Church towers have been government property because of their strategic and public importance since the Napoleonic era (1795). Towers provide an ideal vantage point, for one thing, and their bells have been determining the rhythm of the city for centuries. They function, as historian Johan Huizinga once described them, ‘as warning good spirits, who in a familiar voice would announce first mourning, then joy, then peace, then turmoil; would first call, then admonish’. The only surviving witness from that time is a fifteenth-century bell that has hung in the spire for years. This was probably the alarm bell.
After a stone hall church replaced the wooden chapel around 1306, a church tower was completed in 1325 that was about half as high as the current one. In 1510 the tower was endowed with swinging bells, only to be raised half a century later. This was necessary, among other things, because the bells were less audible on one side due to the raising of the church building. In addition, the raising of the nave had visually compromised the tower. The city needed a high landmark that was visible for miles around. In the 1730s, the tower took on its current form. After a thorough restoration the Vater-Müller organ, which dates back to 1742, was put back into use in 2019 with concerts by musicians including Philip Glass and Nicolas Jaar. It is currently carefully covered up to protect it from building dust released by the tower restoration.
In addition to the swinging bells, the tower houses a carillon. In 1942, all bronze bells were confiscated by the occupying forces, but the bells of the Oude Kerk were saved. In 1982, they were given the nicknames Faith, Hope, Love and Freedom. The carillon consists of no fewer than 47 bells, 35 of which are Hermony bells. They were ordered by the city council of Amsterdam in 1658. In addition, Francois Hermony cast four swinging bells in 1659, the largest and smallest of which are still hanging in the tower. The largest swinging bell weighs 3,700 kg, making it the heaviest swinging bell in Amsterdam. Together the four bells sound the chord do-mi-sol-do, with root note BB.