A famous hill that is a vantage point overlooking the Kariba dam wall and the expanse of the lake is, fittingly, called Kariba Heights. Apart from the wonderful view, there is the delightful Santa Barbara Church and bell tower, with a sentimental story attached to both.

Santa Barbara Church

Who Built The Church and the Bell

The erstwhile Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi) invited contracts for the building of the Kariba Dam wall and power station in August 1955. On July 16, 1956, the Italian consortium Impresit was awarded the contract.

The Italian workmen from the company Impresit, all being Catholics, created this magnificent and peculiar small chapel of worship above the village of Kariba. They decided to build their place of workship on top of the hill known as Kariba Heights.

As well as building the dam wall and the church, they were also the creators of the Santa Barbara bell.

The Santa Barbara Church

The Church of Santa Barbara is an amazing spherical church which was erected by the workmen and engineers who built the Kariba dam wall. The church commemorates the eighty-six workmen who died during the construction of the dam wall and underground power station.

It is named for Saint Barbara, who is the patron saint of engineers and building workers.

On the outside walls of the church is a dedication in Latin to the memory of the construction workers killed during the building of Kariba Dam, and a plaque with the names of those who lost their lives is found inside.

Description Of The Church

The uniqueness of its design is found in the symbolism of its detail.

The church is built in a circular shape, with seven entry arches representing the seven days of the week and six concrete pillars representing the six dam valves.

The inside walls are painted in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green, and white), while the little curving wall behind the altar is a symbolic image of the dam itself.

Interior Of Santa Barbara Church

The church has beautiful stained glass windows and an open-air design that is perfectly suited to the hot climate of Kariba.

A bell tower at the back of the church still contains the original bell constructed by hand by Italian workers at the time and hoisted into place with a crane.

The Bell Of Santa Barbara

The bell of Santa Barbara was originally situated behind the extraordinarily beautiful chapel on top of a hill at Lake Kariba.

Its construction was a labour of love and dedication by the workers who built the dam wall.

The Story Of The Bell

There is a very touching story as to how the bell came into being.

Lake Kariba is a long way from Italy, the home of the dam wall workers, and family was too far away for home visits. This meant that there were long periods of time before they could see their families.

One particular Italian worker, Edmondo, had received some bad news from home. His young daughter, Angela, was very badly ill in Italy. He was desparate but could do nothing to help and it was impossible to go home and visit his daughter.

In his desperation he confided in his friend and co-worker, a mechanic called Lino. Lino shared his friend’s pain, and reasoned that if they did something for the Lord, He might be merciful and heal the sickly Angela.

Then Lino had an inspiring idea.

He shared this idea and it was decided that they would put it into action. They got down to work and were soon joined by their fellow citizens and coworkers.

The idea was to build a bell. A bell for their chapel.

The comrades labored at the bell during their free time after each long day. Slowly but surely the bell started to take shape.

They chose to construct the bell using a piece of machinery that had previously been used to compress the ground. They were determined that the sound of the bell would be heard across the water as far as was possible across the Kariba Valley.

When it was finally completed, it stood three feet tall. This is very large, and very heavy.

Santa Barbara Church Bell Tower

Now, the decision as to where to put it was discussed.

The first suggestion was the school. This was then put aside with the little chapel on top of the hill, now called Kariba Heights, being favoured instead.

The Italians constructed a metal tower behind the church to hang the bell from. Once that was done, they then had to plan how to get the bell up to its resting place.

It was decided a crane was the best way to transport the bell to the top of the hill, where it was hung in the tower erected just for it.

The Sounding Of The Bell

The wonderful moment had finally arrived.

The bell sounded for the first time in Kariba, to the delight of Europeans and Africans alike. Their surprise, however, paled in comparison to the news they heard from Italy.

Lino’s idea had worked. A message recieved from Italy imparted happy news, Angela had recovered her health.

All their work had not been in vain, their prayers had been answered.

Today the original handcrafted bell is housed in the bell tower at the back of the church. There are currently three huge bells on it. Although not all of them work, according to locals, they are said to ring out across the Zambezi Valley on significant occasions.

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