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The Tsar Bell and Tsar Canon, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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If visitors make a brief detour just before passing through the archway into Cathedral Square, they'll find two of the Kremlin's more curious structures - the Tsar Bell and the Tsar Cannon. Curious in that the former was never rung and the latter was never fired!

The enormous Tsar Bell is an impressive 6.14 meters in height, 6.6 meters in diameter and weighs some 200 tons, making it the largest bell in the world. The bell's bronze surface is decorated with relief depictions of Tsar Alexei and Empress Anna, who decreed the casting of the first Tsar Bell as well as the one on display today. The first version weighed 130 tons and was cast in 1655, but not hoisted into the belfry of the Assumption Cathedral for another 19 years, where it fell to the ground and immediately shattered in the fire of 1701. Almost three decades later, Anna ordered that the broken fragments be used to cast a second larger bell, which was executed between 1734 and 1735 by local foundry man Ivan Motorin, his son Mikhail and nearly 200 craftsmen.

While the bell was cooling off in its casting pit, a great fire began in the Kremlin in May 1737 and water thrown on the bell in attempt to douse the flames caused a chunk weighing over 11 tons to crack and break off. The bell lay in the great pit on Ivanovskaya Square for almost a hundred years until 1836, when the French architect Auguste Montferrand raised it and place it on a granite pedestal, next to its broken section.

There is, however, a rather more entertaining Russian legend that claims that the enormous bell was broken by a massive blow from Peter the Great's powerful hand. On his return to Moscow in 1709 after his victorious battle against the Swedes at Poltava, Peter ordered that all the bells in Moscow should ring out to celebrate his magnificent victory. The city was filled with the sound of peeling bells, but the Tsar Bell remained silent, and even with the help of an entire regiment of the Emperor's guards, the bell still failed to chime. In his anger, the Tsar supposedly struck the bell with a stave that he had taken from King Charles XII of Sweden near Poltava, for refusing to ring out his victory to the people of Russia. With that, a fragment of the bell broke off and fell to the ground. In reality, the bell was cast long after Peter the Great's death, but it makes for a rather exciting story!

The impressive bronze Tsar Cannon is one of the largest canons ever made and was cast in 1586 by the foundry man Andrei Chokhov. The canon is 5.34 meters long, weighs an impressive 40 tons and has an incredible caliber of 890 mm. It was originally created with the purpose of defending the Kremlin's Savior Gate, which leads to Red Square, but the canon was never actually fired and has remained on display in the Kremlin as a fine example of Russian workmanship ever since. Its bronze barrel bears a relief of Ivan the Terrible's son, Fyodor, and its enormous gun carriage, which was cast over 250 years later in 1835, is decorated with a lion and snake fighting on either side and a lion's head behind the barrel. The cannon balls lying in front of the canon were cast at the same time as the gun carriage, but are merely decorative as the canon was always intended to fire stone case-shot. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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