WITH massive cranes and a great deal of manpower, the first of 23 bells from the Campanile were lowered yesterday to be stored while restoration of the landmark Port Elizabeth building takes place.
The cup-shaped carillon – or set of bells – last pealed about five years ago.
Their removal forms part of the second phase of the restoration process – and is the most intricate.
Ibhayi Constructing safety manager Herman Myburgh said: “The bell removal phase is the most critical part of the reconstruction process. We have about 10 weeks to get the bells out, get them refurbished and back into the building.”
The bells weigh an estimated 16.4 tons in total, with the biggest – the C-bell – weighing about 4.6 tons.
The removal process will take several days, with each bell transported separately.
Myburgh said the decision to transport them separately was to ensure that, should an accident occur with one, the other 22 would be safe.
Sub-contractor Louis Rossouw, who was involved in refurbishing the interior of the Campanile in 1999, said: “There is so much work that goes into the refurbishing.
“It [the Campanile] is a big tourist attraction and my job is to make sure that the bells are restored and protected in their original form.”
Mandela Bay Development Agency planning and development manager Dorelle Sapere said the bells would be kept in a safe place with adequate security due to their rich history and value.
She said because they were so valuable, the MBDA would not be disclosing where they would be kept.
The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality tasked the agency with the renovations, which started a few weeks ago and should be completed early next year.
Standing at the Jetty Street entrance to the Port Elizabeth harbour, the 52m-high Campanile was erected to commemorate the centenary of the 1820 Settlers’ arrival.
The structure, which took two years to build – from 1920 to 1922 – was designed by Port Elizabeth’s Jones and McWilliams Architects.
The 204 steps to the top of the tower offer access to the 23-bell carillon and beautiful views of the harbour.