On November 25, 1735, the production of the Tsar Bell, the world’s largest bell, was finished in Moscow. Never used for its direct purpose due to its excessive weight and having spent over a hundred years in the casting pit, it has earned itself a reputation of one of the top Kremlin must-sees.
The Tsar Bell, produced per the order of Empress Anna Ioannovna between 1734 and 1735, was actually the second 200-ton version of its 130-ton predecessor, which was shattered in a fire in 1701, and was cast out of its broken fragments. Originally the plan was to invite a foundry man from the French Academy, but he refused, deeming the task impossible to complete due to the bell’s excessive size. Instead, the job was executed by a by local foundry man, Ivan Motorin, his son Mikhail and nearly 200 craftsmen. Ivan Motorin was an experienced craftsman, already having a record of producing bells and artillery devices of exceptional quality.
The entire casting process was stationed inside the Kremlin, near the Ivan the Great belltower. The 10-meter deep casting pit was reinforced with oak pillars and coated with bricks marking the outside of the bell, while a clay form of the bell put on an iron grid defined the bell’s inside borders. The Russian craftsmen adorned the bell with relief ornament, decorative cartouches with baroque volutes and angels, and inscriptions telling the bell’s history, with the figures of Empress Anna Ioannovna and Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich in the foreground.
After almost two years of preparatory work, the bell was finally ready to be cast. However, once the smelting started, two furnaces went out of order and the metal started leaking into the ground, ultimately leading to a devastating explosion. After the mishap, Ivan Motorin died “of disappointment,” as was officially proclaimed. His son Mikhail successfully completed his father’s project. To prevent fires, the foundry man put 400 people around the casting pit with fire hoses. The casting took only 1 hour and 12 minutes to finish. The bell was over 6 meters tall and over 6.5 meters in diameter, and weighed an estimated 201 tons 924 kilos. To compare, the largest Chinese bells weigh no more than 50 tons, while the biggest European bells are no heavier than 16 tons.
As the bell was about to be lifted from the pit, in May 1937, a great fire broke out. The temperature difference between the bell heated up to a critical point and the water thrown on the bell in an attempt to douse the flames caused a chunk weighing over 11 tons to crack and break off.
The bell rested in the foundation pit until 1820, by which time it had already turned into a top tourist attraction. The staircase leading down the pit allowed visitors to admire the bell's grandeur and abundant bronze surface decorations.
In 1836, the bell, under the supervision of architect Auguste Montferrand -- who had already had experience erecting the heavy granite columns of St. Isaac Cathedral in St. Petersburg -- the bell was lifted and placed on an octagon granite pedestal after a hundred years in the pit. On the eve of the Moscow Olympic in 1980, the bell underwent major renovation.
On display as one of the Kremlin wonders ever since, it has never had a chance to chime. But if it actually had, scientists claim, its toll could be heard 50-60 kilometers away.