Tag Archive | history

Drum & Bell Towers


We started our last day at the Drum and Bell Towers. Both towers were built in the 1200’s and replaced several times over the centuries. Each tower can be climbed for great views of the city, and the other tower.

We arrived early to find a queue already formed before the drum tower opened. After purchasing our tickets, we found plenty of local entertainment.

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Drums and bells once were the timekeepers in Beijing. Originally built in 1272, the Drum Tower has been replaced several times. Once the tower opened, we climbed steep stairs to a bird’s eye view of the hutong rooftops in the neighborhood.

Several exhibits told some of the history of the area, and explained the traditional seasons. Drummers soon made their appearance, dressed in more traditional clothing.

Like the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower was built in 1272, and replaced several times. The current structure was built in 1745. Both towers kept time until 1924. The bronze bell housed in the tower is struck with enormous carved fish. Beautiful carvings surrounding the balcony railings tell the local legend of the bell.


Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest

A favorite of locals and tourists alike, Temple of Heaven is another large outdoor space. But, compared to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, this had a different feel, where ancient rituals sought good harvests and atonement for sins. Confucian in function, the layout of the park is deliberate, designed in circles and squares, and layout aligned with the heavens. The most important ceremonies of the year marked the winter solstice.

The dominant building, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, was originally built in 1420, but burnt to the ground in 1889 – likely caused by lightning. It was rebuilt the following year, with four central pillars of Oregon fir to represent the four seasons, with 12 pillars in the next ring to represent the months, and 12 outer pillars. The pillars support the ceiling without the use of nails or cement!

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Spaces in the park allow for social and physical activities.

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Stairs, pavers, and building placement are all aligned with the seasons and the night sky.

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Other spaces encourage contemplation. And the custodians with their native brooms are ever-present, helping to maintain the harmony of the park.

Lama Temple


Lama Temple, Beijing’s foremost Buddhist temple, is on our daily walk between the hotel and the subway station. From the street, there is one ornate gate, with the rest standing behind a wall of shops and masonry, giving no hint to exquisite architecture contained within these walls. Once we were on the grounds, we realized that we were standing over the Lama Temple subway station.

Originally the residence of a count, the grounds were converted to a monastery in 1744. An actively practicing temple, many buildings were open and available for visits and prayers. The many courtyards were filled with clouds of incense and people are prayer.

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China Hiking: Exploring the “Wild” Great Wall

enhanceRF4UUKDDWe hear that the Great Wall is inundated with tourists. We didn’t miss them a bit, as we took two days away from Beijing to explore the “wild,” unrestored sections with China Hiking.

Transportation to and from the Lama Temple subway station, all meals, basic camping gear, and an English-speaking guide were all seamlessly provided. We backpacked in the tents, sleeping bags and pads, (all provided, including the backpack), in addition to a change of socks and underwear, headlamps, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Meals were plentiful, fresh and local – and quite tasty! Dinner was a delightful catered buffet, delivered by a local kitchen in the village below.

Most photos you see of the Great Wall are restored sections: broad paved roadways, where you can imagine horsemen and carriages moving along the wall, where the hordes of tourists now stroll. These “wild” sections are not reconstructed, and are often vegetated, including fruit trees, possibly seeded by wildlife visitors. Without the reconstruction efforts, you get a better look at the different construction methods used during different time periods.

The Jiankou section, our first day’s hike and camp-out, was originally built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and restored in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The dolomite foundations make for a stronger, higher and steeper wall.

The second day, we hiked the Gubeikou section, also known as “Winding Dragon.” Originally built in the Qi Dynasty (550-557), this is the oldest section of the Great Wall.

Specific details about this particular hike can be found here.

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As other posts attest, we like camping beyond the developed campground. This trip was far better than we imagined: two thumbs up for China Hiking!

Summer Palace


A little elevation goes a long way in Beijing, and our afternoon at the Summer Palace brought cooler temperatures and refreshing breezes. Locals and tour bus crowds keep this place busy, but this only gets to be a problem in some of the smaller courtyards. As many buildings in Beijing, the Summer Palace has been damaged and repaired over the centuries, reflected in the varying temples, gardens, pavilions, lakes, bridges, gate towers, and even a 700-meter long covered and decorated corridor.

Kunming Lake, with the Beijing skyline in the background, provides boating opportunities. The bridge over to the island in the lake is a popular spot for serious kite-flyers.

Courtyards are populated with a variety of mythical creatures.