17. The great bell of the Kremlin

The renowned bell known as the 'Queen of Bells' was cast during the reign of Anna Ivanovna. It is one of the sights of the Kremlin. It must have weighed 14,000 `pouds' [8.54 tons]. It was cast by the ironmaster Ivan Matorin, who had had casting foundries made with all the nececcary equipment opposite Ivan the Great's Belfry. But Matorin was not able to finish this job in which the Empress showed a keen interest. He died after the first attempt at casting, and his son was left to complete the undertaking. The job was successfully finished in November 1736, in the presence of Benjamin, Archbishop of Kolomna. The 'Queen of Bells' was cast, but it proved impossible to hoist her into the belfry.

Under Anna Ivanova, the appalling fire of 29 May 1737 devastated the Kremlin and Moscow. It started in Alexander Miloslaysld's house in the Avenue of St John the Baptist. A powerful wind helped to spread the fire, and before long it reached the palace of Tsarina Catherine Ivanovna at Borovitski Bridge. From there, the flames invaded the Kremlin and reached the stables, the counting-houses, the chanceries, the 'Facetted' Palace and the Arsenal. During Vespers, the roofs of the churches of Assumption, the Annunciation, and the Archangels were consumed by flames, and the interior filled with smoke. Then the fire took on enormous proportions. The flames spread from the Monastery of the Epiphany to the Armoury on one side, and on the other from the Monasteries of the Miracles and the Ascension to the Synod, to the Chancery of the Treasury, and to the palace of Prince Troubetskoy at St Nicholas' Gate. Several bells fell from the belfry of Ivan the Great and a burning beam broke the rim of the 'Queen of Bells' in its fall ...

The closeness of the Kremlin buildings, many of which were wooden, helped the fire to spread. To the west side, the salt store, which once had been the residence of Tsarina Martha Matvievna, was destroyed. Further to the left, the fire burnt up the Podvorie of the Trinity and the house of the Synod; to the right, the War Office and the clothing commissary. The buildings behind the upper Terems were burnt, as well as all the buildings between the Church of the Nativity and the food depot. The roofs of the houses near the Spasski Tower (of the Saviour), the Library, and the bronze and iron doors were destroyed. Only the upper and lower gardens along the river banks, with their six pavilions, the palace greenhouse, the kitchen garden and the orangeries remained unscathed.

The Church of the Annunciation at Nildtsld and that of Constantine and Helen were totally burnt, as were the religious houses there.

The roof of the guard-house or prison, another prison adjoining behind the torture chamber, five barracks, yet another guard-house, a check-point, a chapel, a military post, and a barracks where those under arrest were held, were prey to the flames. More than 300 prisoners were transferred to the granary at Kalouga Gate.

To sum up, all the wooden Kremlin houses were reduced to ashes, and the stone buildings were severely damaged. Even the Kremlin towers and the walls suffered. The covered passage-ways, the bridges, and the roofs which covered them, were damaged in many places. The same fire also destroyed a mass of buildings at Kitai­Gorod and at Bieli-Gorod. Several years later, during the reign of Elizabeth, the Kremlin still bore visible signs of this hideous catastrophe. By an Ukaz of 22 June 1737, Anna Ivanovna ordered the churches which had been burnt to be rebuilt at the Crown's expense.