The Big Bells And Big Guns – Russian Travel

According to tradition the tall bell tower of Ivan Veliki in Moscow has an ancient origin, but as a matter of fact it was constructed at the close of the sixteenth century to find employment for a starving population. Its foundations are on a level with the river bed, 120 feet below the surface; its height above is 320 feet, built in five stories, the first four octagonal, the topmost cylindrical. In the eighteenth century it was considered one of thc wonders of the world, and to this day the orthodox invariably cross themselves when passing it. Dedicated to St. John and containing in the basement a chapel to the same saint, it is supposed to owe its name to this, but tradition states that it was constructed by one John (Ivan) Viliers, whose patronymic has been corrupted into Veliki—that is, “great” or “big.”

Adjoining Ivan Veliki is another tower, that of the Assumption, in which are hung the larger bells, and still further to the north a third belfry with a pyramidal spire, known as the Tower of Philaret. Very characteristic of Moscow are these towers, of different styles of architecture, massed to form one building; that the three should all be white is a pleasing convention which has long endured. It is needless to state that there is an excellent view from the upper stories, one well worth the toilsome ascent. Moreover the bells are interesting; tho some visitors are content with an examination of the great Bell of Moscow which, broken and flawed, stands upon a pedestal at the foot of the Ivan Veliki tower.

The art of bell-founding first practised at Nola in Campania in the ninth century, has been known in Russia since the fourteenth; in 1553 a bell of about fifteen tons was cast in Moscow and hung in a wooden tower. Since that date many large bells have been cast and recast. The largest, the Csar Kolokol, the “Great Bell of Moscow,” is supposed to have been first cast in the sixteenth century, probably during the reign of Boris Godunov; in 1611 a traveler states that in Moscow is a bell whose clapper is rung by two dozen men; in 1636, a fire in the Kremlin caused the bell to fall and it was broken, In 1654 it was recast and then weighed some one hundred and thirty tons; it was two feet thick and its circumference over fifty feet. It was suspended at the foot of the tower, and the wooden beam supporting it being burned by the fire of 1706 it once more fell to the ground and broke. It was recast by order of the Empress Anne in 1733, but it is doubtful whether it was hung. From 1737 to 1836 it lay beneath the surface. By the order of the Czar Nicholas, De Ferrand raised it from the pit and mounted it on the pedestal it now occupies. It is two feet thick, twenty-one feet high (twenty-six feet four inches with ball and cross), sixty-eight feet in girth, and weighs one hundred and eighty-five tons. The fragment is seven feet high and weighs eleven tons. The figures represent the Czar Alexis and the Empress Anne.

“Thirty-four bells hang in these three towers; the largest is the `big bell’ of the Uspenski Sober, which is in the middle tower and on the lowest tier. It was cast in 1817 by Bogdanof, to replace the bell broken when the tower was wrecked by the mine exploded beneath it in 1812. A bell of seven tons is the largest in the tower of Ivan, which, originally founded in 1501 by Afanasief, has been subsequently recast; the next story has three old bells, and among those of the highest story are two `silver’ bells. The oldest here dates from 1550; other old bells, Russian, Dutch, and others, are hung in the belfry of Spass na Boru, in that of St. Michael in the courtyard of the Chudov Monastery, and in the belfry of the Vossnesenski Convent. Russian bells are not swung, but are sounded by moving the clapper, to the tongue of which the bell rope is attached; the clapper of the `Kolokol’ is fourteen feet in length and six feet in circumference.”

The famous bells of Moscow are : The Czar Kolokol, one hundred and eighty-five tons; Assumption or “Big Bell”—in use—sixty-four tons; The Thunderer (Reut), thirty tons, cast by Chokov in 1689, it also fell in 1812 but was not broken; The Every Day (Vsednievni), fifteen tons, cast in 1782; The Seven-hundredth (Semisotni), ten tons; Bear (Medvied), seven tons; Swan (Lebeda), seven tons; Novgorodsk, six tons; The “Wide” Bell (Skirokoi), four and one-half tons; Slobodski, four and one-half tons; Rostovski, three tons. The casting of the great bells was made a state function as well as a church ceremony; as late as the nineteenth century, the old form of blessing the bell was followed in the case of the Big Bell.

Closely allied to the art of the bell-maker was that of cannon-founder, and the Kremlin contains some curious and excellent specimens of old weapons. The most striking is the huge gun known as the Czar Pushka, “King of (Guns,” familiarly as the “drobovnik” (fowling piece), which was cast in the reign of Theodore Ivanovich (1586), by one Chokof. It weighs thirty-six tons, and is of too large caliber and too weak metal ever to have been used as a weapon. When Peter I. after the battle of Narva, ordered old cannon and church bells to be cast into new ordnance, this was spared. So was the mortar by its side, for it was cast by the false Dmitri, who not only took a great interest in the manufacture of fire-arms, but tested them himself. Among the cannon arranged along the barrack terrace is ‘The Unicorn” cast in 1670; the carriage of this, of the Czar Pushka, and of others are new, made by Baird, of St. Petersburg. Along the front of the arsenal are arranged the 875 cannon, 365 French, taken from “the twenty nations” who invaded Russia with Napoleon.