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What did the Kremlin chimes look like at the time of Ivan the Terrible and Catherine II

The Kremlin chimes are the hallmark of Moscow and of all of Russia. We are so accustomed to their appearance, to their characteristic battle, that sometimes we don’t even think about the fact that once they were completely different. Meanwhile, many centuries ago, this symbol of the Kremlin looked very specific from the point of view of modern man. For example, the dial was a starry sky, and its only hand in the form of the Sun was located not inside, but outside …

One arrow and letters-numbers
For the Savior Tower, previously called Frolovskaya, from time immemorial in Russia was a special relationship. Citizens considered the main entrance gates to be saints. It is no coincidence that the main state clock was installed on it.

To date, historians have not come to a consensus when the clock on the Spasskaya Tower definitely appeared. Most likely, this happened immediately after the tower was rebuilt by order of Ivan III – in the 90s of the XV century. The very first written mention of the main clock of the state dates back to 1585 – contemporaries indicated that the watchmakers worked in the Kremlin.

According to historians, at that time the old Russian (Byzantine) method of counting time was used on the clock. The days in Russia in the old days were divided into “daily” hours and “night” hours, moreover, since the duration of the daylight changed throughout the year, this was taken into account when calculating the time.

The appearance of such watches is incomprehensible and unusual for a modern person: one fixed hand was located not on the dial itself, but slightly higher. The dial itself rotated under this arrow. It depicted the Old Slavonic letters, each of which meant its own number, for example, “A” is “1”, B – “2” and so on. There were only 17 of such letters – as many hours as our ancestors observed, the longest day of the year lasted.

The mechanism of the clock itself, consisting of gears, levers, ropes and shafts, is curious. The watchmakers, who served at the Spassky chimes, closely followed the work of the mechanism and regularly adjusted the course of the watch. With the onset of dawn, as well as at sunset, they manually turned the dial so that the arrow representing the sunbeam pointed to the first letter (“A”). To make it easier to navigate, they were given special tables indicating how many hours of light will be on a given day. Thus, these keepers of the chimes were not only watchmakers’ repairmen – they were essentially responsible for the Moscow time.

Alas, due to frequent fires, the Spassky watches, no matter how carefully they were treated, periodically fell into disrepair and broke. The mechanism of the chiming clock during the fire of 1624 was particularly badly damaged – so much so that they were no longer restored and sold for scrap to the Yaroslavl monastery.

The very first watch in 1625 was replaced by new ones – larger in size (about five meters in diameter), with a beautiful fight. They were commissioned to make an English mechanic named Christopher Galloway, and Russian blacksmith watchmakers helped him.

The old Russian version of time counting was also displayed on the oak dial of the new watch. The inner circle was azure-blue, depicting the sky. On it were painted golden and silver stars, as well as the Moon and the Sun. The letters on the dial were copper, with a gold coating.

At the top of the tower wall was another circle on which the text of the prayer was located, as well as zodiac signs. By the way, their fragments are still preserved under modern watches.

To install a new clock had to build on the tower, increasing it by four tiers. She had a beautiful arched edging of brick with carved decorations. The dial was placed in the upper hip part, at the level of 7–9 tiers, and the small bells for the chime – on the 10th. After certain periods, they recalled the melody. These watches are considered the prototype of the modern chimes.

I must say, the new watches also suffered from fires and they also had to be periodically repaired, but, nevertheless, they served for decades. When Peter I issued a decree on transferring Russia to a new countdown, the need for an “outdated” clock disappeared.

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