The Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the tallest of the bell towers ringing the Moscow Kremlin complex, with a total height of 81 meters (266 feet). It was built for the Assumption, Archangel and Annunciation cathedrals, which do not have their own belfries, and is said to mark Moscow's precise geographic centre.
From 1329 Moscow's first stone bell tower stood on this site, affiliated with the Church of St. Ivan of the Ladder-under-the Bell, hence the name "Ivan" in the title. From 1505 to 1508 a new bell tower was erected next to the church on the foundation of the old tower, which gave it its name. At first it had 2 belfries on different levels, but in 1600 on the orders of Boris Godunov it was raised to its present height. Until the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour it was the tallest building in old Moscow, and it was forbidden to put up any building in Moscow which was taller than the Bell Tower.
A story is told of the Bell Tower that after Napoleon captured Moscow in 1812, he heard that the cross on the central dome of the Annunciation Cathedral had been cast in solid gold, and immediately gave orders that it should be taken down. But he confused the cathedral with the Ivan the Great Bell Tower which only had a gilded iron cross. This cross resisted all attempts of French equipment and engineers to remove it from the tower. It was only after a Russian peasant volunteered to climb up to the dome that the cross was lowered on a rope. When he went up to Napoleon seeking a reward, the latter had him shot out of hand as a traitor to his fatherland.
Ivan the Great Bell Tower adjoins the Assumption Belfry, which was built between 1523 and 1543 by the Italian immigrant architect Petrok Maly Fryazin (who converted to Orthodox Christianity and settled in Russia). It contains the Great Assumption Bell which was cast in the mid-19th century by Zavyalov, and it is the biggest of all the Kremlin bells. This ensemble contains 24 big bells.
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