Beijing's Old Hutongs
Hello, and thanks for joining me for this walking tour, from Beijing’s drum tower through its historic hutongs to the Lama Temple. I’m Alec Ash, a writer and journalist who’s been living in Beijing on and off since 2008, and in this neighbourhood since 2012.
So, here we are at the beginning of our walk. You actually get into the tower from the north gate, on the other side, but I've taken you to this spot first because I want to show you something.
If you're facing the Drum Tower, turn around 180 degrees, so you're looking down the road with all the traffic on it. You're now facing south. Keep looking straight down, and further still, right to the end, past all the cars and buses until, unless it's one hell of a smoggy day – there! Do you see that pagoda, rising high above the line of the horizon?
That's the topmost pagoda of Golden Mountain Park, or Jinshan. And just over that hill, if you're standing in the pagoda looking down, are the yellow roofs of the Forbidden City, the middle of the Middle Kingdom. Old Beijing was built on a central meridian line, which runs due north from the Forbidden City, where the Emperor sat, up to the Drum and Bell towers. And the Drum Tower, where you're standing right now, that was right at the very heart of the ancient city.
I wanted you to get a sense of that because at times it can feel like Beijing doesn't have a heart. It's a big, grey, gridded city now, a concrete Leviathan of traffic and noise and Communist architecture. But Beijing does have a soul, in this central hutong district where the history lies thick like snow. We're going to walk through that soul, and come out the other side.
OK, let's get on our feet. Facing the Drum Tower again, turn right and walk around the tower to its north gate.