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Valladolid’s high-tech, historical clocks cause a stir

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New old-style clocks in Valladolid are causing concern.
New old-style clocks in Valladolid are causing concern.

Valladolid’s centro histórico has been undergoing “rescue work,” and among the historical touches has been the installation of two charming old-timey street clocks.

Two surprisingly controversial old-timey street clocks.

The face of the new clocks uses Roman numerals: I, II III, IV… and so on. But in this case, the 4 is expressed as IIII. They get IX right, but not so much the IV.

Puebla-based clockmaker, Olvera, in business since 1909, designs all its Roman numeral faces that way. The historical reproductions they sold to Valladolid were no exception.

cartier tank
Cartier’s tank watch: I, II, III, IIII.

This is not Olvera’s special little twist. Clockmakers around the world have been reinterpreting Roman numerals in just this way for centuries, and they have been defending the IIII for as many years. They insist that IIII creates better symmetry against VIII. Or that Louis XIV (or is it Louis XIIII?) wanted it that way, or respect for the Roman god Jupiter. There are many arguments for IIII.

Still, it made for an amusing story, with a big banner headline in today’s Diario de Yucatán.

Residents said that they think it’s a mistake on the clockmaker’s part, will cause confusion, and is evidence that the citizenry is too ignorant to know the difference. One street vendor told the paper that she doesn’t know much, but she knows a Roman numeral 4 is IV.

The city defended the clocks, which are actually high-tech GPS models that automatically calibrate with a satellite for accuracy. They affirmed the clockmaker’s tradition of breaking with strict Roman numbering.

So work continues in the Pueblo Magico, a Colonial gem midway between Mérida and Tulum, as crews restore facades, conceal power lines and resurface the streets.

It is expected that work will finish by the end of the year.

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