Delicate and pure sound of Valdai bells has been pleasant to human hearing more than 500 years already. Have you ever heard their melodious sound? Do you know their history referring to ancient times?
According to a beautiful legend, Valdai bells first appeared in 1478. That time the veche Novgorod bell was ordered to be taken from the Sofia belfry and sent to Moscow by Tsar Ivan the Third so that it sounded in harmony with all Russian bells and did not preach freedom any more.
But the prisoner failed to get to Moscow. On one of the slopes of Valdai mountains the sledge with bell slid downhill, the scared horses galloped back, the bell fell off the cart, dropped down into a ravine and smashed to pieces. First Valdai bells were cast from these pieces.
Another legend (there are lots of them) says that Valdai bells were first cast in the 17th century. In 1656 state craftsman Alexander Grigoriev cast Nikonov bell in Iver monastery. He gave pieces of bronze left from casting of the bell to the Valdai people who helped him. Since then, they say, bells have been cast in Valdai. Bells must have been cast in the 17th century already, but only in the second half of the 18th century the real Valdai (i.e. road) bells appeared. In the first place, these bells were necessary in Moscow and St. Petersburg high road, Russia's busiest road. Production centre was set up in Valdai situated in the centre of this high road.From immemorial time, local masters were famous for forging and they began to cast first Valdai bell.
In the beginning of the 19th century special bell workshops and plants appeared. First signed and dated bells refer to 1802. Phillip Tersky, Alexey Smirnov, Ivan Smirnov and Nikita Smirnov created bells that year. It is well known that Valdai is the first centre of road bells casting. A technology of their production differs from casting of church bells and was first developed in Russia. That's way one can fairly call Valdai bell casting a pure Russian national thing.
Valdai casting following road bells were cast in Slobodsky town (Vyatskaya guberniya), Tyumen, Kasimov (Ryazanskaya guberniya), Purekh settlement (Nizhegorodskaya guberniya) and other places.
Road bells served as a signal providing safety in road and a musical instrument for a coachman. Bells were swaying to the rhythm of movement of horses sometimes making them skip faster or enabling to have a rest while galloping.
The bells informed about coming of a chariot to the station and helped in many other respects so that a traveller couldn't do without it taking into account the conditions of Russian roads.
As said before, the history of Valdai bell casting existed in words up to the end of the 19th century, therefore the main source of knowledge is studying bells themselves, signs, dates and names of founders put on them. Valdai bell has a fixed constant (classical Valdai) form, which is a combination of equal correlation of measures of height and diameter that makes an impression of steadiness. Bells are deprived of decor as such what makes them look simple and functional and the most important thing is a sign put always in one and the same place, the bell's edge, the latter being called 'skirt' by local masters.Streamline and smooth form, peculiarities of a sloping top which is named "shoulder", the form of a "sundress", and especially "skirt" emphasize not only anthropomorphism of Valdai bells but indicate that it has shapes of a woman dressed in a Russian sundress. Valdai bells have certain characteristic features, among them originality of a loop for hanging of a clapper, forged clapper itself, places made smooth in combination with not sharpened rough strips.
In spite of the fact that they cost much money the value of Valdai bells was in high quality of a product (high-grade Ural copper was used), beautiful sound and tradition in everything, beginning with the legend about their appearance from the Veche Novgorod bell.