Hutongs - Bell and Drum Towers, Beijing
People say that the real culture of Beijing is the 'culture of the Hutong' and the 'culture of the courtyard'. How true that is. Often, it is Beijing's winding Hutongs that attract tourists from home and abroad rather than the high-rise buildings and large mansions.
Hutong is a typical lane or small street in Beijing that originated during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). 'Hutong' is a Mongolian word, meaning 'water well'. During that time, water well is the settlement around which people lived. There are tens of thousands of hutongs surrounding the Forbidden City. In the past, Beijing was composed of countless courtyards. Hutongs were formed when people left a passageway between two courtyards to make entering them more convenient.
As the symbol of Beijing City, a hutong has its own layout and structure, which makes it a wonder in the world. When taking a bird's eye view of Beijing, you will find the combination of hutongs and courtyards just like an orderly chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries, and ancient ruins. Hutongs have witnessed the development of Beijing. Where there is a hutong, there is a story.
This is a preserved area of the city where people live just as they have for hundreds of year . The low rows of houses line narrow passageways .
Today in fact there are not many of these areas remaining as the way is cleared to make room for huge skuscraers.
Beijing hutongs are small alleys ranging from about 10 metres down to a few dozens of centimetres.
As the society develops many hutongs have disappeared to be replaced by new roads and buildings.
However, don’t think hutongs will disappear sooner or later. In fact, many of the most ancient hutongs are still there and the government is well aware of the cultural significance of the hutongs and many of them have already been designated as protected areas.
Many hutongs close to the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are several hundred years old and are very well preserved. The Niujie street and the Qianmen area also have plenty of them.
Actually, there are hutongs all throughout the city because the hutongs cover about one third of the area of Beijing and half of Beijing's population live in hutongs.
You can go to the hutongs by pedicab as many tourists do. Personally I prefer walking by myself, this way I can talk to people, smell the home-made food, buying traditional snacks here and there, admire the beauty of the lanes, watch the children playing with each other, watch the elderly playing chess, practicing taijiquan, dancing, singing Beijing Opera, etc.
The Sycee Bridge or Silver ingot Bridge is located at the intersection of the Qianhai Lake and the Houhai Lake. Drum and Bell Tower are not far. It was build in the Ming Dynasty. It was originally made of stone and later changed to white marble under reconstruction. The length of the bridge is 8.3m, the width is 7.9m and the hight 4.35m.
In former days people standing on this bridge could see the Western HIlls in the distance. Hence its name "Viewing the Hills at the Silver Ingot Bridge", which was one of the "eight major scenic spots".
You can't visit Beijing without taking a Hutong Tour. Hutongs are the tiny little alley ways in and around the old style village housing estates.
The Government have preserved around 25 such areas. The way to see the Hutings and the old Courtyard homes is to take a rickshaw ride.
We paid Yuan 120 for a 40 minute tour. Aswell as this, you also pay to enter a traditional courtyard home. We felt sorry for our driver so we tipped him quite generously. The Tour organiser gets the majority of the money paid and the driver a pittance in comparison so the tip he received was greatfully appreciated.
Make sure that you take a rickshaw Hutong Tour through one of the Legal organised tours. These are identifiable by the vests they wear.
A hutong bike tour is the perfect way to get orientated with Beijing (if not a little scary!!). I went on a 4 hour bike tour which left from close to the Forbidden City and went through a lot of hutongs including an antique hutong, past Chairman Mao's old residence, the oldest brothel in Beijing and all the way to the Sanlitun district and back again.
During the tour you have to cross some pretty big streets (I'm talking 6 lane roads with buses) so keep your wits about you. I hadn't been on a bike in around 10 years but I managed not to kill myself or anyone else!!
It was a wonderful thing to do to see the original Beijing before it is completely demolished.
It cost me Y100 but it can cost up to Y140. They provide the bike (no helmet), a map and a bottle of water.
In my opinion the bell and drum tower are not really the "must see" attraction in Beijing. You have pay entrance for the bell and drum tower. I think if you see the drum tower you have seen enough. The view is ok but not fantastich. I think a small walk in the hutongs around the towers is more interesting. Around the tower are also some places where their is a place to sit and were you can get a drink at low cost.
