The bells of Giotto's bell tower
History and curiosities that you may not know
How many times have we seen Giotto's bell tower and how many times have we stopped to contemplate its extraordinary beauty? However, few people know that it is still functional, and many people are amazed by the sound of its majestic bronze bells. Have you ever wondered how they work? How many are they? How old are they? In this post we will discuss these and other aspects of particular interest regarding these wonderful sound instruments which dwell in one of the most beautiful bell towers in Italy.
The bell tower was designed and started by Giotto in 1334. At his death, the construction was carried out by his pupil Andrea Pisano and finished in 1359 by Francesco Talenti. The latter introduced important changes to the initial project, such as the decorative apparatus of the large windows for the upper levels and the top balustrade in the form of a large terrace from where today you can contemplate the city panorama. The bells are located in the third level where the large three-light windows are located, at an altitude of about 65 meters from the ground.
The disused bells:
The bell tower is equipped with 12 bells in total: the five oldest are now abandoned but they can be seen inside the monument. The largest of which is called "Apostolica" and was built in 1401 by the founders Niccolò and Luca Bondigi da Cortona. It is a 165 cm height with a diameter of 142 and it weighs 1268 kg. We find it on the east side, at the end of the staircase, arranged on the ground on a double row of wooden beams. Due to the ravages of time and a fracture caused to a fall, the bell underwent a major restoration in the 1950s. On that occasion Bruno Bearzi, restorer and founder in charge of the restoration, stated: "The most illustrious and difficult patient I have to treat is the" Apostolic "(bell called NDR) of Giotto's Bell Tower". In 2016 the same bell underwent a further restoration.
The four minor bells are located at the level of the shutters of the three-light arches on two massive wooden beams inserted into the walls of the corner pillars. Two of these also have special names, “Beona” (1252 kg) and “Maria Anna” (976 kg), of which we do not know the manufacturing dates. The other two, known as the minor bell (635 kg) and the small bell (453 kg), were made respectively in 1513 and 1514.
The "active" bells:
The other seven bells, of different eras and sizes, still intended to mark the liturgical time, are located inside the belfry and supported by a steel structure built between 1956 and 1957. These seven bells make up the "concert" currently in operation and ring regularly according to an established canon. Actually, few people know that the way of ringing the bells varies according to the type of celebrations and religious holidays. The archive of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore preserves a 13th century codex fundamental for the study of the history of the Florentine church: the "Mores et consuetudines canonice florentine", which also documents the way bells were rung according to the liturgical rite. Their sound, since the Middle Ages, has marked the time of city life giving order to daily and festive rituals. The greater bell known as "Santa Reparata" or "Campanone" (1 a ) was built in 1475 in honor of the saint the ancient Florentine Cathedral was named after, however, having cracked, it was cast again in 1705 by Antonio Petri. The "Campanone" plays the note LA2 and it is truly extraordinary in size, with a diameter of 200 cm, a height of 210 cm and it weighs 5385 kg, making it one of the largest bells in Italy!
The Bell known as the "Misericordia" (2 a) was cast in 1670 but this too, following a break, had to be cast again by Carlo Moreni in September of the year 1830. It has a diameter of 152 cm, it weights about 2320 kg, and plays the note C3.
The five minor bells were made by the artistic foundry of Prospero Barigozzi between 1956 and 1957:
A second bell called "Apostolica" (a 3), cast in 1957, plays the note D3, has a diameter of 128 cm and a weight of about 1200 kg; the bell called the "Annunziata" (a 4), plays the note Mi3, has a diameter of 115 cm and a weight of about 857 kg; the bell called “Mater Dei” (a 5) plays the note G3, has a diameter of 96 cm and a weight of about 480 Kg; the bell called "Assunta" (a 6) plays the note La3, has a diameter of 85 cm and a weight of about 340 kg. Finally, the bell called “Immacolata” (at 7) plays the note B3, has a diameter of 75 cm and a weight of about 258 Kg. These last four bells were all made in 1956. The names of the bells are linked to the figure of the Madonna to whom the Cathedral is dedicated with the title of Santa Maria del Fiore.
In the twentieth century an electrification and motorization system for the bells was also created and in 2000/2001 was completely renovated by the AEI - Perego of Milan, a company that still carries out periodic maintenance activities.
How do the bells ring today?
Today the bells are rung "double" only for archiepiscopal or capitular celebrations while the single bells call to the "Ave Maria" three times a day, the invitation to recite the "Creed" for the dying and the "Requiem" for the dead. Furthermore, the bells signal the lunch break (11.30 am) and ring on the occasion of the death of a head guard of the Misericordia Archconfraternity.
Traditionally, minor doubles are played also for significant devotional circumstances such as the solemn Rosary in the months of May and October, for the "Via Crucis" on the Fridays during Lent, on the occasion of the Christmas Novena or any other event approved by the Chapter of the Cathedral.
In conclusion, we hope that during your next visit to Giotto's bell tower you will be able to appreciate its splendid bells full of history and important meaning!