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Nevyansk - the Leaning Tower of Akinfiy Demidov
September 23, 2011 14:42

Nevyansk is a small town in Sverdlovsk region, some 97 kilometers (60 mi) north of Yekaterinburg. It was found by Peter the Great in 1701 due to the construction of a foundry and iron factory. Although it was not granted town status until 1919, the settlement became highly important for the well-being of the Demidov family, which extracted gold from the local foothills. Just that rich and mysterious family was a cause of so many legends and secrets, which remained in the Nevyansk's history forever. That small town have an enormous amount of different attractions include artifacts from Old Believers, local crafts, and scenic landscapes of Central Ural. But the main town's place of interest is, of course,  the unique Leaning Tower.

The Leaning Tower of Nevyansk
The Leaning Tower of Nevyansk (Nevyanskaya Naklonnaya Bashnya) is a unique leaning tower situated in the center of Nevyansk and the most well-known building in the Middle Urals. It was funded by Peter the Great and built in the first half of 18th century by a famous Russian manufacturer Akinfiy Demidov (son of the rich Russian industrialist Nikita Demidov).
The height of the tower is 57.5 m from the ground and the base is 9.5 × 9.5 m. According to recent measurements, the deviation of the top part of the tower from a right angle is currently 2,20 m. The exact date of the tower's building is unknown, different historical sources mention dates between 1721 and 1745.
The Leaning Tower is a massive tchetverik (four-up), which is built over by 3 octahedral tiers. The tower is divided into 8 floors inside.
During the Soviet times, Nevyansk was a closed city, so archeologists couldn't study the tower carefully. The real Tower's exploration began only in 2000s.
The exact purpose of the Nevyansk Tower is still a subject for debates. Some historians say the Demidov used it as a "bank safe", others believe it was either a watchtower, or a belltower, or a prison, or even a laboratory for conducting chemical experiments. There is an opinion that the Tower was just a kind of symbol of the might of Demidov's dynasty.

Where is gold hidden here?
The purpose of the first floor is still uknown, maybe it was a prison or a room for some "secret work". The second floor may have been Demidov’s "office", where he kept his archives and other papers. The third floor was a laboratory equipped with furnace. There are even some vestiges of gold and silver were found, so some historians supposed that Demidov was probably minting spurious coins there, but others say he used it for smelting the top layers of ore-bearing deposits, which often contain silver or gold. Floors four to six have stairwells only. The seventh and the eight floors house a unique clock with bell music made by an English master Richard Phelps. By hearsay, Demidov bought that clock for 5,000 roubles, which was an astronomical amount for that time (for comparison, the construction of the Nevyansk Tower itself cost 4,207 rubles). The clock has three dials, ten music bells weighing about four tons, and one alarm bell.
The Tower is completed by the roof with a metallic spire and a weathercock with Demidov's assumptive arms on it. The weight of the weathercock is about 25 kilos. The spire is grounded, so we can say that the Tower had its own lightning conductor a quarter of the century before it was constructed by Bengamin Franklin.
  There is also one mysterious 20 m² room in the tower, located between the fourth and the fifth floors. Archaeologists dubbed it was the "acoustic room". If a person stands in one corner of this room, he or she can whisper words to another person in the opposite corner and they will be perfectly audible. Scientists still do not know whether the room was built like this on purpose or not. It could be that Demidov used this acoustic room for gathering "intelligence" on his high-ranking guests.

Strange Inclination: Legends and Facts.
There are a lot of different legends about the tower's strange inlination. One of them says that inclination was an idea of some talented architect, who perfomed Demidov's order to incline the tower in the direction of Tula and so demonstrate Demidov's affection for his birthplace. Another legend claims that right after the end of the tower's construction Akinfiy Demidov and the architect went on top of the tower. There, Demidov asked him whether he could build anything better than the Nevyansk Tower. The architect answered "yes", and  Demidov ordered him thrown down from the top of the building. The next day the locals noticed that the tower had leaned forward a bit and water had started trickling down the walls as if the tower was "crying".
  Another gloomy legend tells us about the tower's dangeons, which were flooded with all the workers, who were minting spurious coins there. Such Demidov's harsh order came after an unexpected visit of inspector from St. Petersburg.
However, restorers say that there is no evidence to even assume that the Nevyansk Tower was purposely built inclined or flooded by someone's orders. The current surveying data shows that the defect had to be obvious during the construction. It appears that drifting grounds were to blame for the inclination of the tower from the very beginning. The architects noticed that defect only in the middle of the construction, so it was too late to rebuild the tower. It appears that the architects finally succeeded in straightening it out, so the top part of the tower is less inclined than its base and middle parts, though such changes are hardly seen by an unaided eye.

