July 13 marked half a millennium since the first toll of the famed bell in the southern Polish city, which was once the nation’s capital.
The Sigismund Bell was hauled up onto the tower of Kraków’s Wawel Cathedral on July 9, 1521 and four days later, it rang out over the city for the first time.
To commemorate that event, Kraków has organized a series of events under the slogan Sub una campana (Under One Bell).
On Tuesday, the Sigismund rang twice, first at 5:15 p.m. and then again at 9 p.m., this time along with all the other bells across the city, while residents celebrated the milestone by joining in a street procession of actors and dancers in period costumes.
Commissioned for Wawel Cathedral by King Sigismund I the Old, the Sigismund Bell was cast in 1520 by Nuremberg bellmaker Hans Beham, who is said to have made it from scrapped Russian cannon captured by Polish-Lithuanian forces at the 1514 Battle of Orsha.
Kraków's Wawel Cathedral. Photo: PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
The bell’s ring lasts eight minutes and has a range of up to 30 kilometres. For many years, the 13-tonne bell, which needs 12 people to operate it, was the largest bell in Poland.
Now, in terms of size, it is second only to the bell of the Roman Catholic basilica in Licheń in the west of the country.
“Today, it is the only bell in Europe that is so powerful and still moved by human muscles,” Kraków Mayor Jacek Majchrowski said of the Sigismund, as cited on the www.krakow.pl website.
“While other bells are controlled by modern mechanisms,” the Sigismund, “set in motion by bell-ringers, swings and rings just as it did half a thousand years ago,” he added.
Photo: PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
Since the Sigismund Bell was mounted it has become one of Poland’s national symbols and, over the centuries, it has accompanied Poles in most of the nation's important moments.
The bell was rung on significant occasions over Polish history, including the September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany, on the eve of the country's April 30, 2004 EU accession, during each visit to Poland by Pope John Paul II, and at funerals of outstanding Poles.
It also tolled on the morning of April 10, 2010 when Poland’s President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria died, along with 94 other passengers and crew, after their plane crashed near Smolensk, western Russia.
Source: PAP, www.krakow.pl