St. Rumbold’s Tower, Mechelen: 538 steps to heaven!

The 538 steps up St. Rumbold’s Tower are worth the effort, for the views from the top are breathtaking

Looming over Mechelen market square is St. Rumbold’s Tower. Nearly 100 meters high (it was originally intended to reach 160 meters) and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s well worth a visit. And the good news is that you can walk right up to the top – all 538 steps!

P1050968The first stone was laid in 1452, and the building work stopped about 68 years later. It was thought that the boggy ground would not be able to hold further weight. Hence it’s lack of a spire. Even Pope John Paul II joked about the tower looking unfinished when he visited Mechelen in 1985.

It’s open daily from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. A ticket costs 8 EUR and can be purchased just inside the tower. 538 steps may seem a lot of steps (you’re right!) but thankfully the ascent is broken up into stages, with 7 chambers that enable you to get your breath back.

Actually the first stage is the longest, at 157 steps, so the first resting place – the Crane Chamber – is a very welcome sight.

P1060038 P1060040This chamber held the crane that until 1930 was used to hoist heavy materials up to the top of the tower, via the second chamber, the forge:

P1060042A bit more climbing and you come to the Bell Chamber, which houses six bass bells. The smallest weights a mere (!) 1850 kg, with the largest coming in at a massive 8800 kg. Known as Salvator, this huge bell was cast in 1498 and cracked in 1629 and 1828, being recast on both occasions.

P1060044 P1060056 P1060055The Carillon Chamber is interesting, and led to the creation of the Mechelen Carillon School. It attracts students from all over the world who come to study to be carilloneurs.

P1060047 P1060048Not at the top yet! Keep climbing and the next stop is the Clock Chamber.

P1060049 P1060050 P1060051The clock used to be wound manually, twice a day, until the 1930 when it was electrified.

P1060058Still more bells in the New Carillon Chamber, and then finally you are at the top on the Skywalk.

P1060065From here you get superb all-round views of seemingly the whole of Belgium. You get great views of Mechelen, and on a clear day (I was lucky) you can see Antwerp Cathedral and the Atomium in Brussels.

P1060063 P1060065 P1060067An hour in St. Rumbold’s Tower is historically interesting, invigorating, and great fun for children.



14 replies »

  1. I might take you up on that offer! I’ve always fancied going to Mechelen ever since I saw them win the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1980s. That tower must be one of the tallest buildings in the country?

    • Translation from the information on the official website of St. Rumbold’s and a few other sources:

      The fate of the dials

      Two centuries was the huge clock mechanism already inside St Rumbold’s Tower, without the time outside. You could hear him alone.

      On December 29, 1705 there was a proposal to make four dials and a year later the decision was taken. Before the great work was begun, the city council wanted that a model of the tower was hung to assess the size. Eventually the large outer circle of the dial had a diameter of 11.72 meters and its circumference was 36.82 meters.
      In 1773 the four dials were given a thorough restoration turn: four new hands and new figures were introduced. The old ones were sold to the highest bidder in the market. In 1823, a renovation was performed again and again everything was gilded, and in the 1870s the dials once more restored.
      During the bombardment in 1914 the dial on the eastern side was severely damaged on the side that belongs to the axis of the clock mechanism whereby the mechanism fell silent. French Reinhard, the former guard tower and watchmaker, decoupled the mechanism of the clock manifold and left it to sound beating again.
      Seventy years the movement remained unadjusted. It had become so flawed that they were obliged to take it twice a day right. The winder tried the clock correctly run with two small clocks that were in the carillon room.
      In October 2014, there was a poll of the people, where citizens of Mechelen could vote on the following question: “Do you want a new reconstruction of the clock tower of St. Rumbold’s Tower?
      With this unique referendum the town of Mechelen wanted to let the citizens themselves decide how their famous Rumbold’s Cathedral should go and look for the next generations.

      If the plebiscite a majority should vote for the return of the timepiece as a result, then the city of Mechelen was committed to fund this project and realize it. Elect the majority against it, then the people have decided and remains the movement in the closet.
      Unfortunately the latter happened and the dial will not be replaced.
      Of the 5,974 votes cast, there were 2.667 (45%) for returning, 3230 (54%) against and 77 abstained.

      • Thanks for this information Jacques. Interesting to see that the public voted against renovation of the clock. I guess they wanted their taxes spent elsewhere.

      • That clock had a fascinating history. I guess it would have been very expensive to restore and replace it, but it does seem a shame the voters said “No”.

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