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Drum and Bell Tower

Introducing Bell & Drum Tower, Bell & Drum Tower Guide, Bell & Drum Tower Travel Guide
Article from Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism

The Bell Tower and Drum Tower are situated at the northern end of the central axis of the Beijing Inner City to the north of Di' anmen Street. 
The Drum Tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, at which time it stood at the very heart of the Yuan capital Dadu. At that time the Drum Tower was known as the Tower of Orderly Administration (Qizhenglou). In 1420, under the Ming Emperor Yongle, the Drum Tower was reconstructed to the east of the original site and in 1800 under the Qing Emperor Jiaqing, large-scale renovations were carried out. 

The first level of the Drum Tower is a solid square terrace four meters high, 55.6 meters long and 30 meters wide. The front and rear of the terrace are pierced with three arched openings and the two sides with one opening each. The broad, squat multi-eaved wooden structure built atop the terrace is impressive with its red wall and yellow glazed roof. In ancient days, the Drum Tower was the time keeping center for the whole city and was equipped with bronze clepsydras (water clocks) and drums that were beaten to mark the hours. 

The four bronze clepsydras, which once functioned in the Drum Tower, were reputed to date from the Song Dynasty. Set between these four devices was a large bronze gong, which through a series of mechanical devices was linked to the water clocks and sounded each quarter of an hour. When the system of telling time with incense coils, which burned for hours were introduced, the clepsydras fell into disuse. 

In ancient times the upper story of the building housed 24 drums, of which only one survives. Its head is made of an entire ox hide and is 1.5 meters in diameter. A sword score on the side of the drum is a souvenir of the Eight-Power Allied Forces' invasion of Beijing in 1900. 

In the Qing Dynasty, the hours were marked at night beginning at 7:00 p.m., a procedure that was popularly called "setting the watch." At this hour, the drums were sounded 13 times. After the watch had been "set" in this fashion, each subsequent two-hour interval was marked by a single drum beat. Civil and military officials oriented their lives around these time signals. At the sounding of the third watch (1:00 a.m.) officials attending the morning court audience rose from there beds and at the fourth (3:00 a.m.) assembled outside the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City (Wumen). At the sounding of the fifth watch (5:00 a.m.) they entered the Imperial Palace and knelt on the Sea of Flagstones (Haimen) before the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) to await instructions from the emperor. 

Close behind the Drum Tower stands the Bell Tower, a 33-meter-high edifice with gray walls and a green glazed roof. Each face of the base of the building is pierced with an arched opening and each side of the Bell Pavilion, which stands on the platform, has an arched gateway as well. The Bell Tower first came into use during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle, which it was converted, from the main hall of the former Temple of Eternal Peace (Wanningsi), which had been built during the Yuan Dynasty. The new Bell Tower was destroyed by fire after only a brief existence and it was not until 1747 that Emperor Qianlong undertook the reconstruction of an attractive durable stone structure. This building was so sturdy that he only damage that it suffered during the Tangshan earthquake of 1976 was the loss of a single stone animal head decorating the roof. 

The Bell Tower originally housed a huge iron bell. But because its tolling was not loud enough, this was replaced by a massive cast bronze bell over 10 inches thick that is in perfect condition today. The iron bell was moved to the back of the Drum Tower where it has remained for over 500 years. As recently as 1924, the bronze bell could be heard ringing out the 7:00 p.m. chime from a distance of over 20 kilometers. 

Quick Facts on Drum & Bell Tower

Name: Bell & Drum Towers
Location: Near Shichahai Scenic area, north of Di'anmen
Dates: Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Admission Fee: CNY 10 (Bell Tower) ; CNY 15 (Drum Tower)
Opening Hours: 09:10 to 17:00

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