High Technologies
After having studied the tower, the scientists found out that its architects used some of the most advanced technologies available at that time. As it was mentioned earlier, the top of the tower is crowned with a metallic spire in the shape of a gilded sphere with spikes, which have recently been interpreted as a lightning rod - 25 years before Benjamin Franklin's scientific explanation of such devices. The tower's tended roof was the first cast iron cupola in the world, with a metal carcass and metal outer shell. That technique was applied only 100 years later, during the reconstruction of the Mainz Cathedral in Germany in 1826. 
It was also found out that in order to fasten the structural parts of the tower, the workers used the principle of reinforced concrete for the first time in the world, or some 130 years before its first recorded use by a Parisian gardener in 1860. And what is most unbelievable, all Nevyansk Tower's metallic parts don't have a slightest trace of corrosion, as it 99,6% consists of iron. The process of manufacture of such high-grade material in the 18th century still remains a mystery.

Let's Compliment our Tower!
The Nevyansk Leaning Tower is a main remarkable sight of the town, so no wonder, that the majority of citizens have some kind of respectful attitude towards it. Every year, in the very end of August, Nevyansk marks the "Celebration in Honour of the Nevyansk Leaning Tower Day". This event always becomes a big festive occasion for the whole town. 
  This year the celebration was held on 27 August 2011 and was also dedicated to Nevyansk's 310-year anniversary. Within that day, theme exhibitions, game, contests, historical programmes were held. Many guests from   Canada, India, Romania, as well as different Russian cities, visited the unique theatricalized excursion "Legends of Nevyansk Tower".
Several palygrounds, park amusements for children, riding horses and camels, feeding points were organized for all comers on the architectural complex's territory. 
  Some activists from Nevyansk schools and historical clubs showed historical reconstructions of the Poltavskaya Battle and Nevyansk Revolt 1918. Workers of the Nevyansk Museum showed a theatrical perfomance "Meeting of Peter I with Nikita Demidov".
The big celebration was concluded by a concert  with the support of the town's "Culture Department". Then there was a big video installation "The Demidovs" and a salute. More than 7600 people visited the event in 2011, which is almost a thousand more than last year.

Nevyansk: How to Get There (from Wikitravel)
Nevyansk is best accessible from Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Tagil.
By Plane: The nearest international airport is Koltsovo in Yekaterinburg Connect through Yekaterinburg or take direct buses to Nizhny Tagil (#1036) and Krasnoturyinsk (#825). The buses depart early in the morning and return to the airport around midnight. Travel time is 2.5 hours.
By Train: Train station is in the western part of Nevyansk: 8 Popova St., phone: +7 (34356) 2-30-40 (information), 2-14-46 (booking office). Follow Krasnoarmeyskaya St. to the town center (about 1.5 km).

  • Long-distance trains head to the northern part of Sverdlovsk Oblast (#337, #607: Verkhoturye, Serov) and Perm Krai (#969: Solikamsk, Berezniki). The trains starting from Nizhny Tagil go in the opposite direction, to sea resorts, and pass the Volga Region as well as Southern Russia.
  • Local trains provide hourly service from Yekaterinburg (direction: Nizhny Tagil, 1.5-2 hours) and Nizhny Tagil (directions: Yekaterinburg, Shartash, Shurala; 1 hour). 

By Bus: Bus station is mingled with the train station. Similar to railway, your choice is between Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Tagil, but the system is a bit cryptic, because some of the buses do not make a stop in Nevyansk.

  • From Yekaterinburg: buses depart from the northern bus station ("Severny" bus terminal) in the directions Nevyansk (#686), Nizhny Tagil (#640, ask explicitly if it stops in Nevyansk), Nizhnyaya Salda (#630), Verkhnyaya Salda (#602), and Serov (#810). Appropriate buses depart with approximately hourly intervals, travel time: 2 hours.
  • From Nizhny Tagil: it is same complicated. Explicit minibuses to Nevyansk plus regular buses to Yekaterinburg (#602, 630, 640, 810; check if they stop in Nevyansk), Rezh (#526), Tyumen (#957), and Chelyabinsk (#593). Buses depart every hour, travel time: 1 hour.

By Car: Follow the P352 highway from Yekaterinburg (92 km) or Nizhny Tagil (54 km), and take any of the exits labeled Nevyansk. They are all close to the town center. There is also a local road from Rezh (92 km).

Sources: Nevyansk Museum's Official Site Uralweb Wikipedia Wikitravel Nevyansk's Official Site

Julia Alieva

Author: Julia Alieva

Tags: the Urals region Nevyansk tower Russian history  

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