DRUM & BELL TOWERS
If you have time for one more thing in Beijing other than the Forbidden Palace, I would recommend coming here. Generally, bells and drums, in addition to being musical instruments, were important for telling time, and many towers holding drums and bells were built as early as III century B.C.
These two towers date back to the XIII century and were built during the reign of Kublai Khan. The drums were struck 13 times every evening at 7pm to signal the start of the night hour, and the closing of the city gates. The drums were struck again every 2 hours, last time being at 5am. The day officially began at 7am, with the ringing of the huge bell of the bell tower, which could be heard from 20km away.
The original bell in the Bell Tower (ZhongLou) was cast from iron, but the sound wasn't impressive. Then they replaced it with a 63-ton bronze bell that could be heard from the far. The original iron bell is now housed at the Drum Tower. One of the legends involved in how the bronze bell was casted so that it can be heard so clearly involves of course a woman who sacrificed her life for her family. You know - the usual.
The Drum Tower (Gulou) was the time keeping center for the whole city and was equipped with bronze water clocks and drums that were beaten to mark the hours. From the original 24 drums only the biggest one survived, the others are replicas. The drums are struck every hour (at :30) and it is really impressive. To get up there you need to go up 69 very steep and high steps, which make the climb tiring and unpleasant. Still, if you are physically able to go up, you definitely should, as watching this performance is unforgettable.
Both towers are near the hutong district and the entrance to both costs app. $5. The nearest subway station is Gulou-Dajie (Line 2). They are usually open from 9am to 5pm. Between these two towers there is a small coffee shop with best capuccino in town.