Clock towers at the center of a City is an interesting phenomenon. The fact is that clock towers are a particular form of structure which houses a tower clock and has one or more clock faces on the upper exterior walls. Many clock towers are freestanding structures, but can also adjoin or be located on top of another building. We also see that different clock towers are a common sight in many parts of the world with some being iconic buildings like the Elizabeth Tower in London, commonly known as the Big Ben, which is a tourist hotspot. A few famous clock towers in the world are Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia in United States, Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, The Prague Astronomical Clock, Prague in Czech Republic, Rathaus-Glockenspiel, Munich in Germany, The Savior Tower, Moscow in Russia, The Zytglogge Tower, Bern in Switzerland, The Peace Tower, Ottawa in Canada, Old Joe, University of Birmingham in United Kingdom and Rajabai Clock Tower, Mumbai in India. The point I’m trying to make is that even though there are many clock towers here in Pakistan, you will never see them being mentioned in the top ten or twenty list. This is our fault as we do not project our heritage the way other countries do.
Though the concept of clock tower originated in the East, it later traveled to other places of the world irrespective of geographical and cultural boundaries. These towers were built to enhance the city sky line and to mark important places. This is an old concept and counted as heritage by the countries, but in Pakistan we have neglected them. Before I jump on to my topic, let me give you an interesting fact that the clock in Salisbury cathedral, England is believed to be the oldest continuously running clock in the world (since 1386 A.D.) Historians tell that the manufacturing of clocks became a successful industry during the 14th and 15th centuries and having a clock tower became a status symbol in main European cities. Apart from Europe and America, today clock towers are seen in sub-continent as well. China, India and the Arabian world also has the clock towers. With the British Raj in the subcontinent the Clock Towers gained importance in the urban landscape of major cities of India and Pakistan. Colleges, town halls, post offices, churches, railway stations were especially decorated with clock towers.
Now let’s come to the clock tower of Sialkot, the city of Allama Iqbal. The Sialkot Clock Tower is also known as Iqbal Square. It is situated in Saddar Bazar, Sialkot cantonment, Pakistan. The Sialkot Clock Tower was built in the 19thcentury by the British. Sheikh Ghulam Qadir and Seth Rai Bahadur laid its foundation stone. Standing tall for more than a century, the tower has witnessed many upheavals, turmoil, seasons of tranquility and revolutions. Historians and the old residents of the area say that there was a Hindu Temple next to the Tower. It was an old Temple and was frequented by many Hindus till 1992 when the riots began in reaction to dismantling of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India. That was the time when the Temple was also pulled down. The Tower of Sialkot was a main attraction for the visitors and being in the center of the city there was a hustle and bustle of the people around it. With the passage of time, the tower started losing its majesty and recently it was renovated. The building of the Tower during restoration was not much changed and thus maintains the original look and feel. This Clock Tower of Sialkot acts like a giant pin, holding the zealous and bustling streets of the main city and the well planned, relatively serene portions of the cantonment area together. Its four clock faces still keep the track of time and the entire city depends upon it for the time.
In the tall tower, a huge clock is installed at the top and bells ring every hour. It is a commendable piece of art and architecture, keeping the name of Iqbal and Sialkot up above. After Isha prayer, people start gathering around this tower. They sit there, chat, have drinks, smoke, laugh like anything in typical Sialkoti style and this treat continues till late at night. Small shops and eateries have opened up around the tower to keep people busy and happy. These days the trend of selfies around it has also increased as I could see many people taking selfies with the tower in the background.
Let me tell you a little about Sialkot which is known to be the 12th populous city of Pakistan. It is renowned all over the world for producing top of the line surgical products and sports goods. Like other small cities, Sialkot has contributed a lot to the Pakistan’s economy and in my opinion it has a lot to offer more than we can imagine, it just needs the right marketing. Sialkot was once famous for the manufacture of damascene ware (metal decorated with patterns) and paper; its modern industries include flour and cotton mills and the production of sporting goods. Historians say that it was founded by Raja Sala, uncle of the Paṇḍavas of the epic Mahabharata, and re-founded by Raja Salivahan in the time of Vikramaditya; it may be the site of ancient Sakala (Sagul), capital of the Indo-Greek Menander (Milinda) and Mihirakula the Hun. Sialkot was the birthplace of the poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal and houses several shrines, including that of the first Sikh guru, Nanak.
I think that this city needs to be highlighted as a tourist spot and a tourism department should be assigned the task of tourism management. The dilemma with our heritage and cities is that we neglect it in terms of tourism and projection. Tours should be organized to the industries located in Sialkot especially the sports goods. Our government should be adopting latest marketing tools and technology for the promotion of such heritage cities and sites.