Riding around Beijing in taxis, there was a particular landmark that I passed by many times but never visited. Well, a pair of landmarks, since the Drum and Bell Towers (Gulou and Zhonglou) make a set. While they have some historical and cultural significance, most people seem interested in them for the view they provide of the city. Beijing is very flat, and as far as I can tell, all the hills in the city proper are man-made.
I took the subway to Gulou Station, which is near the middle of the northern Second Ring Road. In the days of the city wall, this would have been the north center gate area. Right outside the station there is some great public art which I call “Hide and Seek” – it’s a set of six statues of children playing, arranged around what I think is a ventilation outlet covered up with bricks.
It’s a little bit of a walk down the street to get to the Drum Tower.
Of course its height is nothing compared to modern buildings, but as it happens there are not modern buildings (at least not any tall ones) in the vicinity. It was originally built in the Thirteenth Century, but like many other buildings in China, has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The current structure dates from 1420 in the Ming Dynasty. It was used as a public time-keeper. At regular intervals throughout the day and night, the drums would be beat in a pattern to tell people what time it was.
I paid my couple of dollars and went in. Getting to the upper level requires a little bit of effort.
Every half hour a group of drummers comes out and does a little show.
The room is designed as a natural amplifier to carry the sound out over the city.
This is a reconstruction of one of the water clocks that the drummers used to know when they should do their thing.
This shot is looking directly south. The hill is Jingshan Park, which I really need to visit sometime. Just on the other side of it is the Forbidden City.
Looking east and a little north, you can see the lovely Gehua Tower. It’s the black – er, grey, considering the haze – building just to the right of the shiny blue dome.
Directly north of the Drum Tower is the Bell Tower, my next destination.
A closer view. Out front, a bunch of the staff are skipping rope and playing with hula hoops. Slow day.
This is why it’s called the Bell Tower. It is one of the largest single-casting bells in the world, and there is a legend surrounding it. Repeated attempts at casting such a large bell had failed, and the emperor called all the empire’s experts to Beijing to complete the task. He set them a deadline, and decreed that they would all be executed if they did not succeed by then. Failures continued until the very last day. At the last moment, the daughter of one of the craftsmen realized that proper respect had not been paid to the gods, so she sacrificed herself by jumping into the molten bronze. She is still honored today, and her ghost is said to walk the tower. According to the signs, there are a number of variations to the story.
Like I said: slow day.