The Bell Tower of Xi'an is a classical building with carved beams and painted rafters. It stands in the downtown area where the North Street, the South Street, the East Street and the West Street meet. It houses a huge bell that was originally used to strike time every morning in ancient times. This is how the tower got its name. Ever since its establishment, it has become the symbol of Xi'an. Now, it is an important historical monument in Shaanxi Province.
The Bell Tower was first built in Yingxiang Temple in 1384, which used to mark the center of the city. It was rebuilt on the Present site in 1582 as a result of the city's expansion program.
The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang was born into a poor family. His parents died when he was young. He had to work for rich landowners as shepherd. Later, he went to a temple and became a monk. When he ascended the throne, he was afraid of being replaced by someone as a "real dragon." (In ancient China, the emperor was often referred to as a "dragon.") Therefore, he ordered bell towers to be built all over the country to repress the "spirit of dragons". Xi'an was established as the site of imperial capital ever since ancient times. Naturally the so-called "spirit of dragons" was indomitable. No wonder Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was in panic. The Bell Tower in Xi'an was not only built earlier, but also taller any other in the country.
The square base of the tower is 1,377. 4 square meters in size, 8.6 meters high and 35.5 meters wide. It was laid with blue bricks. The whole building, 36 meters above ground, is a brick-and-wood structure. Three stories of eaves can be seen from the exterior of the building but there are only two stories inside. The eaves are supported by colored dougong, a tradional structural system in which brackets are joined with columns and crossbeams. The use of dougong made the whole building firm and beautiful. In fact, the dougong structure has its origin in the Shang Dynasty (1,600 BC-1,100 BC). The design of dougong appears on bronze wares dating back to the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC).
Since 1949, Xi'an Municipal Government has launched three repair programs on the tower. As a result, the tower now looks as great and magnificent as it was hundreds of years ago. Today, if you climb the tower by way of its wooden stairs, you will have an extensive view of the city. If you are lucky to get on it on a fine day, you might see as far as Zhongnan Mountain on the southern outskirts of the city.
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