In the documents of the late 15th century, the village of Valdai Selishche was first mentioned; it was located on the site of a modern city. There were only two peasant households in the village at that time. And the city of Valdai itself has never been particularly large, for example, in the middle of the 19th century it had no more than 5, 000 inhabitants. But Valdai was famous throughout the country for its arched bells. They were mentioned in their works by many Russian classics. And many legends are associated with the emergence of this craft in the city.
For example, residents of Valdai claimed that a veche bell, a symbol of the Novgorod freemen, was being transported from Novgorod to Moscow through their city. But, on the mountain, the bell fell and broke into many small pieces. And local craftsmen collected them and melted them into bells. The legend, of course, is beautiful, but the manufacture of bells appeared here much later than the conquest of Novgorod.
According to another legend, casting began here in the middle of the 17th century. In 1656, master Alexander Grigoriev cast the Nikon bell for the Iversky monastery. After work, he was left with bronze, which he presented to the Valdai artisans. But, these are only legends. According to official documents, special workshops for the manufacture of arched bells appeared at the turn of the 18th - 19th centuries. And the first dated bells were made only in 1802.
Valdai was famous not for huge, multi-pound bells, although they were poured here as well, namely for small bells, which were attached under an arc, brightened the boring road with their melodic ringing, and notified the hosts about the arrival of guests. The first such bells were made by Valdai craftsmen. The most famous of them were foundry workers Philip Tersky, Alexey, Ivan and Nikita Smirnov.
Soon, bells began to cast in other places of the Russian Empire: in Tyumen, in the town of Slobodskoy in the Vyatka province, Kasimov in the Ryazan province and in the village of Purekh near Nizhny Novgorod. But Valdai has always remained a recognized center. Interestingly, the arched bells were an exclusively Russian phenomenon. In no other country have they become widespread.
What was the difference between the products of Valdai foundry workers? Their bells were famous for their excellent ringing, high-quality copper from the Urals was used in the manufacture. As you can see, the legend about the use of the veche bell was just a legend. The price of Valdai bells was quite high, despite the fact that they, as a rule, were not decorated with rich ornaments. The inscriptions were applied to the bell's "skirt": "Whom I love, that I give", "Gift of Valdai", "There is no profit, but the glory is good", "Whom I love, I give that one" or something like that.
Valdai bells had a strict "classical" shape, equal ratio of height and diameter, which gave the impression of stability and stability. Valdai craftsmen had their own special casting secret, which competitors never managed to unravel.
In the 19th century, instead of small workshops, whole bell factories of Smirnov, Stukolkin, Mitrofanov appeared. The most famous craftsmen were the Smirnov brothers. They received the right to put the coat of arms of the Russian Empire on their products. The Smirnovs took orders for the manufacture of bells weighing more than 1, 000 poods for the churches of St. Petersburg and Moscow. At the same time, they did not forget about the arched bells that could be found on all the roads of endless Russia.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the coachmen had a serious competitor - the railways. Railways made it possible to deliver mail much faster, respectively, and the number of coachmen became less and less. The demand for products of Valdai craftsmen also began to fall. At the beginning of the 20th century, only two bell factories remained in Valdai, which were owned by the Usachev brothers. Basically, they were engaged in the manufacture of bells for churches, but after the revolution, demand for them stopped. The last plant was closed in 1930.
In addition, even in the era of tsarist Russia, a special decree of the Senate was issued, according to which not everyone could use the bells, this privilege was preserved only for the postal services and for the police. The bell gave priority to the road. A certain prototype of modern "flashing lights".
Currently, tourists visiting Valdai can visit the Museum of Bells, which was opened here in 1995. The museum is located in the building of the Church of the Great Martyr Catherine, which was built at the end of the 18th century. In 1826, a funeral cortege stayed here for one night, when the coffin with the body of Emperor Alexander the First was brought to St. Petersburg.
Visitors have the opportunity to get acquainted with the history of bell casting in Russia and other countries of the world. Moreover, not only to inspect the exhibits, but also to ring the bells on the belfry with your own hands.