The view of the Bell Tower (钟楼 or Zhonglou) also used to be great from my friend’s deck where I took the photo of the Drum Tower that was my last post. Unfortunately, the city of Beijing recently built a tower for power lines that sits directly between the deck and the Bell Tower. Sort of spoils the view. Alas. This image was taken from ground level.
The Bell Tower sits across a small, open plaza from the Drum Tower. In this late afternoon photo, the sun is low in the sky and tourists have headed back to their hotels. The plaza becomes a comfortable place for neighborhood people to hang out and relax. Talk about sitting in the shadow of history!
The first Bell Tower was built in the 13th century, but the building was destroyed a few years later, as was the second tower built to replace it. The building now standing was completed in 1745 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. Of all the monuments that remain of Beijing’s imperial past, this one may be my favorite.
I keep working through the pictures I took on my travels to China and Vietnam. I am not as prolific as some with the camera – my shooting habits are still not a lot different than they were back in the days of film – but I still got back to Thailand with somewhat more than two thousand images I took during the six week trip. I shot the equivalent of 58 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film, some 1.4 rolls a day on average. About right for me. In any case, after a couple of weeks looking at Vietnam pictures, I have gone back to looking at China images and found some I want to post.
I have a friend in Beijing who is living in a ping fang (平房 or one story house) with a deck on the roof that overlooks Gulou (鼓楼, the Drum Tower). We sipped tea and visited on the deck on a near perfect, early autumn Beijing afternoon. The first drum tower was built in the 13th century during the reign of Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty. The building in the photo was originally built in the 15th century by the Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor. The drums inside the building, of which only one remains, were used to announce the official time.
The old imperial college (guozijian / 国子监) and Beijing’s Confucius temple are along this gorgeous tree-lined street. The site of occasional horn-honking traffic jams, the street is nonetheless reasonably peaceful most of the time. I had peace, quiet, and a truly beautiful, blue-sky Beijing day for my visit. The banner – almost impossible to translate into anything but stilted English – says something like “the sacred locale of the national academy, bringing virtue to the entire world”.
Gulou East Avenue runs east from the old Drum Tower (Gulou) and Clock Tower (Zhonglou) towards Dongzhimen. It is a main street, but still a two lane two way thoroughfare in a city of massive wide boulevards. Not surprisingly, it is slow going for vehicle traffic most of the time. Because this is one of the few areas of the city that still looks even remotely like “old” Beijing, it is a big draw for tourists, especially of the domestic variety. I suspect this has made local officials reluctant to widen the street. The fact that the PLA owns much of the land on the north side of the street has, no doubt, contributed to the difficulties of doing anything to widen the street. I am certainly not unhappy about this. Gulou East Avenue remains a two lane road and the neighborhood has been spared the wrecker’s ball in the name of “progress”.
Most of the buildings along the street are relatively new but designed to look old. They are supposed to give the street the flavor of the old city, though I have been told that many of the designs are not authentic old Beijing styles. Be that as it may, I love this part of Beijing. The street is tree-lined and shady and, most importantly, it is on a human scale. Unlike much of Beijing with its massive architectural monuments to modernity that China’s urban planners are so enamored of. People can sit on stoops and while away the time with gossip. And that is definitely authentic old Beijing!