The Breton town of Dinan is at the tidal limit of the river Rance, and this favourable position made it a wealthy trading town in the middle ages. In the fifteenth century, the municipal authorities decided to build a tower which would dominate the town and serve as watch-tower, council building and bell-tower. The town's archives were stored here and meetings held here until the Revolution, when confiscations made larger and more suitable premises available. It remained the highest point of the town until the nineteenth century, when the spire of the church of St Sauveur reached a little higher.
The tower continued to be a watchtower, particularly useful for spotting fires, but in 1937 it opened to the public and now offers visitors impressive views over Dinan. However, the interior also deserves attention - and not only because the stone steps give way to steeper wooden ones and finally to an unnerving near-ladder. It also contains historical information and, most excitingly, a clock movement dated 1498. Duchess Anne of Brittany authorised the installation of a clock in 1507 - making Dinan the third Breton town to be allowed to do so. Indeed, this clock's new home became known as the Tour de l'Horloge (the Clocktower).
The mechanism was made by M Hamzer, a German clockmaker working in the Breton city of Nantes. It was used until 1847, although it had undergone some modifications, the first in 1657. The workings are of wrought iron, and included an hour hand (but no minute hand) and a chiming mechanism.
Its replacement continues to strike the hours and quarters - quite an experience when you're stood alongside the bells at the top!