Images of Russia

The tower of Nevyansk

In 1702, the ironworks of Nevyansk were passed over to Nikita Demidov by special order of Peter the Great. Demidov Senior's ‘number two’ was his son, Akinfiy, whom Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak referred to as ‘a true child of his age’. His iron hand rule oppressed not only serf-peasants at the ironworks, but also scribes, all sorts of supervisors, estate managers, and other humble class people. The Demidovs did not betray the Tzar’s confidence, and the metal streamed from the furnaces at Nevyansk. Very soon the ‘Stary Sobol’ (Old Sable) trademark of the Urals became widely known across Europe and America.

After his father's death, Akinfiy Demidov settled down for good in Nevyansk. In the mid-1720s several important construction works were undertaken at his orders: the stone master mansion, the factory offices and a bell tower near the existing wooden Transfiguration church on the territory of the ironworks, which is now recognized as a unique architectural monument of the 18th century. However, the name of the genius architect was not preserved and legend has it that the architect was thrown off the tower at Demidov's order, in order to prevent him from building another such tower for anyone else. What we are left with is the assumption that he was a Russian, since all construction elements are characteristic of old-Russian architecture: the bottom presents a quadrangle (square footing), upon which three octagonal tiers are built.

The tower was built of special bricks. To produce the bricks, red clay was squashed by bare feet (this sort of brick is called ‘under-heel brick’), which gave the workers a chance to feel for any small stones in the clay mash and remove them. Then, lime powder and egg-whites were added to the mixture. After burning, each brick was tested for resistibility by throwing it from a 10 meter height. Only bricks that remained intact were used for the construction. Thick two-meter wide walls of the lower tier were supposed to guarantee the solidity and reliability of the building. However, it was exactly this solidity that proved to be the major cause of the tower's leaning. The soil, eroded by ground waters, did not withstand the multi-ton pressure of the footing; it began to tilt and finally became lopsided. In order to straighten the construction, the bricks of all further tiers were trimmed at a certain angle which gave the building its sable-like shape. The measurements show that the tower quadrangle is inclined from its axis at three degrees, the middle part at one degree, and the top is in fact vertical.

    Technical features of the tower

  1. Square footage - 9.5 m squared.
  2. Vertical inclination of the tower - around 1.85 m.
  3. Secular setting - 0.9 mm per year.
  4. Height - 57.5 m.
  5. Width of walls at the footing — 2 m; Width of walls of the upper tier — 32 cm.
  6. Weight of the weather-vane – 25kg, length — 178 cm.
  7. Diameter of the sphere-shaped lightning rod — 30 cm; length of its beam-like pikes – 40 cm.
  8. The bell chime is rendered by ten brass bells and one bronze one that weighs more than a ton (65 puds 27 pounds).

The walls are decorated with ornamental casing and with the lacy cast-iron grills of the balconies. The metal they are made of proved to be of such a high quality that no traces of corrosion have appeared on it even to this day.

The tower dome is topped with a weather-vane with the Demidov coat-of-arms and the lightning rod resembling the golden son with its beam-like pikes. The lightning rod has been replaced recently, while the old one, battered by lightning bolts, has gone to the museum of the Nevyansk tower. The lightning rod grounding system is provided for by metallic constructions that penetrate the building and go into the ground. For a modern person, the presence of this kind of shield or protective device is quite logical; however, if one recalls that the lightning rod was officially invented much later, by Benjamin Franklin in 1760, then Russian Kulibin's doings are definitely worth a tip of the hat.

The inner rooms are located on the nine tier-storeys. One can have a look at all of them, but several deserve special attention. First of all, there is the secret laboratory of Akinfiy Demidov, where counterfeit money was allegedly minted. This allegation was confirmed by findings of micro-particles of silver and gold in the soot in the chimney. However, no one ever saw this money, no related equipment was found, and thus the accusation appeared to be unfounded. Perhaps Demidov had discovered a goldfield near Nevyansk and may have conducted secret gold mining and studied the samples in the laboratory. Even though he stated that there was no gold ore in the Urals when Peter the Great called for gold mining, this precious metal was eventually found in the region, and regular gold mining continued in the Nevyansk region after 1819.

On the upper storey one can visit the ‘Acoustic Room.’ Its specific feature is that anyone facing one of its corners can hear the voices of whispering people standing in the opposite corner. This acoustic effect is achieved by the optimal balance between the radius of the arched roof and the length of the acoustic wave. Rumour has it that Akinfiy Demidov brought inspectors and enemies in this room and tactfully allowed them to share their impressions without witnesses, yet was actually present during their conversation without being noticed. Amazed at his shrewdness and clear-sightedness, people used to say: ‘Demid (Demidov) hears everything and knows everything.’

The seventh and eighth floors are occupied by the chiming clock (manufactured in 1730 by English masters) which Akinfiy Demidov purchased (it) for five thousand roubles. For the time, the sum was exorbitant, and the chiming clock cost more than the tower itself, which was priced at 4,207 gold roubles in the second half of the eighteenth century. This clock astounds not only with its accuracy and the beauty of the bell music sounds, but also with the repertoire of the musical baston that initially had 18 melodies recorded onto it. Later, in 1985, Glinka's music from the opera ‘Ivan Susanin,’ and Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March,’ were added to the repertoire.

On the upper floor of the tower, there is a balcony that originally served as an observation point. Here the bird's eye panorama allows the visitor to fully experience the grandeur of the tower, whose technical equipment was well in advance of its time. One would unwittingly wish to compare the tower with Demidov himself, who never yielded to difficulties.

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