Hutongs are alleys or narrow streets found in Beijing formed by lines of courtyards. Hutongs are generally no wider than 9 metres. Since the 20th Century Hutongs have declined dramatically to make way for new buildings. There are still many well preserved Hutongs to see in Beijing, one area being in the Drum and Bell tower area, so we made our way up here one day, on the way from a visit to the Forbidden City and Beihei Park onto the Lama Temple. As we approached the area there were several ‘touts’ that could take you on a 40 minute or 1 hour Hutongs tour in their pedicab, however, due to lack of time (and money!) we decided to just stroll around them ourselves after a quick visit to the Drum tower. Walking around the Hutongs made me feel like I was catching a glimpse more of the real Beijing – there were no tourists at all walking around this area at the time we were there.
Gulou, the drum tower of Beijing, is situated at the northern end of the central axis of the Inner City to the north of Di’ anmen Street. Originally built for musical reasons it was later used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction.
Zhonglou, the bell tower of Beijing, stands closely behind the drum tower.
A hutong by definition is an alley formed by lines of siheyuans (residences). I loved exploring the hutongs as they gave me a glimpse of old Beijing. Sadly, many of the hutongs are disappearing due to modernization.
One favorite is in the Backlakes area. Take the subway to Jishuitan station, from the exit, turn right, another right into an alley and that takes you to the first of the many lakes that make up the Backlakes. Just follow the lakes or explore the hutongs alongside them until you end up in Beihai Lake where a row of impressive restaurants stand. On winters, the frozen Beihai Lake becomes an ice skating rink. On the bank across the restaurants is a platform from where men dive in the freezing waters.
Another hutong discovery is one to the west of Tiananmen Square. I'm sounding like a Chinaman now, when I cant even tell which way is east or south. This hutong, which I call the Hepingmen hutong, can be reached by starting from Tiananmen Square. If you are facing Mao's giant photo, head to your left until you see an alley. Enter the alley and literally get lost in the maze of hutongs until you end up in the Hepingmen subway station. If you really become lost, call a cab.
Situated north of the Forbidden City are two towers. The southernmost is the drum tower. The tower houses drums (duh) used in keeping time at night. Starting at 7 o'clock the drums would be beaten every two hours all through the night until 7 o'clock the next morning. During the day the bell tower had the same function. Time was kept using three trays with water using the same principal as an hourglass.
The drum tower was built in the early 1400s and is built in stone and wood. Originally the two towers were similar, but a fire destroyed the first bell tower in the 1700s. When entering you have to climb up a dark, straight, stone staircase. At the top there are several drums on display, including a drum destroyed by 8 European powers in 1900 (silencing the boxer rebellion)
The bell tower burned down in the 18th century, and was rebuilt in stone. There is a myth saying that the bell makers daughter fell into the molten iron. The father only managed to get hold of her shoe, but it was to late for the girl. The Chinese say that the soft chime from the bell resembles the word shoe.
The bell tower and its sister the drum tower were the timekeepers in ancient Beijing. Every two hours during the day the bells were struck so that the people could hear what time it was.
Haggling in the markets can be fun for some but not for me. In the photo I hold in my hand a sweat shirt I said was too expensive, so I walked away and watched the performance at the drum tower. As I was leaving I was told a lower price, so I bought it. Then went to the bell tower and tried on the hat which I wanted but knew I didn't have room for it in my luggage.
Note to self : Bring less cloths, bring home more treats!
This was supost to see picks and tips about Bei Hai Park but i missed the target,so i changed the program for the day
I took a taxi from my hotel to Bei Hai park,the taxi driver left me in front of place i dont remember the name and make me signal to go to right,but when i start to walk i was literally "engulfed" be many chinese with map carts...rickshaw,rickshaw..huttongs,i don't remember how many times i said no.
i kept wallking i crossed the huttongs place,and went strait to Drum Tower
I bought the ticket that was 20 yuans , and steped to overlook around drum tower and i saw behai park the place i missed,then it was time for the drums show, after that i took a taxi to Lama Temple and paid 13 yuan's.
I can not explain enough how much I enjoy walking the back streets and seeing the real city breathing. Particularly around the Watchtower and Beihai area, there are lots of rickshaws ushering people off on a blurred tour of the HuTongs (poor/slum neighborhoods).
If I were you I'd pass on this and do it instead on foot. You can take the time to pause, reflect, absorb and enjoy. On the back of a bike everything is blurred and you see what they want you to see.
But please do so with tact and respect. These are people's homes. See the bottom of my Beijing page for my feelings on this.