The Bell Tower is a large imposing 600 year old structure in the heart of Xi’an that was used in ancient times to announce the time. When you climb the Bell Tower, you can see along the axis of the city’s two main roads to the four main gates in the city wall. The Bell Tower is a great attraction to visit during your travels in Xi’an.
The First Bell Tower – The Bell Tower was initially built in 1384 in the center of Xi’an by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty. At that time the Bell Tower had a base made out of green bricks that was 8.6 meters in height and covered an area of 1,377 square meters. The upper part of the tower was made of bricks and timber and had a height of 36 meters.
The Relocation of the Bell Tower – Over the next two centuries Xi’an grew and expanded which shifted the center of the city. In 1582, the Bell Tower was moved 1000 meters east to the new center of Xi’an. A new base was built at the new location and the brick and wood upper section were moved and rebuilt on top of the new base.
The relocation of such a large structure was a massive job that would have given the town planners nightmares. According to historical records, the relocation was done quickly and efficiently at low cost. Looks like the quality of local government has gone down in the last 430 years.
Originally the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower were paired structures adjacent to each other but the Drum Tower was not moved with the Bell Tower.
The Bells – The original bell used in the Bell Tower before the move was a Tang Dynasty bell called the Jungyun Bell that could be heard several kilometres away. The shape, sound and the engraving on the bell were superb for the time and reflected the high quality of metallurgy achieved during the Tang Dynasty. After the move, a large iron bell weighing 2,500 kilograms called the Jinglong bell was used and announced time in Xi’an for over 400 years.
1900 Century – During the ill fated 1911 revolution the Bell Tower was used as the telephone bureau. It’s later uses between 1927 and today ranged from a cinema and a planetarium to a prison and a warning platform.
According to legend, there are two different beliefs for the function of the Bell Tower. The first was to restrain a dragon that Xi’an officials believed was responsible for earthquakes that had been devastating the area. The second was to restrain a celestial dragon from heaven who was the real emperor and may fight the human emperor for the throne of China.
The real function of the Bell Tower together with the Drum Tower which is a little more mundane was to announce the time. Every major city in China during that period had drum and bell towers for announcing the time with the larger bell and drum towers in Beijing being ideal examples.
Another function was to be a visible symbol dominating the surrounding country side when Xi’an was smaller and to provide early warning of attack.
Tips for Visiting the Bell Tower
See the Performance – A performance is normally held at the Bell Tower every 90 minutes so try to time your visit so you can see the performance.
See the Drum Tower – The Bell Tower and the Drum Tower and paired so make sure you see both. They are close together and two hours is enough time.
Subway – The Bell Tower is on top of the Bell Tower Station on line two so taking the subway is the easiest way to get to there.
Bus – Being in the center of Xi’an, every second bus goes there so taking a bus is also easy