The Bolivian Clock That Runs Backwards

Feb 18, 2019 0 comments

The building that houses Bolivia’s legislative assembly in Plaza Murillo, in central La Paz, features a clock above the entrance that looks like a mirror image. The positions of the numerals on the clock face are reversed, and the clock itself runs anticlockwise. The building, which was erected during the 1920s and was originally intended to serve as the headquarters of Bolivia's central bank, featured a regular clock until 2014, when the clock was reversed to better reflect the “southern-ness” of the Bolivian people.

“Who said clocks always have to run the same way? Why do we always have to be obedient? Why can't we be creative?” asked Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who seemed especially pleased with the idea.


Photo credit: Rogerio Camboim S A/Flickr

According to Choquehuanca, the change was made to get Bolivians to treasure their heritage, and help the masses to more closely identify with their indigenous roots. The two main indigenous groups of the Bolivian people, the Aymarans and the Quechuans, are unique in the world in viewing the past as in front of them and the future behind them. The reversed clock also conforms to the direction the sundial’s shadow moves in the southern hemisphere. After all, the direction of movement of a clock’s hands wasn’t chosen arbitrarily. Clocks are an evolution of the sundial, and in the northern hemisphere a sundial's shadow runs clockwise, while in the southern hemisphere it moves counterclockwise, making La Paz’s clock a representation of the natural motion of shadows in the northern hemisphere.

However, that’s not true for the entire year. Being located close to the equator, the shadow on a sundial in La Paz doesn’t always move in the anti-clockwise direction. For several months, the direction of motion changes to clockwise as the sun passes to the South of La Paz in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months.

When the new clock was installed, many La Paz residents thought it was an error. Others welcomed the change. Some even think all clocks on the continent should be reversed like this one.


Photo credit: Dan Lundberg/Flickr


The previous clock on the House of Congress. Photo credit: Pablo Andrés Rivero/Flickr


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