He was born in Moscow in 1440 and he came from a generation of Moscow's grand dukes. His father was Vasily II the Dark, a name he was given during the civil war when he was blinded by his cousin Dmitry Shemyaka in his attempt to acquire power. In order to secure his son's succession Vasily declared Ivan co-ruler at only six years of age. At twelve Ivan was married to Maria, princess of the principality of Tver, who later died, and he married the Byzantine princess Zoe Palaeologa, who took the Orthodox name of Sofia. She brought with her customs of the Byzantine court and more openness to European culture. The new political position of Moscow gave rise to the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome (Rome and Constantinople being first and second). Sofia had an enormous influence on Ivan. In 1497 he took as Russia's emblem the double-headed eagle, a Byzantine symbol, which was the symbol of the Romanov's.
Between 1532 and 1543, architect Petrok Maliy built the four-storey Assumption Belfry, which stands next to the tower and houses the 64-ton Resurrection Bell, cast in the 19th Century. In 1624, the tent-roofed Filaret Tower was added.
In 1812, Napoleon's soldiers tore down many of the buildings of the Kremlin, and attempted to blow up the bell tower. Thankfully they failed, although the belfry and the Filaret Tower were badly damaged. They were restored in 1819 by the architect D.I. Gilardi.There are 21 bells in the tower and belfry, of which the Assumption Bell, located in the central arch of the belfry, is the largest at 70 tons. It was always the first bell to ring on church holidays, a signal that started all the other church bells in Moscow.