the downtown area of Xi'an at the intersection where
the North, South, East and West Streets meet, stands
a magnificent classical building, with carved beams
and painted rafters. It is known as the Bell Tower.
It has gained its name from the function it used to
perform, to tell the time in the morning. Ever since
its establishment, the tower has become the symbol of
Xi'an. Now it is a historic monument in Shaanxi Province.
The Bell Tower was first built in 1384,
in the Yingxiang Temple which used to be located in
the center of the city. The tower was moved to its present
place in 1582 as a result of the city's expansion program.
There have been various legendary tales
about the Bell Tower. In the Ming Dynasty, tens of thousands
of people were killed in several earthquakes on Central
Shaanxi Plain. People said that a gigantic dragon in
the huge undercurrent that flowed beneath the city caused
all those quakes. When the governor of the city heard
this, he ordered all the smiths in the city to make
a chain 300 meters long to chain the dragon at the bottom
of the undercurrent, right in the center of the city.
He then ordered 5,000 skillful craftsmen to build the
tower over the place where the dragon was chained so
that it would be weighed down to the bottom of the undercurrent
forever, and to stop forever, its evil spells.
The tale may sound absurd; however, it is
not without reason. The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty
was born into a poor family. His parents died when he
was young. He had to work as a shepherd, herding sheep
for the rich landowners. Later, he went to a temple
and became a monk. When he ascended the throne, he was
afraid of being deposed by someone of "real dragon"
(i.e. royal descent). Therefore, he ordered bell towers
to be built all over the country to repress the "dragon
spirits". Xi'an has been the site of imperial capitals
ever since ancient times. Just as popular then as now,
the saying that the "dragon spirits" must
be running rampant here comes from this belief. This
made Zhu Yuanzhang, the Emperor, all the more afraid.
Therefore, the Bell Tower in Xi'an was not only built
earlier, but also taller than the other ones in the
The square-shaped base of the tower occupies
an area of 1,337.4 square meters and is 8.6 meters high
and 35.5 meters wide. The base was completely laid with
blue bricks. The building proper is a mixed structure
of bricks and wood, and it is 36 meters high. Three
storeys of eaves are seen from the exterior of the buildings.
The interior of the building is only two storeys. The
eaves are supported by colorful dougong -- a unique
Chinese architectural style of brackets inserted on
the top of columns and crossbeams. They not only made
the whole building firm, but also look artistic. In
fact, the dougong architecture has a long history, dating
far back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.). A comparatively
complete design of dougong can still be seen, from the
engravings on bronze wares dating back to the Warring
States Period (475-221 B.C.).
Since 1949, the Municipal Government of
Xi'an has launched three repair programs on the tower.
As a result, the tower now looks as great and magnificent
as when it was first built hundreds of years ago. Today,
if you climb the tower by way of its wooden stairs,
you will command an extensive view over the whole city.
If you are lucky to go on a fine day, your eyesight
might reach as far as Zhongnan Mountain in the far southern
suburb of the city.
Xi'an Travel Attractions
of Stone Steles