Famous Bells Around the World

The Great Mingum Bell
Terry Feuerborn, Flickr

Famous bells ring in cities around the world. Anne Muir and Luke Haley look at some of these bells. Why do they ring?

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Anne Muir.

Voice 2 

And I’m Luke Haley. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Do you recognise this sound? All over the world people hear it on the radio when they listen to the BBC World Service. It is the sound of a bell called Big Ben. Big Ben hangs in the Elizabeth Tower next to the Houses of Parliament in London, England. It is one of the most famous bells in the world. Today’s Spotlight is on Big Ben and other famous bells.

Voice 2 

Big Ben was first made in 1856. But it cracked when the makers tested it. It was broken! Experts believed they knew why the bell broke. The hammer used to strike the bell was too heavy. Big Ben could not be fixed. So bell-makers made a new bell - a new Big Ben. And they used the metal from the first bell.

Voice 1 

The new Big Ben was ready in 1859. It was a great event. Big Ben travelled through the streets of London on a special carriage. Sixteen horses pulled the heavy carriage. The horses all wore bright colours. Traffic stopped as the bell passed. And crowds of people cheered.

Voice 2 

But after only a few weeks, this bell also cracked. Workers had used the same heavy hammer to strike the bell. And again the bell broke. This time the organisers did not make a new bell. Instead they decided to use a lighter hammer. They also decided to turn the bell around. This way, the hammer did not hit the weak part. The plan worked! Finally everyone could hear the sound of Big Ben across the city of London.

Voice 1 

Big Ben is a very large bell. It weighs 13.7 tonnes. And it measures 2.7 metres across. But it is not the largest bell in the world. The Tsar Bell in Moscow, Russia is bigger. It weighs 13 times as much - 180 tonnes! And it measures 6.6 metres across. The Tsar Bell was made nearly 300 years ago. But no-one ever used it. It broke during a great fire. Today, people can still see the Tsar Bell in the Kremlin in Russia.

Voice 2 

But where is the largest bell that can still be used? For many years it was the Great Mingum Bell in Myanmar. This huge bell weighs around 90 tonnes. And it measures five metres across. But in 2000, bell makers in Henan, China made the Bell of Good Luck. This huge bell weighs around 116 tonnes. Today, it is the world’s largest working bell.

Voice 1 

All of these bells are large. But the largest bell ever made is from Myanmar. In 1484 people in Myanmar made the Great Bell of Dhammazedi. Experts think it weighed about 300 tonnes. Jewels covered it. In 1608 Portuguese traders removed it from its temple. They wanted to float it across a river. So they put it on a raft. But the bell was too heavy. It sank to the bottom of the river. And it is still there. Some people would like to rescue it from the river. But it is too heavy!

Voice 2 

Like the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, many of the great bells of the world were made for temples or churches. People around the world hear these bells as part of worship. Small bells are used for prayer or meditation. Large bells call people to come and worship at particular times. But all these bells have special meaning to the people who come.

Voice 1 

The Lutine bell is another famous bell.  It is used for a very different purpose. The Lutine bell was originally on a boat called the HMS Lutine. However, today, it is at Lloyds Insurance Company in London, England. For hundreds of years, many British ship owners have insured their ships with Lloyds Insurance Company. If their ship is lost at sea, the insurance company pays them money. In 1799, the HMS Lutine ship sank off the Dutch coast. The ship was carrying gold. Lloyds Insurance Company paid the owners for the lost ship and the gold.

Voice 2

In 1858, divers recovered the Lutine bell from the bottom of the ocean. Now it belonged to Lloyds. For many years Lloyds used the Lutine bell to give news about ships. Lloyds rang the bell when a ship was expected to arrive in the nearby port. If you heard the bell ring once - you knew that a ship was lost at sea. But if you heard the Lutine Bell two times you knew that the ship was safe in port.

Voice 1 

Today the company only rings the Lutine bell after international, or British national tragic events. For example, Lloyd’s workers rang it after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. They also ring it when a member of the British royal family dies.

Voice 2 

Around the world there are other bells that have a very special purpose. They ring for peace. Many countries have hung Peace Bells in their cities. There are World Peace bells in Canada, the Phillippines, Japan, the United States, Spain, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and in many other places.

Voice 1 

In June of 1954 Japan presented a Peace Bell to the United Nations. The Japanese bell makers made the bell with a special mixture of metals. They collected coins from people in 60 different countries to make the bell. You can hear the Japanese Peace bell on the first day of spring every year. And you can hear it again on the 21st of September. This is a special date. It is the first day of the United Nations General Assembly. And it is also the International Day of Peace.

Voice 2

In 1994, the United Nations held a special event to remember the 40th anniversary of the Japanese Peace Bell. At that event the Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said,

Voice 3 

‘Whenever it has made sound, this Japanese Peace bell has sent a clear message. The message is sent to all people. Peace is a rare treasure. It is not enough to desire peace. Peace requires work – long, hard, difficult work’.

Voice 1 

What bells do you hear in your city? Why do they ring? Tell us about them. You can e-mail us at radio@radioenglish.net.

Voice 2 

The writer of this programme was Joy Smith. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called, ‘Famous Bells Around the World’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

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Are there any famous bells in your city? Why do they ring?


Avatar Spotlight
said on October 02, 2013

The capital city Prague is called ‘‘The town with hundred bell towers’’ and this description is true, in deed. The largest bell is placed in the famous Saint Vít’s cathedral. Each of the bells rings differently, usually just at noon, this bells’ sounding is really beautiful, amazing, I adore it! All bells around the world should ring for peace, bringing people only the good messages about peace, love and God’s blessing too. It may happen in future, we must hope.
Thanks for an interesting topic!

Avatar Spotlight
Franklin Gualoto
said on January 27, 2016

Finally, I understand the meaning of float. Thanks.

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said on December 01, 2016

In my country,bells often have in temples , every morning have a people to ring bells . Anyone hear the sound of the bell which is woke. then everyone will wake up and work for a new day !!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 07, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Saturday 07, January 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Anne Muir, Luke Haley, Nick Mangeolles, and Joy Smith:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
Yes, there are any famous bells in my city. They ring because some important thing is going to happen at catholic church. For example: when a Church Mass is going to start someone of the church (employee) rings the church’s bell.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on December 26, 2017

My city, Addis Ababa, where I’m living as a refujee, there many Bells. Everywhere in the city. And many famous especially the Orthodocs churchs.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.

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said on March 11, 2020

I live in Brasília, Brazil, and I have no knowledge about special bells in my city neither in my country. It is strange and I will search for more information and than I will be back here…

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said on March 12, 2020

I think the Lutine bell will soon be ringing again to tell the world about the great tragedy that has hit us this year: the coronavirus pandemic.