The 538 steps up St. Rumbold’s Tower Mechelen are worth the effort, for the views from the top are breathtaking
Looming over Mechelen market square is St. Rumbold’s Tower. Nearly 100 meters high (it was originally intended to reach 160 meters) and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s well worth a visit. And the good news is that you can walk right up to the top — all 538 steps!
The first stone was laid in 1452, and the building work stopped about 68 years later. It was thought that the boggy ground would not be able to hold further weight. Hence it’s lack of a spire. Even Pope John Paul II joked about the tower looking unfinished when he visited Mechelen in 1985.
It’s open daily from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. A ticket costs 8 EUR and can be purchased just inside the tower. 538 steps may seem a lot of steps. You’re absolutely right! Thankfully the ascent is broken up into stages, with seven chambers on the way that enable you to get your breath back.
Actually the first stage is the longest, at 157 steps. So the first resting place – the Crane Chamber – is a very welcome sight.
This chamber held the crane that until 1930 was used to hoist heavy materials up to the top of the tower, via the second chamber, the forge:
A bit more climbing and you come to the Bell Chamber, which houses six bass bells. The smallest weights a mere (!) 1850 kg, with the largest coming in at a massive 8800 kg. Known as Salvator, this huge bell was cast in 1498 and cracked in 1629 and 1828, being recast on both occasions.
The Carillon Chamber is interesting, and led to the creation of the Mechelen Carillon School. It attracts students from all over the world who come to study to be carilloneurs.
Not at the top yet! Keep climbing and the next stop is the Clock Chamber.
The clock used to be wound manually, twice a day, until the 1930 when it was electrified.
Still more bells in the New Carillon Chamber, and then finally you are at the top on the Skywalk.
From here you get superb all-round views of seemingly the whole of Belgium. You get great views of Mechelen, and on a clear day (I was lucky) you can see Antwerp Cathedral and the Atomium in Brussels.
An hour in St. Rumbold’s Tower is historically interesting, invigorating, and great fun for children.
Addendum: Where is the clock on St. Rumbold’s tower?
Thanks to Jacques’ comment below, we now know why there is a Clock Room in the tower but no Clock! It was damaged, and the good people of Mechelen voted not to restore it! And thanks to the eagle eyes of another reader, Jens, who found this painting of the tower when the Clock was up and running!
I might take you up on that offer! I’ve always fancied going to Mechelen ever since I saw them win the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1980s. That tower must be one of the tallest buildings in the country?
Good question! I had to look it up. Antwerp Cathedral comes in at 123 meters! They’ll love you in Mechelen if you remind them of their 1988 glory days!
Thanks for the research! I’ve been to Antwerp, and remember thinking the OLV was massive!
I love climbing towers like that! Awesome views.
Puff, puff, puff. thanks for doing the hard work for us. Do you have a photo of the clock face, by any chance?
Translation from the information on the official website of St. Rumbolds and a few other sources:
During the bombardment in 1914 the clock face on the eastern side of the tower was severely damaged and the clock mechanism fell silent and the clock face removed. In October 2014, there was a poll of the people, where citizens of Mechelen could vote on the following question: “Do you want a new reconstruction of the clock tower of St. Rumbold’s Tower? With this unique referendum the town of Mechelen wanted to let the citizens themselves decide what their famous St. Rumbold’s Cathedral should look like for the next generations.
If the majority would vote for the return of the clock, then the city of Mechelen was committed to fund this project and realize it. However, the majority voted against it, and the clock will not be replaced. Of the 5974 votes cast, there were 2667 (45%) in favor of the clock, and 3230 (54%) against and 77 abstained.
Thanks for this information Jacques. Interesting to see that the public voted against renovation of the clock. I guess they wanted their taxes spent elsewhere.
That clock had a fascinating history. I guess it would have been very expensive to restore and replace it, but it does seem a shame the voters said “No”.
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I like climbing up interesting towers like this, especially if the reward at the end is a wonderful view. Were you there in time to hear the carillon play?
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I’m exhausted now! But I did enjoy it 🙂 🙂
I found going down more difficult than going up, actually. Glad you enjoyed the climb Jo!
I stumbled upon a painting on an auction site in Sweden. By the Swedish painter Anders Herman Hägg. He was in Mehelen (Malines) in 1876 and painted the square with the tower in the background. I was just curious about the tower and when I read the Wikipedia page I noticed the difference between the painting and pictures on the Wiki. In the painting you can clearly see the clock near the top but no history or anything on the Wikipedia page about this clock.https://auctionet.com/sv/2621837-axel-herman-hagg-haig-cathedral-and-market-place-malines-akvarell-monogramsignerad
Note I don’t know how long the painting will stay on the auction sites page. Maybe if you search for older auctions and his name you can find it.
Super, thanks for finding this Jens. I have now updated the post with an addendum on what happened to the clock (see Jacques’ comment above), and with a photo of the painting you found.
Thank you Denzil. I may never visit Mechelen. But if I do I am sure going to climb that tower. These things fascinates me. How you can find something online and then you fall into a rabbit hole (Internet) and you just have to find out what happened. I read the comment from Jacques. Thank you for your nice article about St Rumbold’s Tower.
Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion Jens! Yes, while some rabbit holes are a total waste of time, others can be a surprising source of enjoyment and discovery!