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Discover the History of Moscow's Tsar Bell

Completed in 1735, and located alongside the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin, the Tsar Bell is considered to be the largest bell in the world, measuring 6.6 meters in diameter, with a height of 6.14 meters and weighing 201,924 kilograms. The enormous bronze bell was commissioned by the niece of Peter the Great, Empress Anna Ivanovna, and is decorated with images of the Empress and Tsar Alexey, as well as intricate patterns of plants, interspersed with angels and saints. The casting of the bell was a mammoth task that took almost two years to complete.

The Tsar Bell is sometimes referred to as Kolokol III (Bell III), being a reference to the fact that it was the third bell to be manufactured from the same materials. Although bells were a feature of medieval Russian Orthodox Churches dating back to the 10th century, they were generally only rung at important occasions or as an alarm. The original Tsar Bell weighed 18,000 kg and was completed in 1600. It was housed in the wooden Ivan the Great Bell Tower and took the combined efforts of 24 men to ring its clapper. During a fire in the mid-17th century, the bell crashed to the ground and broke into pieces. In 1655, the second Tsar Bell was cast using the pieces of the first bell, along with additional materials to create a bell weighing 100,000 kg. This bell was also destroyed by fire.

When Anna Ivanovna became empress in 1730 she ordered that a new bell should be crafted using the pieces from the second bell, along with new materials, to create a bell more than twice the size. Local foundry masters, Ivan Motorin and his son Mikhail were commissioned with casting the bell in 1733 and set about digging a 10-meter deep pit to contain the clay form into which the molten metal would be poured. The casting of the bell commenced in November 1734, but the first attempt failed. When Ivan Motorin died in August 1735 the bell was not yet complete and his son continued the work, completing the casting in November 1735. The next part of the project was to add the embellishments to the bell, a process which continued through to May 1737. At this time a fire broke out at the Kremlin and spread toward the bell which was on a temporary wooden support. In an attempt to prevent damage to the bell, guards doused it with cold water, whereupon eleven cracks appeared and a large chunk (weighing 11.5 tons) fell out.

The Tsar Bell has never been repaired, and it has never been rung, but nonetheless stands as testimony to great craftsmanship and perseverance and is considered to be one of Moscow's cultural treasures.


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