The Defender of Time, or Le Defenseur du Temps, mechanical clock in ParisThe Defender of Time (all photographs by the author)

The “Le Défenseur du temps,” or “The Defender of Time” clock in Paris was once a glorious automaton spectacle, where each hour a metal man engaged in combat with a dragon, rooster, or crab to the sounds of clashing metal. However, this summer marks a full decade since the clock was frozen on July 1, 2003 due to a lack of funding for its upkeep.

Most of the Quartier de l’Horloge, or the Quarter of the Clock, that surrounds the 13-foot-tall clock is nondescript concrete, and the clock itself now has its metal streaked and reportedly sometimes even marred with dead birds. Yet the Defender of Time was was an epic scene. Created by automaton artist Jacques Monestier in 1979 (here are some awesome photographs of Monestier building the clock), the clock represents man fighting against the earth, air, and sea represented by the animals and set to a recorded soundtrack of the land rumbling, the wind, and the waves.

The Defender of Time, or Le Defenseur du Temps, mechanical clock in Paris

The animal battles with their surprisingly fluid movement were randomized, except three times a day when all three would lunge at the vacant-eyed figure with his raised sword — the dragon curled beneath the landscape of brass, steel, and gold leaf with its mechanical breathing making its scaled metal body pulse; the rooster with its outstretched talons and flapping wings; and the crab with its clanking claws. 

While the clock has fallen on hard times, there’s hope that it will someday be restored with the right funding. But to really appreciate what a wonder the clock is, and why it should be restored, you need to see it in action: