The Drum and Bell Towers are situated in the Dongcheng district of Beijing, and were used to tell the time in the days before clocks and watches were widely available to most households. Although the towers lost their timekeeping functions in 1946 with the departure of the last Emperor of China, the buildings are now open to the public and visitors can still hear the ancient bells and drums at certain times of day.
The Drum Tower was originally built in 1272, but has been rebuilt a number of times since, and the existing structure was completed in 1800. In the Qing dynasty, telling the time was a rather complicated affair, and the days were divided into 12 sections of 2 hours, each with a corresponding animal. The divisions would begin at 7pm, when a drum was beaten 13 times, and then each 2 hour section after that would be marked with a single drumbeat. Time was also marked with water clocks and incense at various points in the tower’s history, and a number of the artefacts associated with these ancient forms of timekeeping can still be seen in the exhibitions there today.
The Bell Tower contains the largest bell in China, at over 7m tall and weighing a colossal 63 tons, this bronze bell is over 500 years old and can be heard for long distances. Today the bell is only rung at spring festival, when visitors can pay 100 yuan to ring in the new year on this incredible antique.
As well as containing interesting artefacts, these towers are examples of traditional chinese architecture, made of wood on high brick bases. Despite their height, both buildings have only 2 storeys, and are decorated with beautifully carved and painted beams, that are carefully restored and still striking. It is also worth mentioning that both towers offer fantastic views of the city and the surrounding hutong neighbourhoods, as well as the houhai lake area to the south.