The watchtower was an integral part of Zhengyangmen and only it and the gatehouse remain of this, the largest and one of the most important gates on Beijing’s 1400s Inner City wall. I suggest you read my review on the Zhengyangmen Gatehouse prior to this one as I have not repeated relevant background information in that review here.
The watchtower was built in 1439 during the Ming Dynasty in a style resembling that of the gatehouse and was, in essence, a defensive structure while the gatehouse was the ceremonial gate to the Inner City.
To defend the main gate there are 94 embrasures (arrow slits – though, as you can see, rather large ones!) open to the east (21), west (21) and south sides (54). The tower derives its alternate name – Arrow Tower from these arrow slits.
The watchtower, with its platform, is 38 meters high and was joined to the gatehouse such that a walled compound (barbican) was created between the two. The picture alongside depicts a model of how the original structure would have looked through the Ming and Qing dynasties. Zhengyangmen, with one major difference, followed a fairly standardised design for the old city gates: two towers with a walled courtyard in between. Typically the outer (watch)tower had no gate (Zhengyangmen’s does) – rather, there were gates through the left and right-hand walls of the courtyard permitting passage in and out.
In addition to being a death trap for anyone who managed to penetrate the watchtower and ended up in the area between the two towers uninvited, the Zhengyangmen barbican contained two temples: Guandimiao in the west and Guanyinmiao in the east. Guandimiao temple, which the emperor traditionally stopped of in on his return from the Temple of Heaven, housed “three treasures” – a precious sword, a Guandi painting, and a white jade horse statue. Both temples were dismantled during China’s Cultural Revolution.
The walls connecting the two towers had been demolished in 1915 to ease traffic congestion in the area. A major road now runs between the two towers and the structure you can see on the left of my second picture attached is a vent for the Beijing Subway.
As far as I can ascertain the watchtower is not open to visitors – but you can sufficiently admire the north side from the gatehouse and the more impressive south side from Qianmen Street.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a number of trips to Beijing. I suggest you continue with my next entry – China’s Zero Point – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my Beijing Introduction.