Friday 27 September 2013

A climb up the bell tower

Every town and village in Istria is dominated by a church whose tower is the highest point of the skyline. This is of course true of many towns and cities across Europe.

What’s unique in Istria is that the bell tower is always separate from the church building.

A small village like Gračišće had seven churches at one time and today six are remaining. St. Vitus church (dedicated to the patron saint of the village) is the largest and the one with the bell tower, which is 30 metres high. Though the church was built in 1769, the bell tower dates back to the 13th century. This probably means the church was rebuilt at some point, maybe more than once. The tower is visible from almost every corner of the village and I can see it from my window.

(Left: the bell tower of St. Vitus church in Gračišće)
Not only does the bell tower dominate the village visually, but it also makes itself heard. The bell rings at each hour, a chime marking each hour, and at 6am and 8pm the bells ring continuously for about five minutes. This happens again just before mass is celebrated.

The bells also ring when there’s a death in the village or surrounding area. We know that when the bells start at a random time and go on for 20-30 minutes, it's bad news.

I recently climbed up the bell tower to get a view from the top.

Follow me...

(Right: the entrance to the bell tower)

There are wooden stairs climbing all the way up, with several landings.

A rope hangs all the way down the shaft, with a small hole cut in the wooden floor at each level to let it pass through. Of course today there's an electronic system which is programmed to automatically set off the bells, but at one time this was done by hand.

To get to the last level there's a trap door to open and a narrow stairway to climb.

I was now at the top! It was a windy day, so the sound of the wind was quite loud...

The existing bell is not the original. My father told me that the original was much, much bigger. It was removed during Mussolini's time (this was Italy in between the World Wars) and melted to make armaments. The bell was thrown down from the tower, dropping heavily to the ground and creating a small crater.

And this is the majestic view from the top... Definitely worth the climb!


  1. So,can anybody just open the door to the bell tower and walk in?

  2. Hi Shubha, the door is locked but I asked around to find out who has the key!

  3. Yes it is! Somewhere in the second last photo ;-)

  4. That is a nice view! I always liked the view from atop churches and bell towers :)

  5. What a fantastic view! We are covered in snow here in Washington, DC. Take in the sunshine for us! Thanks for sharing.


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