Ivan the Great Bell Tower

The Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the tallest of the towers in the Moscow Kremlin complex, with a total height of 81 metres (266 ft)

Ivan the Great Bell Tower
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It was built in 1508 for the Russian Orthodox cathedrals in Cathedral Square, namely the Assumption, Archangel and Annunciation cathedrals, which do not have their own belfries.


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.

This church was erected by Grand Duke Ivan Kalita, and was one of the first to be built in Moscow out of stone, rather than wood. During Grand Duke Ivan III’s major renovation of the Kremlin, he hired an Italian architect to replace this church. Construction was begun in 1505, the year of Ivan’s death, and was completed three years later under his son Vasily III. Vasilly also ordered that a new and unprecedentedly large tower be erected on the foundations of the old tower as a monument to honour his father.

In the icon of the 18 century the Great Bell Tower is painted red
pinterest button In the icon of the 18 century the Great Bell Tower is painted red unlnown, Public Domain

The new bell tower, completed in 1508, originally had two belfries on different levels and a height of around 60 meters. Because of its height, the tower also served as an observation point against fires and the approach of enemies.

A new church, the Church of the Resurrection, was built next to the tower from 1531 to 1543, but already by the end of the 17th century it was used as bell choir stalls to supplement the hanging bells, rather than as a place of worship.

In 1600 on the orders of Boris Godunov the tower was raised to its present height. Until the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1883, 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.

The last known image of Ivan the Great belltower prior to destruction of 1812. Lithography by Gustav Hoppe, 1805
pinterest button The last known image of Ivan the Great belltower prior to destruction of 1812. Lithography by Gustav Hoppe, 1805   Gustav Hoppe, Public Domain

The Bell Tower and Napoleon

There's a popular yet disputable legend, that when Napoleon captured Moscow in 1812 after the Battle of Borodino, 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.

During the retreat Napoleon attempted to blow up the tower. The blast destroyed the former Church of the Resurrection, but the tower itself proved to be extremely stable and suffered only a few cracks in the foundation walls.

Assumption Belfry

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 large bells.


The Ivan the Great Bell Tower is an ensemble with three components. All of the buildings are made of brick, and are whitewashed in accord with the neighboring buildings of Cathedral Square.

The tower itself consists of three octagonal drums, narrowing towards the top, and surmounted by a golden dome and seven-meter high cross. Each section has cut-out windows for the bells, and the upper third has a series of kokoshnik ornamentation (which marks the translation between the 1509 original and the 1600 addition).

Inside the tower a total of 329 steps long spiral staircase leads to the highest observation deck.

The space on the ground floor of the base was once home to the Church of St. John Climacus and is cramped due to the walls being five meters thick. The former Church of the Resurrection, since the late 17th Century, only for the accommodation of bells, has a four-story rectangular base with large arched recesses for the bell choir stalls. A top drum decorated with a dome and cross. On the third floor of the building is a small chapel founded in the 19th century.


The Ivan the Great Bell Tower today contains 22. Of these, 18 small bells hang in the base and in the middle of the bell tower. Of the four large bells, one is named the Upsensku Bell, and weighs 65.5 tons. It rings traditionally among the largest religious festivals such as Easter, and was made in the early 16th century.

Two large bells in the Assumption stalls are the 19.6-ton Reut and the 16.6-ton Daily. The latter was cast by the same craftsman as the Tsar Cannon, Andrey Chokhov. The remaining large bell is the Sunday Bell, weighing 13 tons, which was cast in 1704 by Ivan Motorin, caster of the Tsar Bell.

Useful Information

Ivan the Great Bell Tower
Russian: Колоко́льня «Ива́н Вели́кий» or Колокольня Ивана Великого
also known as Church of St. John Climacus (John of the Ladder)
Russian: Церковь Иоанна Лествичника


Ticket for visiting the architectural complex of the Cathedral Square:
Full ticket price: ₽ 350
Discount ticket price for schoolchildren and students: ₽ 100
Full ticket price for visiting the museum (no discounts) - 500 rub.
Discount ticket for schoolchildren and students (for ISIC and IYTC cardholders) - 250 rub.*
*The ticket for visiting the Bell-Tower allows free access to the Cathedral Square, museums-cathedrals, the Church of Laying Our Lady’s Holy Robe, the Patriarch's Palace, museum's permanent exposition.
Admission tickets can be purchased in the Excursion Office in Aleksandrovsky Sad (the Aleksandrov Gardens).
For more detailed information, please, contact the Excursion Office by tel. (495) 697-03-49.
The museum's ticket offices are open daily from 9:30 to 16:30 in Aleksandrovsky Sad (the Alexander Garden).
Thursday is the day off.
24-hour inquiry phone: (495) 695-37-76.

Opening hours

  • Exhibit sessions in the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower start at 1015, 1130, 1345, 1500, 1600.
  • Entrance tickets can be purchased in the museum's ticket offices 45 minutes before the beginning of the session.
  • Excursion with audio-guide lasts for 45 minutes.
  • The visit is possible strictly on time, indicated on purchased tickets.

☎ +7 495 695-37-76 24-hour inquiry +7 495 697-03-49 - excursion +7 495 697-46-11 - office


Please, pay attention to the height of the ascent in the Bell Tower, which is 25 meters up, and the quantity of steps - 137.
Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to visit the Bell Tower.