Tsar Bell:
The Last of the Dynasty

Early 20th century photograph of the Tsar Bell

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“The size and beauty of Russian bells is unparallelled in the whole world”, a historian wrote quite truthfully. The weightiest proof of these words is the famous Tsar Bell, a monument of Russian 18th century foundry work, established in a square of the Moscow Kremlin 175 years ago.

The bell sits on a stone pedestal, like a statue, and every tourist visiting the Kremlin stops to admire it. Its gigantic dimensions are mind-boggling: 6m high and 200 tons in weight. Its decoration includes bas-reliefs of angels and saints and three belts of flowery ornaments. The main part of the decoration is two images of Russian monarchs, Empress Anna Ivanovna and Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich, as the Tsar Bell was meant to be the symbol of Russia’s grandeur.

Owing to secrets known by Russian foundry workers, the sound of Russian bell-ringing became powerful and melodious. Russia surpassed all other countries in the number and weight of its bells. The largest of them, called czar bells, were meant for the belfry of the Moscow Kremlin. The founder of this bell “dynasty” was cast in 1600 by order of Tsar Boris Godunov. Unfortunately, czar bells did not have a long life: they fell down during fires or broke while they were being rung. Each time their fragments were melted down to be used for making new and heavier bells. The last bell in this chain was the Tsar Bell which has been standing on a stone pedestal in the Kremlin for 175 years. Unlike its predecessors that managed to demonstrate their thunder-like voices to the world, the largest Tsar Bell remained silent. “It was never raised onto the bell tower. It had a dramatic life which started when Empress Anna Ivanovna ordered to cast a new bell, larger than others,” Viktor Sharikov, the director of the Moscow Bell Centre, says in his interview for The Voice of Russia.

Empress Anna Ivanovna

“Empress Anna Ivanovna was an ambitious woman who wanted to beat the record of a former ruler, Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich. She almost managed to do that, - Viktopr Sharikov says. –The first attempt to cast the bell failed. When the metal was being poured one of the furnaces cracked and the bronze began to run out, so it was decided to stop the process. A year later the mould was restored and they tried to cast a bell again, with more success this time. The bell was cast and the workers cleaned it on the inside and outside. However, there was a terrible fire in Moscow in the summer of 1737 and the wooden scaffolding around the bell caught fire. As a result the bell fell down into the casting pit over which it was hanging. Fearing that the burning scaffolding might melt the bell, the workers started pouring cold water onto it. When the fire was extinguished the bell had numerous cracks and, moreover, a fragment of 11.5 tons fell off.”

Announcer: What was to be done? The Senator ordered to bury the bell and it was forgotten. At the end of the 18th century the bell was dug out and shown to important visitors as the “world’s eighth wonder”. “When Napoleon’s troops were approaching Moscow in 1812 the bell was buried again for fear of the French soldiers’ vandalism”, Viktor Sharikov says.

“The bell came back to life only in1834 when Tsar Nicholas I ordered to unearth it, clean it and put it on a pedestal near the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great. The Tsar Bell still stands in the same place as a symbol of unsurpassed Russian foundry work because this record has not been beaten so far, either by European, Asian or American craftsmen, or by Russian ones,” the Bell Centre expert says.

Source & Copyright: The Voice of Russia
Edited and updated with additional information by Paul Gilbert, Royal Russia
5 August, 2011