St Rumbold’s Tower is a gem worthy of our attention. For many it is a landmark; it symbolizes homecoming. For others it is just one of Mechelen’s many impressive monuments. But surely everyone regards the 97-metre-high Skywalk as a unique experience. So little wonder that it is the focal point of a number of annual events. Take a look at the calender.
Your journey up the 538 steps of the tower has hardly begun when you come to the Crane Chamber. It houses a massive human-powered wheel which until 1930 was used to haul up heavy materials. Can you imagine the manpower needed to hoist everything to the top! And of course it was not without its dangers. It was later replaced by an electric crane.
The higher you climb, the larger and more numerous the window openings become. This is particularly apparent in the Forge. Here the large hole you saw in the middle of the floor in the Crane Chamber appears in the south side of the tower. There are trapdoors on every floor of the tower.
OLD CARILLON CHAMBER
The advent of the railway necessitated the introduction of standard time in all towns. St Rumbold’s Tower dictated the time for the whole city. So our tower was your clock… The system of standard time introduced by the Mechelen bell-founder Louis Michiels was adopted by many towers in Belgium and elsewhere in the world. The old carillon was made famous by city carilloneur Jef Denyn (1862-1941). In 1922 he founded Mechelen’s Royal Carillon School. Until then there had not been a single institute where you could learn to play the carillon. The school still enjoys international fame today.
NEW CARILLON CHAMBER
Like the historical Hemony carillon, the new carillon cast by Royal Eijsbouts of Asten in 1981 is world class. Consequently, in 2014 Mechelen’s carillon culture was recognized by UNESCO as promoting proven best practices for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. This musical tradition has spread internationally, with the United States of America now leading the way. This new carillon ensures that – consciously or subconsciously - everyone in Mechelen is treated to a daily musical interlude. The tradition of carillon playing on market days and summer evening concerts are – and should continue to be – an integral part of Mechelen’s culture.
The Bell Chamber houses six bass bells made of bronze. Did you know that with use they can crack? So a number of bells have been recast over the years.
The tower keeper used to wind the counterweight of the drums by hand twice every 24 hours. Since1930 this has been done electrically, starting slowly and gradually slowing down.
On entering the Ash Cellar at the top of the tower you will immediately spot a large trapdoor and an opening in the middle of the floor. It was through this trapdoor that the largest bell was installed in 1989 using a 120-meter-high crane. During the First World War, the room provided the soldiers with temporary shelter while also serving as a lookout. But originally this chamber was intended to be used for the construction of the 60-metre steeple, which was of course never added to the tower. ‘Ash’ was used colloquially as an alternative name for mortar, which was stored here in copious amounts.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST… THE SKYWALK
The cherry on the cake awaits after a tiring but exhilarating climb. The Skywalk at the top of the tower affords a breathtaking view of the city below and of the skylines of both Antwerp and Brussels. If the weather is on your side, you’ll even be able to see the Atomium gleaming in the distance!