Largest bell

The Tsar Bell in Moscow is the largest extant bell in the world – but it has never been rung.

Tsar Bell in winter, Moscow
Gzen92, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in April I wrote about the largest working bell in history and its journey from Shwedagon Pagoda to the bottom of the Yangon River. That Great Bell of Dhammazedi is long gone, unless one of the numerous recovery attempts suddenly succeeds. The title of largest bell now falls to another object, this one with its own fraught and difficult history: Russia’s Tsar Bell.

The first Tsar Bell was finished in 1600 CE, under the reign of Tsar Boris Godunóv. It was huge, 30,000 kg according to some estimates. It sat inside a bell tower within the Kremlin for fifty years until a fire brought it crashing to the ground. In 1654 a new tsar, Alexis, took the metal remains of the first bell and recast them as part of a second, larger Tsar Bell. This bell broke, was repaired, and then it too was lost in a fire fifty years after its creation.

The third and final Tsar Bell was cast in 1735 CE, during the rule of the Romanov Empress Anna Ivanovna. This Tsar Bell used metal from its two predecessors, plus a whole bunch more: this bell weighed in at more than 200,000 kg. It was large enough to bear a life-sized picture of the empress on its side:

Tsar Bell showing Empress Anna Ivanovna
Don-vip, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This third bell never even made it to the tower. The 1737 Trinity Fire swept through Moscow and damaged the as-yet un-hung bell. By one account, water was poured on the bell to prevent it from melting in the fire… but the rapid cooling instead caused the bell to crack. By another account, the bell simply fell into the pit in which it was cast and cracked. Either way, a 10,000 kg chunk split off from the Tsar Bell, and the whole thing remained buried for the next century.

The bell was finally lifted into place in 1836. It has sat within the Kremlin grounds ever since, a testament to both Russian ingenuity and Russian tragedy.

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