A carillon (US: // CARE-ə-lon or UK: // kə-RILL-yən;) is a pitched percussion instrument that is played with a keyboard and consists of at least 23 cast bronze bells in fixed suspension and tuned in chromatic order so that they can be sounded harmoniously together. Housed in bell towers, carillons are usually owned by churches, universities, or municipalities. The bells are struck with clappers connected to a keyboard of wooden batons played with the hands and pedals played with the feet. Often, carillons include an automatic system through which the time is announced and simple tunes are played throughout the day.
Carillons come in many designs, weights, sizes, and sounds. They are among the world's heaviest instruments, and the heaviest carillon weighs over 91 metric tons (100 short tons). Most weigh between 4.5 and 15 metric tons (5.0 and 16.5 short tons). To be considered a carillon, a minimum of 23 bells are needed; otherwise, it is called a chime. Standard-sized instruments have about 50, and the world's largest has 77 bells. The appearance of a carillon depends on the number and weight of the bells and the tower in which it is housed. They may be found in towers which are free-standing or connected to a building. The bells of a carillon may be directly exposed to the elements or hidden inside the structure of their tower.
The origins of the carillon can be traced back to the Low Countries—present day Belgium, the Netherlands, and the French Netherlands—in the 16th century. The modern carillon was invented in 1644 when Jacob van Eyck and the Hemony brothers cast the first tuned carillon. The instrument experienced a peak until the late-18th century, a decline during the French Revolution, a revival in the late 19th century, a second decline during the First and Second World Wars, and a second revival thereafter. UNESCO has designated 56 belfries in Belgium and France as a World Heritage Site and recognized the carillon cultures of Belgium and the Netherlands as intangible cultural heritages.
There are two main types of carillons: traditional and non-traditional. Traditional carillons are those which are played manually with a baton keyboard and do not operate with electronic or computerized action. There are approximately 700 traditional carillons and almost 500 non-traditional carillons worldwide. The majority are concentrated in and around the Low Countries, though nearly 200 have been constructed in North America. Almost all extant carillons were constructed in the 20th century. A few "traveling" or "mobile" carillons are fixed to a frame that enables them to be transported.