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April 22, 2004
The tower reaches a height of 318 feet, although it was intended to reach as high as 550 feet. There are different images showing the possible designs of the completed tower, but there is no real "official" version. Construction on the tower started in 1452 and was halted in 1521 in its truncated state. No one is really sure why construction was stopped, but the usual theories are that the funds dried up and the construction site was not sound enough to support a tower of its intended height. Even though everyone knows the current tower is in essence an unfinished project, it was topped off to have a beautiful and complete appearance. Designed by the Keldermans family of architects, the appropriate proportions and the Gothic emphasis on vertical lines allowed for this fortuitous and aesthetically appealing end result.
Join a tour guide, who will have possession of the key to unlock the various doors and passages of the venerable tower. The interior contains two carillons, which along with the tower are the pride and joy of Mechelen. The first carillon with 49 chimes was created in 1674. The second carillon was added in 1981 with the same number of bells. During my visit we were introduced to a young carillon player from Russia. He was here to practice his own carillon composition, which he was scheduled to perform in a concert the following day. It was interesting to see the musician at work, playing the complex instrument along. This facility also had a few automated devices for playing the carillon at certain appointed times of the day. Look at the massive bells, and stick your head in one if you dare (not while one is ringing!).
Once you have completed the exhausting climb of 508 steps, you will be richly rewarded with spectacular scenery of Mechelen. The town is compact, so you will basically see everything that you want from the lookout platform. It was very windy and drizzly during my visit, but that did not dampen my excitement of being at this elevated perch. Take lots of photos to capture these spectacular panoramic views.
There are carillon recitals on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, with a bonus Monday night special during the summer. Check with the tourism office for the schedule of the guided visits to the cathedral tower, as you cannot go on your own.
From journal Bill in Belgium - MECHELEN (side trip from Antwerp)
The width of the tower is as wide as the 12th Century nave of the cathedral. The tower and church interior merge practically unnoticeably to form an uninterrupted space. The length of the cathedral is 325 feet, barely longer than the height of the tower. The interiors reach the height of 92 feet. After a fire in 1342, an ambulatory and an apse with seven radiating chapels were added to the body of the cathedral, which was finished in 1375.
The 18th Century Rococo pulpit by Michel Vervoort features a fig tree with Adam and Eve, along with a variety of carved images of "good" (pelican) and "bad" (snake) animals. Columns in the nave are marked by statues of the apostles, which were sculpted in 1774. Perhaps the most notable artwork in the cathedral is the 1627 painting of the "Crucifixion" by Van Dyck, located in the south transept.
Admire the fascinating collection of paintings in the back gallery celebrating the life and times of St. Rumbold. Each of the images was restored to a good state of preservation after a long campaign. The intended goal was not to guess at what the full images may have looked like, but to restore what was actually remaining of each work in the series. Therefore many gaps and holes exist, but there is enough imagery to convey the story of St. Rumbold well enough. These are not the finest paintings around, but the whole ensemble acts as a brilliant example of religious storytelling. Visitors will appreciate the overall morals of this epic sage: that good wins over evil, crime does not pay, and other good stuff like that.
Entrance to the cathedral is free, but there is a fee for the tower tour.