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A bell tower (also belfry) is a tower which contains one or more bell, or which is designed to hold bells, even if it has none. In the European tradition, such a tower most commonly serves as part of a church and contains church bells. When attached to a city hall or other civic building, especially in continental Europe, it is often named "belfry". Elsewhere, the term "belfry" refers strictly to the part of the tower which contains the bells. Thus some bell towers have no belfry. The occasional free standing bell tower may also be referred to by its Italian name, campanile. Old bell towers may be kept for their historic or iconic value, though in countries with a strong campanological tradition they often continue to serve their original purposes as well.

Bell towers are common in China and countries of the related cultures, where they may appear both as part of a temple complex and as an independent civic building.


The bell is rung to signify the time, for special events such as weddings and funerals, or especially in old days to sound a civil defense or fire alarm.

Bell towers may also contain carillons or chimes, musical instruments traditionally composed of large bell which are sounded by cables, chains, or cords connected to a keyboard. These can be found in many churches in Europe and America and at some college and university campuses. In modern constructions that do not qualify as carillons, rather than using heavy bells the sound may be produced by the striking of small metal rods whose vibrations are amplified electronically and sounded through loudspeakers. Simulated carillon systems have also used recordings or samplings of bells onto tape, compact disc, or memory chips.


Historic belfries exist throughout Europe, from Irelandmarker to Russiamarker. Brugesmarker, Ypresmarker, Ghentmarker, Lillemarker, Tournaimarker and Douaimarker have famous examples. Not all are on a large scale; the "bell" tower of Katúňmarker, in Slovakiamarker, is typical of the many more modest structures which were once common in country areas. In the Middle Ages, cities sometimes kept their important documents in belfries.

In 1999 thirty-two Belgianmarker belfries were added to the UNESCOmarker's list of World Heritage Sites. In 2005 this list was extended with one Belgian and twenty-three Frenchmarker belfries and is since known as Belfries of Belgium and France. Most of these were attached to civil buildings, mainly city halls, as symbols of the greater power the cities in the region got in the Middle Ages; a small number of buildings not connected with a belfry, such as bell towers of—or with their—churches, occur also on this same list ( details).

Etymology: belfry

The word belfry comes from Old French berfrei which is derived from Germanic *bergan "to protect" and *frithuz "peace"; that is, it was originally a watch tower providing protection against hostile incursions. These towers usually contained an alarm bell or bells, thus Middle English speakers thought berfrei had something to do with bells: they altered it to belfry, an interesting example of the process of folk etymology. Today's Dutch belfort seems to combine the bell with the stronghold.


Image:Katunbelltower.JPG|Primitive bell tower at Katúňmarker, SlovakiamarkerImage:Kievo-Pecherska Lavra Belltower.jpg|Bell tower of Kiev Pechersk LavramarkerImage:Ivanvelikiy.jpg|Ivan The Great Bell TowermarkerImage:Aalst belfry.jpg|Belfry of AalstmarkerImage:Leaning Tower of Pisa.jpg|Leaning Tower of PisamarkerImage:Evangelical_cathedral_sibiu.JPG|Sibiu Lutheran Cathedralmarker, Sibiumarker, RomaniamarkerImage:Domtoren vanaf de Stadhuisbrug.JPG|Dom Tower of UtrechtmarkerImage:Belfort Brugge.jpg|Belfry of BrugesmarkerImage:SophiaBelltower.JPG|Belfry of St. Sophia Cathedral in KievmarkerImage:BelfortGent.jpg|Belfry of GhentmarkerImage:Lille, Belfry.JPG|Belfry of LillemarkerImage:Clerigos.jpg|Torre dos ClérigosmarkerImage:FeockChurchBell-tower.jpg|Separate Bell-tower at Feock Church, CornwallImage:Dunfermline_Campanile.jpg|The bell tower of Dunfermline Abbeymarker in Dunfermlinemarker, Fifemarker, ScotlandmarkerImage:St Medard's bells.jpg|Inside the belfry of St Medard & St Gildard's church, Little Bythammarker, Lincolnshiremarker, EnglandmarkerImage:Round tower, Glendalough.jpg|An Irish round tower, bell tower, at Glendaloughmarker, Irelandmarker, c. 900 ADImage:València micalet.jpg|The Micaletmarker tower at Valenciamarker, Spainmarker, ca. 1350Image:UCSBStorkeTower.jpg|The "Storke Tower" at University of California, Santa BarbaramarkerImage:Ucr-belltower.jpg|The bell tower at University of California, RiversidemarkerImage:pres_tower.jpg|The modern bell tower and adjacent pergola at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MissourimarkerImage:San Agustin Cathedral Tower.JPG|The Cathedral of San Agustinmarker bell/clock tower in Laredo, TexasmarkerImage:ClarkCollegeChimeTower.jpg|The Clark Collegemarker chime tower in Vancouver, WashingtonmarkerImage:Admintower.jpg|Administration Building west bell tower at Texas Tech Universitymarker in Lubbock, Texasmarker, USmarkerImage:Swan_Bells_SMC_2006.jpg|The modern bell tower of 'Swan Bells' of Perth, Western Australiamarker

In the Far East

Bell towers are common in China and the countries of the related cultures as well. They may appear both as part of a temple complex and as an independent civic building, often paired with a drum tower. Among the best known examples are the Bell Tower of Beijingmarker and the Bell Tower of Xi'an.

Image:Beijingbelltower2.jpg|Beijing Bell TowermarkerImage:Todaiji shoro.jpg|Old Belfry of Todaijimarker; Nara Prefecturemarker, Japan.

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