Near East.
  2. Continue with clocks and horologies in the Muslim West
  3. Then he describes the history and operation of El horologio del 764 H./1362 in the mexuar of the Alhambra.
  4. It ends with a chapter on clocks, horologies, automata and other gadgets this time in the Muslim East, where they really shone in all their ingenuity.

If you like hourglasses, I will leave more information in this article about Clepsydras or water clocks. That I am gradually expanding.

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Of course another of the interesting points of these monographs is the bibliography that opens the door to many other texts from which we can continue to pull the thread and continue to inform ourselves.

I highlight the explanation of how the Greeks modified the hourglass by adding incoming water and a float. With the incoming water, they could always maintain the same level in the tank, so the flow rate does not vary with the discharge and thus they keep it constant. A very simple and very ingenious solution that I talk about in the articulo.

In addition, the operation of the candles is related to mark the passage of time. A graduated candle is supposed to have a sundial so that as it burns it will mark the time. Without a doubt a very very ingenious solution too.

Ibn al-Jatib continues describing the minkan and says that a candle protruded above the structure of the furniture, which had its wax body divided into the corresponding parts to indicate the hours, and a linen string came out of each of them. , to which it was tied to the visible head of the latch that closed the mihrab, since being held by the rope prevented it from descending and starting the mechanism to tell the time.

And he goes on to explain that in each latch there was a small copper ball that fell when the candle reached that level. It fell on top of a copper plate that resonated marking the hours.


This is a first selection of content. There really is so much useful and interesting information that I would copy the entire book. But I have pending its rereading taking notes actively. So I will expand this topic a lot.

When we talk about automata, we all come to mind The Turk, the automaton that played chess, and that ended up as a fraud, but this one is from the XNUMXth century, while the devices mentioned in the book are from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century.

In the Persian empire the shah had his throne under a contraption of golden trees filled with different golden birds that could sing, and on each side of the seat there were roaring metal lions. This throne and the functioning of the golden mechanisms left those who were received by the sovereign in awe.

Clocks, automatisms and horologies mentioned

Some things to look for information on, although I am collecting everything in Zotero

  • Greek clepsydra with incoming water and float
  • Hero Machines of Alexandria in the XNUMXst century
  • Gorgon face mechanism
  • Skipru sundial in central Greece
  • Astronomical clock tower at K'ai-fêng in Hanan
  • Book on building clocks
  • D Ridwan Clock at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus
  • Al-Ŷazari clock (of the ship, of the sail, of the elephant which is the most complete)
  • Minŷana
  • Fountain of La Zubia in Granada
  • Hispanic Muslim Minbars

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