We continue to climb another set of spiral stairs and eventually pop out into the bright sunlight. Above me are rows of bells of all sizes, we have made it to the bell tower. My guide informs me that we made it here just in time – 15 minutes before the noon bells. He explains that we will hear the typical hour bells – the ones that bell towers are typically known for. But back in the day when people didn’t wear wristwatches and phones for people to reach them – the bells were more than for just time, they were a complex message system.
There were bells for festivals, funerals, and prayers. There was a tune used to alert you if it was a day you could only eat fish. Finally, I learned there was even a bell to alert the bell ringers!
The bells used to announce the hours weren’t as simple as I thought either. Back when people didn’t have access to time on their wrist, people relied on the bells to tell them the time. If they told their wife they were going out to tend to the crops and they’d be back at 5PM for dinner, then how did they know it was 5PM? The bells were a very large wristwatch in a way. They ring on the hour to notify you of the time, but they also repeat in 2 minutes. Essentially, the first set of rings is the ‘warning shot’ which alerts everyone. The repeating is a way to honor the old system of communication. If they were out washing in the river or working in the fields and they heard the bells in the distance and started counting them – they might not have known if they heard the first few rings or not. So the rings were repeated 2 minutes later so that everyone was prepared to count the rings and know the time.
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