Just before leaving the metro station, I realize rain is pouring outside, and decide to wait it out, cursing myself for not having taken an umbrella. Weeks of sunny days at home have made me forget the existence of rain. I even have to jump and walk on walls to avoid getting soaking shoes. By the time I arrive at my destination, the Drum Tower, the sun manages to pierce a hole in the clouds over Beijing. There is not much time left: I am not even given a ticket for the Bell Tower, so I can concentrate on the Drum Tower until it closes. I walk the slippery grounds around the base of the immense building, looking up at the finely painted wooden beams high above me. Then, as I am running out of time, I walk up the sloping wall to the entrance of the medieval tower, and work my way up the steep stairs.
After a brief visit to the gallery outside, which can unfortunately only be walked halfway but still offers fine views of the hutongs (traditional quarters) below, I step over the high, red doorstep of the enormously tall wooden doors, into the dark upper floor in which I find a small museum. There, I find fine objects: statues, wooden boxes, incense holders: all in one way or another involved in time-keeping. In fact, the Drum Tower was built in 1272 by Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, to tell the time. Back then, it stood at the centre of Dadu, the predecessor of Beijing. It was moved in the 15th century to the current location, and maintained its function as a time-keeper until 1924, when the last emperor was overthrown and western time-keeping methods were introduced.
Only one original drum remains: a row of others have been added, all with red drums, placed at approximately head-height. I walk outside again, realizing how much Beijing has changed over the course of centuries, the hutongs and even this massive tower dwarfed by the modern skyline of fancy concrete-and-glass architecture that I can see in the distance, while the Drum Tower once was the pinnacle of Beijing city. Then, the guards nervously hurry me inside. I see a woman change in a white dress with red accents, and men doing the same, without bothering much about the onlookers. Then, they walk in a line towards the drums, and as a well-trained team, start drumming away on the big instruments. For a few minutes, the beat of drums is coming out of the Drum Tower as it has for many centuries, until the musicians stop, turn around with an abrupt bow, and disappear.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Drum tower (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Drum tower. Read more about this site.