There are four bell foundries in Romania.
There are four remaining bell foundries in Romania, one of which is located in Ramnicu Valcea. The foundry exports its products to countries in Europe, Asia and South America. Maramures is also home to one of the most appreciated bell foundries in Romania. Radu Blotor laid its foundations nearly 15 years ago. He is a music school graduate, but he always enjoyed working with liquid metal, and he could always make the difference between in-tune and off-tune sounds. He studied bellfounding in Russia, at one of the largest foundries there, then in the Netherlands, but also in Germany, which is home to one of the oldest foundries in Europe. For over a decade he has been casting bells for most churches in Romania, including Putna Monastery, Cotroceni Church, Cernica Monastery, the Mioveni Cathedral, the Orthodox Cathedral in Iasi, as well as other famous churches and monasteries in Romania.
Radu Blotor: “I blended Russian technology with Western methods to get a Romanian Orthodox sound, of a warmer pitch. What I sought to achieve is a pitch unlike that in Russia, which is much lower and sorrowful, but also unlike that in Western Europe, which is higher and colder. This is what our bells sound like, and they are rung in over 1,000 churches in Romania and abroad. And we continue to learn new things – you never get to reach the final stage in your training and say ‘there, I’ve built the perfect bell’. Even German experts are still studying campanology for over 500 years now”.
In the last few years, the traditional bell-ringer has given room to new technologies. Bells can be rung individually or in various sequences, with the possibility of choosing a specific date and time. Everything is programmed and installed by bell founders themselves.
Radu Blotor: “We have a fully automated, satellite-controlled bell at Cotroceni Palace, which is the residence of the Romanian Presidency. It will run automatically for the next 50 years. We also had a clock installed and the entire system syncs every night at midnight via satellite with an atomic clock in Germany, near Frankfurt. So for the next 50 years the bell needs no maintenance. Daylight saving times are changed automatically, it always strikes the exact time and there are specific routines for Sundays. It is a state-of-the-art system. Recently we’ve seen fewer people interested in bell-ringing, even in rural communities. Automated systems also have benefits in terms of the lifespan of bells. They control the strikes, the speed and the strength of the clapper hitting one side or the other, and so on”.
Bells can be synched in to chime religious songs. Some of them can weigh up to 10 thousand kilos and can make a grandiose toll with a long echo that can even break through the clouds. Some customers buy bells from the bell foundry in Baia Mare and use them to dispel the rain clouds threatening their crops.
Radu Blotor: “I got a phone call from the director of the Cotnari vineyard. He wanted to buy a set of three bells so that they may disrupt the hailstorms affecting their vines. We built three bells for them, the heaviest of which weighed 700 kilos. We equipped the set with an automatic remote-controlled system, which can be operated via the mobile phone and this way they have managed to avert hailstorms for the past 5 years. We have also installed a set of three bells at Nimaiesti, Bihor County. This one does not use an automated system, because they had bell ringers of their own. We installed them on a rainy day and were all soaking wet but after we began testing them the clouds above the church dispersed. The bells make a very powerful sound with long resonance.”
The bell foundry in Baia Mare produces over 500 bells a year. They are subsequently sent for fine-tuning to the Netherlands, a country that has been producing bells since 1872. The owner of the company in Baia Mare plans to buy such a tuning device in the future, in spite of the high price. He also says that he learns something with every bell that he makes. According to him, it’s passion above profit in this line of work.
Radu Blotor: “The profit margin is between 3 and 8%. We cannot make high profits, because we work with expensive materials in order to obtain high quality products. We import high quality materials, which are very expensive. Romania no longer produces any such materials. We get the bronze from Germany, the sand from Bulgaria, the paints from Germany, the wax from the Netherlands. Our employees must also be well paid, because this isn’t a mass production unit, every product is unique. Attention is important, because the slightest error can lead to a defective bell. You must have employees that are passionate about their work because otherwise you won’t get high quality products. The buyers, mostly Orthodox priests, should understand that they are actually purchasing a musical instrument, through which parishioners are invited to church.”
The foundry in Baia Mare has reported several million lei in turnover in the past years and at the moment it is able to build large bells, of over two meters in diameter and a maximum weight of 35 tons.