Ring Leader: The Biggest Bell in the World

The majestic resonance of bells has echoed through the annals of history, signifying various events from the call to worship to the passage of time. A towering testament to human craftsmanship and ingenuity, the largest bells in the world present a staggering spectacle of size and sound. Here are the contenders for the world’s biggest bell.

Building Big Engineering
2 February 2024

Spanning over five millennia, the journey of the world’s largest bells is a remarkable tale of incredible engineering and artistic mastery. These colossal bells, typically crafted from bronze or brass, feature a distinctive bowl-shaped body and a striking clapper which produces their resonant ring. Tracing their origins to ancient China, where archaeologists have discovered the earliest known bells fashioned from pottery, these magnificent creations symbolise a rich historical legacy across a wide array of both centuries and civilisations.

Over time, the bell’s purpose and design evolved remarkably. Initially used for religious ceremonies, bells gradually found their place in clocks, on naval ships and in public squares, where the biggest bell in each town would usually be found. The evolution of crafting bells, known as bellfounding, particularly in mediaeval Europe, marks a significant period where bells became symbols of status and power for cities and religious institutions.

The role of bells in cultural traditions, their use in marking significant historical events, and their symbolic presence in various religious practices across the world underscore their rich and varied history.

The world’s biggest bell – indeed the largest bells ever made – can be measured in a number of ways, including by height and width, however for this list of the largest bells in the world, they will be ranked by weight. It will also include historical bells that are no longer functional.

Big Ben

Big Ben, London. (Credit: TangMan Photography via Getty Images)

Location: London, UK | Cast: 1858 | Weight: 13.7 tonnes

The Great Bell may not be the largest bell in the world, but it’s arguably the most famous. It’s better known of course as Big Ben, and is located atop Elizabeth Tower, next to the Houses of Parliament.

It was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1858 after an earlier, heavier bell had cracked beyond repair two years earlier. It’s 2.29 metres tall and 2.74 metres in diameter. It chimed for the very first time on July 11, 1859.

There’s some debate as to why it’s called Big Ben. Some historians suggest it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was responsible for overseeing its installation. Others say it was named after nineteenth century heavyweight boxer Benjamin Gaunt, whose nickname was Big Ben.

While most people think Big Ben is the UKs biggest bell, there are two that are heavier. Great Paul, in the south-west tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral, weighs 16.8 tonnes and was cast in 1881, and the Olympic Bell, cast for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, weighs 23.3 tonnes.

World Peace Bell

Close-up of a bell. (Credit: Claudius Wihartama via Getty Images)

Location: Kentucky, USA | Cast: 1998 | Weight: 30 tonnes

Cast in France at a foundry used for making ship’s propellers, the World Peace Bell – of which there are more than twenty around the world – is one of the largest bells in the world. It has a diameter of 3.7 metres and the clapper weighs a staggering 3.1 tonnes.

An inscription commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a series of intricate engravings mark some of the most important events from the last thousand years. It chimes in the note of A and can be heard from a distance of 25 miles.

Tharrawaddy Min Bell

Tharrawaddy Min Bell at the Shwedagon Pagoda (Credit: Goddard_Photography via Getty Images)

Location: Yangon, Myanmar | Cast: 1842 | Weight: 42 tonnes

A contender for the world’s biggest bell may also be one of the most ornate. The Tharrawaddy Min Bell hangs in the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the largest city and former capital of Myanmar.

The magnificent bell, covered in twenty kilograms of gold plating, was commissioned by Tharrawaddy Min, the eighth king of the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty. Its Pali name, Maha Tissada Gandha, translates as ‘great three-toned sweet sound.’

Bell of Good Luck

One of the largest bells in the world (Credit: aevarg via Getty Images)

Location: Henan, China | Cast: 2000 | Weight: 116 tonnes

Believed to be the heaviest functioning bell in the world, the Bell of Good Luck is in the Foquan Temple, in Henan, a landlocked province in eastern China. The bell is 8.1 metres tall with a diameter of 5.1 metres and is around sixty miles from the Spring Temple Buddha, the second tallest statue in the world.

The Bell of Good Luck, one of the largest bells ever cast, is adorned with the patterns of thirty-six lotus petals and was first struck at midnight on December 31, 2000.

Tsar Bell

The Tsar Bell at the Kremlin complex in Moscow, Russia (Credit: Elena Titova via Getty Images)

Location: Moscow, Russia | Cast: 1735 | Weight: 201 tonnes

The biggest bell in the world, the Tsar Bell, or the Tsarsky Kolokol, was commissioned by Anna Ivanovna, the niece of Peter the Great. It’s 6.1 metres tall with a diameter of 6.6 metres. There have been three Tsar Bells. The first, weighing 18 tonnes, was cast in 1599. The second, cast in 1655, weighed 100 tonnes, and the third and present bell, known as Kolokol III, or Bell III, was cast in 1735.

As the ornamentation of baroque angels, depictions of saints and almost life-sized images of Empress Anna and Tsar Alexis was nearing completion, a fire broke out in the Kremlin. The guards poured water on the boiling metal causing an 11.5 tonne chunk to break off. It stayed in the pit in which it was cast for almost a hundred years and in 1836, it was raised and placed on a pedestal between the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Kremlin Wall. It has never been rung.

The Great Bell of Dhammazedi

Bago River, southern Myanmar (Credit: Arjay Agustin Photography via Getty Images)

Location: Originally Myanmar | Cast: 1484 | Weight: 294 tonnes

Believed to be the biggest bell ever cast, it was commissioned by King Dhammazedi, the sixteenth king of the Burmese Hanthawaddy Kingdom, and presented to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Contemporary information suggests the bronze bell was 6.3 metres tall and 4.2 metres in diameter and according to a sixteenth-century Venetian merchant named Gasparo Balbi who visited the pagoda, it was covered in indecipherable writing.

However the fate of the biggest bell in the world remains a mystery. Sometime in the 1590s, a Portuguese mercenary named Felipe de Brito e Nicote sacked part of the country and established Portuguese rule over large swathes of the area. In 1608, he’s said to have stolen the bell with the intention of melting it down to make cannons for his ships. It was loaded onto a raft but it was too heavy and the raft sank. The bell fell to the bottom of the Bago River. In the 400+ years since, hundreds of attempts to locate the bell have been attempted, yet so far, none have been successful.

The Last Note: The World’s Largest Bells

Large bell at Botataung Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar (Credit: Melvyn Longhurst via Getty Images)

From their ancient origins to their modern-day reverence, the largest bells in the world stand as powerful symbols of engineering ambition. This journey through the world of bells reveals the extraordinary blend of artistry, craft, and tradition that goes into creating these resonant giants,.Their rings have announced celebrations, marked solemn occasions, and served as audible landmarks in the journey of civilisations.

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